Dada Masilo

Rob Green: "I will always love gigging in Nottingham – audiences here are so open."

18 July 19 interview: Becky Timmins
photos: Fabrice Gagos

2019 is shaping up to be Rob Green’s biggest year yet...

Off the back of a bumper 2018 that saw him touring with Earth, Wind and Fire, and supporting Michael Bublé at Hyde Park, the Notts-born singer/songwriter has played Glastonbury, is finalising his debut album, and will take to the Splendour mainstage later this month.

“My manager Skyped me while I was in a coffee shop, asking me what I was doing on 28 June. I said nothing, and then she asked ‘Do you want to play Glastonbury?’ You know when you just want to scream?” The way in which Rob Green tells me about Glastonbury is quintessential of his character; he speaks a lot, but with conviction and warmth, the humour and candidness that have made his live performances so beloved rippling through every answer.

A self-taught musician, Rob began writing poetry in his early teens, later adding guitar and keyboards to transform his writing into songs, which fuse acoustic pop with spoken word and rap. “It’s a bit of a hot mess really,” Rob laughs. Yet with industry accolades aplenty – his self-titled 2016 EP reached number three in the iTunes RnB charts – and crowds flocking to see him whenever he plays, I struggle to agree. “I’m more interested in the stories behind the artwork than how high it gets in the charts,” Rob says when I ask him about the importance of that mainstream recognition.

The sunny soul that bathes Rob’s sound sometimes belies the darker meanings behind his songs, which candidly deal with personal struggles. On his song Blue, Rob reflects: “That was probably the first time I wrote something quite emotionally sensitive to me. It was actually a song I didn’t want to write. However, I learned something important by doing it: the things you think isolate you the most from people are actually the things that most connect you. I really took that lesson forward onto the album.”

Rob’s as-yet-untitled debut album is due out next year, and he is working on it with producer Glen Scott, who has previously worked with James Morrison and Beverley Knight – two artists who had a particular influence on Rob. “Glen is amazing, and working with him has been a real baptism of fire. He sees in you the things you want to try, but are too afraid to,” Rob tells me, before pausing. “I’m so excited about the album, but also a little bit terrified of it. But that’s great – it means that I’m invested.”

When we chat more about influences, Rob is particularly animated: “Tank and the Bangas – have you heard of them? They’re amazing; you should watch their Tiny Desk Concert. They do a lot of poetry mixed with beats, like the stuff I do in my live shows.” But beyond individuals, he’s full of praise for how platforms like Spotify are helping to diversify pop music: “The way playlists work makes you realise that you’re a lot freer to do what you want.”

There was an almost divine intervention moment during that gig; I was in the middle of Blue, had just hit the biggest note and then lightning struck in the background – it was amazing!

Equally as diverse, in Rob’s opinion, is the Nottingham music scene. “Festivals like Hockley Hustle are unbelievable. Doing something like that, which has grown year on year, says so much about the city and its music culture. The fact that there is enough artistry in Nottingham to fill all those stages, too – I don’t know anywhere else that could do that, London included. It may have loads of artists, but it doesn’t have the community to make it happen. That’s what sets Nottingham apart.” Perhaps that stems from the genuine support local artists from across genres have for each other; Rob’s tight with Ferocious Dog, Nina Smith, Harleighblu, Joel Baker and Ady Suleiman. “It’s not competitive in a negative way; we’re around each other and it’s aspirational. I hope it stays that way!” he laughs.

As a city renowned for nurturing emerging talent, back in 2012 Rob scooped the Young Creative Award for music. “It was such a big confidence booster. My prize was to record an EP at Confetti, and so I was introduced to the whole network. But even if you don’t win these competitions, the judges are Nottingham’s music people, so they become aware of you. That’s the other thing Nottingham does that other cities can’t do: I have been trying to get live gigs in Manchester for five years! Even though there are loads of venues, that connectedness isn’t there.”
It looks like Manchester is seriously missing out, then. Rob’s love of people and his craft make for seriously special live sets. The moment he cemented his star quality to the masses was back in 2016, when he enchanted a packed Quarry Stage at Y Not? Festival after BBC Introducing’s Dean Jackson invited him to play. “Everyone was singing and dancing, and I got a genuine encore – it was overwhelming. I distinctly remember looking at the crowd and realising the power of it all.” Equally overwhelming for Rob was supporting pop giant Michael Bublé at London’s Hyde Park last summer. “There was an almost divine intervention moment during that gig; I was in the middle of Blue, had just hit the biggest note and then lightning struck in the background – it was amazing!” he laughs.

Playing Glastonbury is just one of the many milestones on Rob’s agenda this year – he also played the Splendour mainstage for the first time, having played smaller stages at the Notts festival twice before. “I will always love gigging in Nottingham – audiences here are so open and comfortable. I just feel so at home.”

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