“I’ve been gigging here there and everywhere, all over the country, mainly solo,” says Alex Lipinski, perched on a stool in the subterranean sanctum of Clerkenwell’s Betsey Trotwood pub.
Down here we’re both content to leave the ghosts of the city to the emptying streets. It’s been two years since Lipinski last played London and it’s been time well spent, a spiritual retreat beaten from a city slowly growing deaf to artistic entreaties. Since making the decision to play to audiences considerably more open-minded (and hearted) than the attitudinised horde crouching within the M25, Lipinski has breathed easier.
Returned as a changed man – his stance assured, the eyes wiser – he’s reached the age when musical experimentation can be enjoyed. “It’s made economic sense to play live as far and as wide as possible,” he says, “sometimes to just one man and his dog. It’s the only real way to get people’s attention.”
As a one-time resident of London, he realised that outside the capital were music fans crying out for live performances: “It was a chance to play where I’d never played before. So coming back here tonight after a long while, I feel refreshed.”
In 2014, Lipinski teamed up with Oasis’s Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs to form Phoneys & The Freaks, a pairing that solidified Lipinski’s sense of self worth and led to the 2017 solo album ‘Alex’ which was produced by The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe – keeping good company leaves an indelible mark.
“We worked quickly and creatively and Anton showed me a way of recording music that I hadn’t thought of previously. We recorded it live and saw no need to edit out the ‘perfect mistakes’. Since then I’ve been playing in places where people are discovering the album for the first time.”
‘Alex’ saw Lipinski sharpen his solo attack, his writing reaching maturation with songs like ‘Carolyn’ and ‘Dandylion Blues’, but he says his next album will be a return to working with a full band: “That’ll be in Bristol and will have a very different dynamic.”
He’s all too aware of the need to remain positive in a cultural climate in which artists of all stripes might be tempted to prostrate themselves on the steps of a corporation’s HQ: “All I can do is control what I do creatively. The minute you start worrying about how you fit in, musically, things can get very toxic. So I made the decision that this is what I do. I like to think that when I’m 80, I’ll still be writing and playing songs. Which is my thing. Now I’m a full-time musician and I make a living from music. From the very beginning I’ve always made ends meet, but the need to earn hasn’t interfered artistically. The past 10 years have been like an apprenticeship.”
But having honed his craft for more than a decade, Lipinski’s apprenticeship is well and truly at an end. As one of this country’s meritorious songwriters, his evolution is now underway.
“I’d love to record an album with Ethan Johns. We played together earlier this year in Weston-super-Mare and Bristol, and he’s produced for Ryan Adams, so I think his input would go hand in hand with the music I make.”
Think of New York’s coffee house scene of the 1960s to better understand Lipinski’s desire to keep his creative channels wide open and well sluiced. In Bristol, he’s now involved with the monthly Wolfmoon evening at Friendly Records Bar, each showcase comprising three acoustic sets and a DJ. Eschewed by the new London, entrepreneurship will always take root where the soil is deemed more fertile.
“My home town is Weston-super-Mare. It’s only 20 miles from Bristol and it’s your typical winter-dreary seaside town, but when you’ve not got much to do, you’ve got much more creative time on your hands. So writing songs has felt freer. But I’m still nostalgic for London. There’re all those memories. But when a place like Denmark Street dies, and I used to play the 12 Bar Club a lot, well… I wouldn’t move back. Not right now.”
Having recently played live in Europe and in the UK (Kendal Calling and Lakefest) and in English cities like Manchester, Bradford, Leeds, Liverpool and Newcastle, he reconnected with the natural respect audiences have for live music and, consequently, has grown more mindful of audience interest in him.
“I’m playing to as many people as possible and I’m busy building my body of work, not to mention a fanbase that, hopefully, will come back to my gigs. And I’ve realised that the less the ego is in control, the more you develop.”