Shropshire is full with emerging talent and Shrewsbury singer and musician Jay Harris is a teenager with a passion to succeed, Rory Smith went along to meet him.
“MATHS? No. Science? Na. English? Meh – But music and lyrics? Now we’re talking.”
If there were a few words to sum up the mental attitude needed to become a musician in 2018, these from Jay Harris must come pretty close.
Gone are the flower power inspired musical days of the late 60s, where some of the most iconic bands in existence were born.
Gone are the days where you did not need to be able to play an instrument proficiently, as was the case in the 1970s punk era.
With the sheer volume of musicians and the structure of the modern industry, becoming a professional musician is harder now than it ever has been, but look hard enough and you will find some 15-year-olds are already grasping onto that dream like there is nothing else to live for.
Telford based Jay Harris, stumbled upon music as if it were at the bottom of a to-do list and now finds that list never grows longer.
“I came home one night after school and said I wanted to play an instrument. I really don’t know what it was that made me want to, just a weird feeling.
“It was my Uncle’s brother-in-law who actually lent me my first guitar to see if I enjoyed it. I gave it back to him, bought my own and thought ‘I could get used to this’.
“I was playing a lot of sport at the time and was just trying to find my thing, I enjoyed playing football but I started playing guitar and I just fell in love with it.”
Jay first started playing the borrowed guitar at the tender age of nine and has relied heavily on the power of busking and open mic nights since to fuel his passion from such a young age. He played his first live performance at ten, at a stage where even his parents admitted they thought he was ‘too young’ and ‘not at that level yet’.
“I went over to a pub in Newport. I was tiny at the time so I sat on a stall with my feet resting on the guitar amp. I was too small to even stand up and play a guitar at the same time.
“I was quite young but looking back on it, it was definitely the best thing I was able to do at the time.
“It seems like ever since I can remember I’ve been able to perform in front of people and that’s something a lot of people struggle with.”
Having admitted struggling to sing and play guitar concurrently to begin with, Jay now has a guitar collection to rival most adults and focuses all of his free time into perfecting his act, currently citing around 80 songs from memory.
“I practice every day after school for about two hours. Anything from old bluesy tunes, to modern chart ones.
“I try and add about four or five songs to my repertoire every week.
“I don’t have an Xbox or anything like that, the other day I had to ask my dad how to turn the TV on.”
One of the biggest struggles for Jay, along with countless other young, aspiring musicians is finding the places to play. Whether it be due to a venue’s age policy, or simply their unwillingness to give the young punters a chance, musical talent goes to the only place left that will have it, the streets.
“I busk pretty much every week unless it’s a special occasion or I’ve got somewhere I need to be.
“Usually in Telford, Shrewsbury or Stafford. I’m looking to go anywhere I can though, really.
“Last year I managed to get booked for a wedding just from busking. Someone came up to me after a few songs and asked if I could play at their wedding in Stafford.
“He asked me how much money I wanted for it but it was my first wedding gig, I didn’t really have a clue!
“Busking was and still is my thing and I thought to myself, ‘well that’s how he liked me so I’ll bring my act to the wedding’, so I did the wedding for free and just busked at the event.
“People started throwing in notes and I probably made more than I would have done otherwise, plus the free food and drink of course, that’s the best bit.
“That’s the thing with busking; you never know who you’re going to meet, who’s going to see you as they pass by.”
These proved to be words to live by, leading Jay from the passers-by of town centres, to performing in front of 500 people at Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn, supporting local hero, Dan Owen. Upon touching the subject, the smile did not leave his face as I learnt how this young boy who had barely entered the pub-gig scene supported a Radio One featured artist.
“I was playing for the Big Busk Charity 2016 and I spoke to Lauren from the Paprika Blues Band. She got me a slot at a local bar and I met Dan there.
“He had seen my stuff on Facebook and actually told me he’d seen me busking on Pride Hill and spending my earnings in the nearest music shop, like he used to do.
“You often think people forget their roots, but obviously Dan hasn’t.
“Then, I was in a maths class one day and I just got a message from him asking me to support his gig at Theatre Severn in November last year.
“We were actually allowed to listen to music in class that day, you can guess what I put on.So yeah, I was pretty disruptive that lesson.”
Since then, Jay has continued busking and performing live across Shropshire and surrounding counties, building his repertoire and most recently achieving the High Sheriff of Shropshire’s Outstanding Young Citizen Award 2018 for his charity work for Blood Bikes.
“You see them dotted around everywhere. I did some research and found that they’re all volunteers.
“I decided it would be a good thing to do, so I busked at Lichfield Christmas Market on an incredibly cold, snowy day and gave the proceeds to them, it’s good to give back.
For most boys at school, thinking of the future barely reaches past what is for dinner. When asked what the future holds for this young busker, the answer was simple.
“I’m going to be as big as possible, keep pushing and get as well known as I can.
“I’ve been approached to play a few festivals this year – fingers crossed for the bigger ones.
“It’s hard getting the gigs at my age because a lot of places won’t let me in even though all I want to do is play music.
“I hope to be playing a few bigger festivals and gigs over the next five years, and then really push it in my 20s, but who knows, I guess we’ll have to wait and see!”
Article and interview by Rory Smith