INTERVIEW: Stuart Rook | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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It’s been a long nine months for most of us and now, with another lockdown still in full swing, two Newcastle musicians have joined forces to try and create something positive among the madness. Hamburg 156 is the ambitious new venture from Stuart Rook of Lux Lisbon and Luke Gaul from Lyras, and was born out of Stuart questioning what really matters to him musically – and then setting himself and Luke something of a daunting task.

“In musical terms I guess my personal answer to that question is songwriting,” says Stuart. So I’ve decided to artificially force creativity by writing, recording and releasing 156 songs during 2021.

I’m calling it Hamburg 156, which is a Beatles/Malcolm Gladwell reference. In 1961/62 The Beatles played eight hour, Preludin-fuelled cover sets every night to entertain sailors and it’s generally accepted as how they got good. Multiple bookshelves creaking with Beatles literature are testament to my geekery in this, but this ‘Hamburg’ phenomenon is well-documented in culture generally and in Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell with his 10,000 hour rule. So I guess we are artificially creating our own personal ‘songwriting Hamburg’. 156 songs will really, really push us. We may even record something in Hamburg for the craic too, Covid permitting.”

deep down I’ve known that quantity (and associated hard work) is the route to quality for years

Stuart explains how the process has worked. “We’ve been working jointly with Luke and recording at Blank Studios in Newcastle with John Martindale from Shields. We’ll pick the best 14, polish them up and release the resulting album in June 2022 – but all 156 will be put up throughout 2021, as well as a weekly podcast where Luke and I document it and gently commiserate for an hour. We’re about 24 songs in now, or 6.5%!”

The first track to be released was the quiet melancholy of Should The Stars Start Falling, featuring some vocals from Rook’s Lux Lisbon collaborator Charlie Austen, and at the time of writing the latest was 12/156 – The Death of Generation X – a quick and catchy little number with 80s undertones and a harmony and hook-laden chorus. Was the project always in the pipeline or was it a result of being unable to do much else during the pandemic?

“It’s been gently nudged into fruition by Covid,” says Stuart, “but really deep down I’ve known that quantity (and associated hard work) is the route to quality for years. Tom Robinson has always said you need to write ten songs to get a good one and he’s right. So I’m just forcing something that I should always have been doing. Musically we are finding that trying on another band’s clothes to see how they fit for a few hours is both fun and fruitful. We just gently point in the direction of a sound and see what works – and if it doesn’t, well there is always another song coming tomorrow. Lyrically it’s not pre-planned however I’m sure themes will emerge over 156 lyrics.”

Listen to the Hamburg 156 project as it unfolds via Lux Lisbon’s website


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