Staff Spotlight: Jez Pritchatt

By Carmen McLean


Tall Boys Jez Web

The Tall Boys

Jez Pritchatt

Jez Pritchatt is the Programme Leader for the FdA Music Production and FdA Electronic Music Production courses at Leeds Conservatoire. As a guitarist, songwriter, and music producer, Jez has enjoyed a varied and fruitful career in the music industry. From working at the prestigious Marquee Club in London, to touring with post-Punk band Girls at Our Best!, Jez shares his experiences of working in the ever-changing music industry, and navigating the thrilling world of touring, gigging, and being signed to record labels.

Where did your musical interests start?

Even my earliest memories as a child revolved around music. I became interested in pop music when I was around eight years old, and that interest has been there ever since. As a teenager, I started gigging for a few years with punk band SOS! Punk was a big thing back then, and we used to gig around Leeds and Yorkshire. 

You studied a one year pre-degree course in Art & Design at Leeds Arts University - what prompted you to study here?

I went to art college partly because I liked art, but my real reason was to meet other musicians! Back in those days, there weren't music courses like there are now - really the only music courses were classical music courses, but at art colleges there was a tradition of musicians going to study there, mostly to be around creative, like-minded people. Whilst studying there, I ended up forming a band with other students who weren't musicians, as I thought it would be interesting to work with non-musicians, and looking back on it, it was! It was also a real pain because… they weren't musicians! We played a lot of ‘experimental noise’ music - very provocative and confrontational, and this morphed into Girls At Our Best!.

Tell us about Girls at our Best!, and how you found your success?

We recorded a couple of demos that we thought were pretty good. We actually split up for a bit, but we still wanted to release them. We went down to London, took our demos round to the record labels, and Rough Trade Records agreed to release the demos. Even though it was an underground, indie kind of single, it took off, and we decided to re-form as a band. We released a couple more singles, ended up getting signed by another label, and it all went from there!

We split up a year later - I think it was all too much too soon. The record label we signed with were trying to pitch us as a commercial pop band, and that wasn't what we wanted. Our roots were with underground, indie music, and not pop.

Girls at our Best! are re-releasing some of our earliest singles, and I recently found out that we charted at number 12 in the National (physical) Singles Chart, and number 29 in the National (physical) Albums Chart earlier this year.

You then moved down to London - how was the music scene there different from the music scene in Leeds at the time?

The music scene in Leeds was very different to what it is now. Had it been like it is now, I probably wouldn't have moved to London in the first place. London was where bands went to find record deals, it was a thriving city, and even though there were some brilliant bands in Leeds who were more successful, the industry was more London-focused. Nowadays, Leeds has a fantastic music scene - there are loads of music venues, record labels, etc - you don't need to go to London to get signed anymore, as there are so many opportunities up north.

Many bands and artists see being signed to a label as a necessary step to being successful - how was your experience of being signed, and do you think being signed is as important as we think it is?

We signed to both Rough Trade Records and Happy Birthday Records and we had good experiences with both, but it can be difficult when your musical styles and aims don't align with what the label wants to market you as.

I often say to my students to be wary of chasing record deals, as you don't really need one these days. Even back in my day, you could kind of do things on your own, but it wasn't easy. Now, you can release your own music, make music videos, whatever you'd like to do, you can do it yourself, and even though it's a lot of work, you have total control over it. If you're wanting to be signed, you have to ask yourself 'will the gains be more than the losses?'. You also have to ask what they will do for you, and whether you trust them to do it, or could you do it better yourself? It's ironic, because the kind of people that labels want to sign are the people who can do it themselves in the first place! Labels want bands and artists to be ready and be able to know how to release and promote their music on their own.

Later, with your band The Tall Boys, you supported The Pogues on their tour around France and the UK. What were some of the highs and lows of touring?

Touring was great fun, and when you're young and you have loads of energy, it was a great time. Especially touring with The Pogues, it was pretty wild as you might imagine! There are some stories that I couldn't tell you, and some that I just can't remember!

Looking back on it, it was great experience, but I think there were probably other things I could have done to further my career. We did some touring in recent years, and played some of the biggest gigs we've played. It was nice to go back and almost put a full stop after the band, especially as in our earlier days, we played much smaller venues. In retrospect, the best gigs I did were the smaller venues, as it's more intimate, and you can really feel the excitement.

You also studied a course in Instrument Making at the London College of Furniture. What led to you studying here?

I wanted to go back and study music, but at the time, there weren't any music tech courses, so I decided to learn instrument making. At school, I enjoyed our woodworking lessons, so it was a good way to combine practical skills with music. Whilst I was studying there, one of my tutors created the first music tech degree, and I managed to get a place on the course. I did the BTEC, and managed to earn a place on the degree, which was fantastic.

How did you end up as the booking agent for The Marquee Club in London?

Whilst I was studying, I needed a job, and I used to go to The Marquee Club all the time to watch bands and see gigs. I started working there as a glass collector, and it was great because I got paid to collect glasses, while also getting the watch the bands. Any job that needed doing, I gave it a go, especially the horrible jobs that no one else wanted to do! This led to me designing some posters for them, doing cleaning jobs there, lots of odd jobs. Glass collecting led to me working on the bar, working on the bar led to me becoming the bar manager, and eventually I ended up getting involved with booking bands. It was purely luck that the booking manager got sacked, so they quickly asked me to jump in, so I did! 

As the Programme Leader for the FdA programmes, how have your musical experiences shaped the way you deliver the courses?

Both myself and my colleague Alex Halliday have been working out there in the industry for years, and those experiences have been really important for what we teach our students. Even though the industry has changed so much over the years, the students can respect that we have both learned so much through our music careers, and we encourage each student to be individual, and create music they care about. 

There are still lots of things within the music industry that haven't changed - even though we now have social media, we still have to carve out space within the industry to find listeners and get people to hear your music. In that respect, the industry is the same. 

Is there anything you wish you'd have known before launching yourself into the industry?

Like many people, I wish I'd have known more about the legal side of the music industry. I signed some contracts that weren't very good but I had no idea, and back then, you couldn't just Google these things, and unless you worked in law, there was no way of knowing these things. 

Sometimes, I wish I'd have been more confident. I think perhaps if I was more confident, I could have got further, but at the same time, I wouldn't be the person I am now if I hadn't have had these experiences. Being an "arrogant rockstar" just isn't my thing.

Do you have any advice for students who might be wanting to work in the music industry?

Try to learn as much as you can about your chosen specialism, and really try to do your research about it. It puts you in a much better position. Also, don't pursue your career for fame or money, as there are much easier ways of doing both, than being in the music industry. Money is quite scarce for many professional musicians, so do it for the fun of creating music, and collaborate with people if you can! Don't worry about making mistakes, and don't take it too seriously - have some fun and see what you're capable of!

By Carmen McLean

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