FEW, if any, artists can claim Ed Sheeran as a superfan.
But Luke Concannon is one of them.
The singer/songwriter and part-time frontman of Nizlopi – famed rightly and wrongly for their UK No1 hit JCB Song – was and still is one of the global superstar’s heroes.
When he was just 14, Ed sent in a cover of one of Nizlopi’s songs to their independent record label and started working alongside the band, even helping out as a roadie.
To this day he still cites Nizlopi and Luke as one of the biggest influences on his music.
Observer editor Chris Willmott spoke to Luke about Nizlopi’s brush with fame, having the best-selling single in the UK, turning down major record deals and possible superstardom, being Ed Sheeran’s inspiration and any regrets he has along the way.
At the height of their JCB Song fame, Nizlopi were in talks with Sony and a number of other record companies about signing a lucrative deal, sure to propel them onto a global stage.
But they turned them all down – choosing instead a path that felt more true to their hearts and allowing them, through their own independent record label, to write the songs the wanted to write and how they wanted to write them.
To write about politics, social injustice, climate change and sexuality.
Many of these things were off the table with a big record company – who wanted control, ownership and a say in everything Nizlopi.
So Luke – and Nizlopi partner John Parker – said thanks, but no thanks – and have never, well nearly never, looked back.
“I’m much happier now than I was at the height of our Nizlopi fame,” said Luke, whose debut solo album, Give It Up, was released in 2013.
“I travel, meet amazing people, live the way I want to live and get to write and play my music the way I want it to be.”
He doesn’t regret the lack of fame, or the lack of money – although a bit more of the latter would be appreciated.
But his one small regret is that his music is unable to reach the number of people a record deal would have allowed him.
“That’s my one big frustration,” he added.
“I love what I do so much and want as many people as possible to hear it and fall in love with the music the way I do.
“I can’t lie – there are times, every now and again, I get a little bit jealous of Ed Sheeran and the massive following he has, but everyone is put on earth to tread a certain path.
“All the trimmings that come with that kind of fame simply aren’t me – I like to be a free spirit, free to travel and write and live life with no constraints.
“I want to write folk music, hip-hop, political lyrics and campaign for social justice and that just wasn’t on the table with the big labels.”
I personally fell in love with the sublime songwriting and performing skills of Luke many years ago, before and into Nizlopi’s JCB Song fame, when they were playing gigs across the region, including at Cox’s Yard in Stratford.
Ten years later and their debut album Half These Songs Are About You is still right up there among my all-time favourites.
It is certainly a match for Ed Sheeran’s multi-million selling global hit albums.
Luke’s solo album – Give it All, which was released in 2013 – continues the same themes, dreams and Nizlopi style.
It’s a fantastic listen from the very moment the opening track – Around the World – kicks in.
Around the World, and much of the album are based upon and inspired by his love of travelling, hitch-hiking to be precise.
After a previous five-year Nizlopi hiatus, sparked by their brush with fame, the stereotyping that came from the success of JCB Song and subsequent desire to tread their own path, Luke hitch-hiked all the way to Palestine, meeting the people, seeing the places and dicovering viewpoints that shape his work.
To this day hitch-hiking is still his preferred way of travel.
He has just spent the summer in the French Alps with his girlfriend, sleeping under the stars, hitch-hiking between villages and emersing himself in the local communities.
“Hitch-hiking is amazing, in every way,” added Luke.
“Sure, it saves on train fares, but it is a break from the fear we have about the world.
“When you stand by the side of the road with your thumb out it takes a special kind of person to pick you up and give you a lift – you meet some really special and inspiring people on the road and get to do some amazing things you would never do if you travelled the road more travelled.
“Some Turkish people offered me a lift one day while I was over in Turkey, we got chatting and they invited me to a wedding they were going to.”
In the five years since Nizlopi split, John Parker has become a dedicated session player on the folk and singer-songwriter scenes while Luke has been focussing on his solo work and travelling.
The duo were brought back together for some one-off shows at London’s Borderline in 2013.
But the reaction from the crowds was so amazing, they decided to head back out for one last tour – for the time being at least.
“We still love playing and composing together and hope to do both going forward,” they said.
“And while we are still available to play some private events and weddings, one-of shows and festival appearances, this tour is going to be the last from Nizlopi for at least the next couple of years.”
Nizlopi are touring the UK until November 27 and will be appearing at Leamington’s Assembly Rooms on Sunday, November 1.
For more information about the tour – and to book tickets – visit: www.nizlopi.com.
All Nizlopi and Luke Concannon recordings are available to buy or listen to online.
Luke Concannon on Nizlopi’s JCB Song – a song he will always love:
“It was frustrating. There we were, an underground English act talking about politics and social justice, sexuality and climate change and we were suddenly charactersied as novelty, one-hit wonder buskers.
“It belittled everything we were doing – and totally unfairly. JCB Song is just a true story about my great memories of a really great dad, but that got overlooked because all people really heard was about Bruce Lee’s nunchucks, Zoids, Transformers and BA Baracus.”