Born into a Harrogate musical dynasty, Holly Rose Webber chose to go her own way. Now she’s turned her back on a lucrative career in London and returned to music. GRAHAM CHALMERS met this talented singer-songwriter and talked to her about her forthcoming debut album.
The slow road to succes in the music business is as rare as a rock band winning X Factor.
A few examples do exist – Jarvis Cocker was 31 when Pulp scored their first top UK 20 hit, Ian Dury was 35 while US rock n roller Hank Mizell was an incredible 56 when Jungle Rock reached number three in 1976.
In comparison, recording her debut album at the age of 26 still makes Harrogate’s Holly Rose Webber something of a spring chicken.
A big singer with a big voice, Webber’s forthcoming mostly self-penned album is a case of oldfashioned songwriting and heartfelt vocals at its best, 21st century Americana pop with country hues – the slide and swoon of pedal and lap steel guitar.
Chatting to her during one of the final sessions at Active Audio Studios in Harrogate and, later, over coffee and cake at local café Marconi, Holly talks me through the twists and turns of the journey that has taken her to this point.
Born into a musical family headed by Roy Webber, founder member of Harrogate’s legendary prog band Wally and writer of great songs with glorious country harmonies.
Recording her first EP aged 15. Leaving Harrogate to study law. Swapping law for a successful career in property in London.
Giving up a lucrative job in London to return to Harrogate to turn her childhood musical dreams into reality.
Phew!, I tell her it sounds like the lyrics of a country song.
The blonde-haired Holly flashes that broad smile and laughs.
“It wasn’t like the Von Trapp family when I was growing up, everyone running around the house singing. Most of my brothers were that bit older, some had left home.
“But it was great being the only girl. It means I’m not the average girl, I’m not precious. I’m one of the boys.”
Turning her back on the attractions of the big city and big paychecks, must have been a big wrench - as big as deciding not to pursue a legal career after gaining a degree in law with honours from Leeds University.
I suppose when your dad is Roy Webber, a return to music was only a matter of time for Holly?
“I was born into music. It’s in my blood. For me, having my dad by my side through the whole project has been amazing. He’s been there and done it all. Without him I wouldn’t be in the position of doing this album.”
Having sung at school in various things as a teenager at Queen Ethelburgas and Ashville College – and appearing on stage at Harrogate’s musical hub, the Blues Bar, before she was old enough to drink, - it seems Holly’s muse was merely lying dormant.
“I’d written a couple of songs when I was still in London working. I felt like going into the studio and putting them down just for fun.
“I wasn’t expecting anything when I went into Active Audio in Harrogate. I’ve been in other studios before and got nothing done but it just fell into place. Everyone agreed it was working and that I should carry on.”
Two tracks eventually grew into an entire album with the help of the cream of Harrogate’s ‘muso’ scene, the sort of versatile, multi-talented musicians I foolishly mocked a little in Gig Scene back in my ‘firebrand’ days at the Harrogate Advertiser in the mid-1990s. Don’t ask me why.
Key to the success of the recording sessions at Active Audio was its owner and producer Dan Mizen and his father Frank who, between them, can play just about any instrument you’d ever need.
Also assuming prominent roles in the creation of Holly’s album were fellow ‘musos’ Rob Reynolds on backing vocals and Ade Payne and Andy Whelan on guitars and mandolin.
“Working with Frank and Dan Mizen has been such a pleasure. There was instant chemistry. Other studios have problems, they always have a solution. It’s all been so easy and so natural.”
When I arrive at Active Audio Studios located in an unmarked building in one of Harrogate’s back streets, Holly has just finished the vocals on her self-written song Sparkle and Fade in one windowless room.
In another windowless room, surrounded by banks of computers and speakers, Frank is trying to see if he can improve on his guitar solo.
Dan, in the meantime, is hunched over his PC using Pro Tools to insert a double bass part Frank had played earlier .
Despite the modern cut-and-paste technology, making music is still more of a case of trial and error than you’d imagine in the digital age, instinct and chance far outweighing calculation.
The same set of emotions, in fact, which inspired Holly to take a gamble on music rather than remaining in Notting Hill.
“I was doing very well in London, making a lot of money but my heart wasn’t in it. I realised it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
“I’d started coming back to Harrogate every other weekend to record. It’s only the last 18 months I’ve had the confidence to write songs the way I do now.”
In an age when most things don’t seem to do what thay say on the tin, Holly is a refreshing change, saying it - and singing it - the way she sees it.
“I don’t want to be a pop star. The kind of market I want to hit isn’t age sensitive. I love singers who are honest and open. They don’t hide anything.”
While Holly’s iPod does boast a wide variety of tracks, there’s some hip hop and trance, even, you’re more likely to find her listening to the likes of Neil Young, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Gram Parsons, Bonnie Raitt and Crosby Stills & Nash.
Not necessarily the sort of stuff you’d expect from every 26-year-old these days.
I guess it all goes back to Holly’s childhood again.
“I was brought up on 70s bands such as Zeppelin and Aerosmith. Other girls at school had the Spice Girls, I had the Stones. I guess I was born in the wrong era.”
Two major influences on Holly’s own songwriting are a little less rocky and a lot more country - Sheryl Crow and her dad, Roy.
“Lyrics are important to me. I like them to be honest and to have meaning and to be clear.
“I listened to some of dad’s stuff the other day when he was in Wally and the Freddy Alva Band and I can see the similarities with my songs.”
In a way, Holly has done it backwards. Instead of forming a band, then recording an album, she’s recorded and album and is now forming a band to play it live.
But when did real talent ever follow the usual channels?
“I’ve had enormous fun making this album and I’ve gained a lot of experience. I do know this is a shot in a million but I believe in my songs and I’m giving it everything I’ve got.”