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The masterplan: getting British indie rock back in the charts

Kristina Wemyss speaks to York’s James Hargreaves about his #takebackthecharts movement.

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Image Credit: James Hargreaves

James Hargreaves is a masters student at the University of York. Alongside his studies, family life and job as a guitar teacher, he is on a mission to bring British indie rock back into the charts. Dissatisfied with corporate record company domination and the lack of rock and roll representation, James decided to start #takebackthecharts. As a part of this movement, he released the Good To Be Back EP which soared to number seven in the physical singles chart- and that’s only the beginning of the master plan. I caught up with him to find out more about his recent success and #takebackthecharts.

It’s clear that James’ passion for British indie rock comes from the legendary bands that he grew up with during the 90s. Beyond the nostalgia though, there’s a sense of ownership and British identity that is embedded in the genre: “ it’s something that is really ours, it originated in the UK and it’s a four nations genre.” Comparatively, old-school rock and roll, James continues, was a style that we hijacked from America. Besides indie rock, there aren’t a lot of home-grown British genres.

On the first EP in this journey, James was aiming to create modern songs that could stand side-by-side with 90s indie rock anthems, and he certainly achieved this goal. The influence of this musical era comes through loud and clear, with echoes of Oasis reverberating throughout each track. However, he did face some barriers in the making of the EP, as lockdown necessitated him doing all the parts himself. James would much prefer working with an ensemble- something that he hopes to do more of in future projects.

James’ YouTube viewers were key in making the EP happen. Through crowdfunding (at his viewers’ request) James secured the money to cover the mastering costs. With a “buy nice or buy twice” logic, he decided to look through Abbey Road’s website and saw that Frank Arkwright was available. As the man who mastered ‘Candle in the Wind’- the biggest selling single of all time, as well as the whole Blur catalogue, the Smiths, Oasis and Arctic Monkeys, “he was a natural choice”.

Keen to shift the focus away from his own music though, James draws attention to the bigger picture: getting British indie rock back into the charts. “In the long run, the big push is not about my music, I want to see other people self-releasing and getting in the charts. I’d far sooner listen to some random working person who has written a really good song and recorded it, getting into the charts. Rather than some manufactured, written-in-a-boardroom song.” Arguably, British indie rock is one of the best genres for connecting with people in a non-artificial way. “For centuries, it was traditional to have music written and performed for the same people, usually in our own communities. That’s why it resonates with us when a working-class band suddenly breaks through- they speak a language we understand.”

The aim of #takebackthecharts is to inspire others to follow suit in getting British indie rock back in the charts. However, many people don’t have the viewership or money that has enabled James to get this far. In terms of how other people can follow in his footsteps, James’ message is clear: social media is your friend.

“Let [the viewers] get to know you, once they like you they’ll be interested in hearing your music. In the nineties and noughties, it was a case of getting a band together, playing a gig, and hoping that a scout would hear you. These days? Not a chance. If you want to stand out from the noise, they have to get to know you first.” Whether that is through TikTok, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram, James is adamant that it’s important to pick one and work at it patiently.

The days of the zero-ethic rockstar are long gone. Record companies often used to give musicians a large advance in the hopes that they would earn it back through CD sales. Now, as James observes, “you can’t go on the dole like musicians used to, no record company is going to fund those first steps for you”. Instead, you need to be sober, focused and determined.

It’s that same work ethic that has got James to where he is. He started a YouTube channel with digital guitar lessons, gradually increasing his viewership and establishing a strong support base before setting out plans to revolutionise the charts. But what next?

In James’ words: “I’m shamelessly copying Oasis, who, if you hadn’t already noticed, are one of my favourite bands.” Following in the footsteps of the Gallagher brothers, James will be releasing two more EPs and an album should be coming out next year. After that, he also hopes to get a band together and record an album at Rockfield studios- where Queen recorded ‘Bohemian Rhapsody and Oasis recorded Morning Glory. And from there, with his own record label already in the works, he wants to sign and support other indie rock bands.

James’ desire to encourage others is never eclipsed by his own success. “Honestly, I’m grateful for what has already happened. I didn’t come into this with any burning desire, I was completely happy before I started this project, I’m doing it because it’s fun. If it gets big and I get to play Glastonbury, amazing, but the biggest thing I want is just rock and roll music back in the charts!”

Naturally, James’ ambition and success have gone on to inspire several others, something which he seems to be very excited about. Hopefully, we will be hearing more from James and see #takebackthecharts create big ripples in the musical pond. I for one certainly agree that it’s time for change and with the impressive progress that James has already made, the future seems a little brighter for British indie rock.

Listen to James’ EP Good To Be Back here

Watch his YouTube video outlining the #takebackthecharts plan here

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