Simon Grainger is best known as a fixture of the Balearic music scene during the 90s when he played live keyboards and backing vocals for Ibiza sunset band A Man Called Adam.
These days Grainger records under the moniker of Graingerboy and has made his home in Leeds in the north of England. Gay Star News caught up with him to talk about his music and growing up gay.
What was it like growing up gay in the UK in the late-80s?
I spent my teenage years in Stone - a small commuter town in the Midlands. It was very conservative and there was little room for anyone who might be considered different.
I spent most of those years trying to blend in, which of course was pretty tough as I was fast becoming aware of my sexuality. I don't even remember there being another gay person at school.
Arriving in Leeds at university in my late teens was a really liberating experience and it was a huge relief to live in such an open minded city.
As someone who has travelled extensively, has your view of Leeds changed over the years?
I fell in love with Leeds the second I moved there. I've lived in London and Manchester and Leeds has always been the one city that felt like home, so I've kept coming back.
It's also definitely the friendliest of those cities by far. Its success is probably down to the fact that its constantly evolving and if anything it's really come into its own in the last decade. Before that I felt it was often in the shadows of Manchester. I've also visited many cities around the world and Leeds is still up there for me.
What’s the club scene like in Leeds today?
It's great. My first clubbing experiences in Leeds in the mid-90s were never beaten in any other city. Vague at The Warehouse (now Speed Queen) set the bar extremely high. It was Europe’s first truly mixed club where northern lads rubbed shoulders with the most glamorous drag queens and danced the night away and for me that mindset is still in existence.
Today, there's something for everyone, gay or straight, great soul and funk clubs (Smokestack, Hi-Fi), some great alternative bars (Oporto, Milo, Sela, North) and the larger clubs are still pulling in from all over the country (Mission, The Warehouse).
What’s life like for a gay man living in Leeds?
Pretty good. As I've said before, the whole relaxed mindset means that the city doesn't feel segregated. There are a great selection of gay bars, although it feels like anyone's welcome, which really appeals to me. Queens Court has a fantastic courtyard in the summer where I often meet friends and The Viaduct Showbar has its tongue firmly in its cheek and is great fun.
Shadowformerself is your debut solo album, why was this the right time to release a solo album?
It's taken a while to pin down my sound and feel confident about a solo record. I'm a perfectionist, so I really didn't want to put something out that I wasn't 100% happy with.
When Ian Catt (who works with Saint Etienne) and Jagz Kooner (Primal Scream, Sabres Of Paradise) came on board, I started to feel like I was moving forward. They are big production heroes of mine, so obviously I was pretty excited to be working with them. Once they were on board the album really came together.
The Christchurch Earthquake and my Myalgic Encephalomyelitis diagnosis happened halfway through making the record too, so that really shaped the final sound of the record and gave it a real direction. During that time it was also essential to have something to focus on to try and pull myself through it.
Myalgic Encephalomyelitis can be a debilitating illness - how important was your music in helping you work through this?
I was bed-bound for months, during the worse stages of my illness. Somedays I'd sleep for 20 hours a day and not be able to tolerate any stimulus. On the better days, when I was in bed and not sleeping, I was able to work on my laptop for short periods of time making the record.
Some of the vocals were also recorded on those days. I ended up keeping the sore throat vocal on the track Stumbled.
People talk about the intricate programming on the record and I can see now that the album was my only focus during that difficult period. I really had time to pay attention to the finer details. In a way the album kept me sane and gave me a real focus on the worst year of my illness. The song Georgia is about Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.
You mentioned the Christchurch Earthquake - what’s the connection there?
I was caught in the Christchurch Earthquake in February 2011. It was a life changing moment and I was lucky to be alive. The song Three Crowns talks about that experience. The earthquake and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis diagnosis came within the same year, so both had a huge impact on the songwriting and overall sound of the album.
Who is the audience that you feel will most appreciate the music that you’re producing today?
That's a tough one. I think the album is a bit of a grower and some of it doesn't exactly make for easy listening, so I guess people who are willing to be a bit more adventurous with their listening and don't mind giving albums a few listens before forming opinions. Saying that, I'm a pop music fan so there are some big pop moments on there too to try and lure people in!
What’s next for Graingerboy?
Definitely taking the album out live next year. When I got ill a few years ago I had to stop gigging. I'm starting to improve now so I can hopefully start to think about putting a band together. I'd love to do the festival circuit next year but want to get it sounding right with a live band.
Graingerboy’s debut solo release ‘Shadowformerself’ is scheduled for release by Popcrisis Recordings on 15 October 2012.
Listen to a Graingerboy track recorded exclusively for Gay Star News here: