The Voice and the victory

Dave Woodhall talks to Vince Freeman, singer and survivor.

Some musicians are in the right place at the right time and it’s all so easy. Then there’s Vince Freeman, who if battling in the face of adversity counts for anything, will be headlining Glastonbury any time now. You’re not exactly a nepo baby, are you?

“You’re right there. I started off as a musician but I found it meant I couldn’t see any music so I became a promoters and I could book acts I was interested in.”

At one point you were playing 300 gigs a year. That’s some going but I guess you weren’t married at that time?

“I’ve always been a workaholic and it just kept going, I’d be booked somewhere and get another booking from someone in the audience and it grew very quckly. I wasn’t married at this time, I’ve been with my wife for about seventen years now but in the early days I wasn’t married and yes, I don’t think it would have lasted long. It’s a young man’s game.”

You also did an early series of The Voice.

“I try not to say no to anything. I didn’t really know what it was about, it wasn’t something I was looking to do but when I was asked to audition I thought ‘Why not?’.”

I would guess a programme like that would be good for your profile in the short-term but it could ruin your credibility after the initial publicity has died down.

“It’s funny you say that because it was the other way round. It provided me with opportunites, I was offered all sorts of high-profile and well-paying gigs, the World Snooker Awards, the Olympics, those sort of things but it absolutely car-crashed my career. Before The Voice I was starting to sell reasonably good numbrs in folk houses, small theatres, those sort of places. I was on a good upward trajectory then suddenly almost every promoter was saying the same thing; ‘I can’t book you now’. The genre I was used to, people weren’t interested.”

There’s a lot of snobishness and resentment around such talent shows.

“It was exactly that, but I got to work with Ian Dench from EMF, I did sessions with people I would never have been involved with otherwise so the programme was a real leg up in my career.

Then once your career started to recover you were taken ill.

“It’s funny. I started recording this album and my team began to create a biography and it wasn’t until I was talking about it that I thought crikey… After The Voice I was more and more coming home from gigs wih a sore back. I thought I was just getting older but the pain got more severe over a period of eighteen months, the painkillers got stronger until onde day I got up and my legs stoped working.I fell onto my face, got blue lighted to hospital, ended up having a double discectomy and a bone taken out of the bottom my spine. I’ve got a degenerative condition in the lower part of my spine. I was walking with a stick and on morphine.”

Then once your career started to take off again the pandemic stared. Have you never bothered buying a lottery ticket?

“I think I should do now. I feel like coming through all of that I’m the luckiest man alive. I feel that by rights I should be walking with astick and on a myriad of medications but I’m not. There’s someone I know in Cheltenham and he looks after the animals at Longleat Safari Park. He treats elephants in Thailand, he goes all over the world. He’s an osteopath of sorts and treats humans as well as animals. He said that if I agreed to see him when he needed me, he could give me a long-term solution, I can’t tell you what he’s done to me. He held my buttocks for nine montht and did very little else but I haven’t taken a painkiller for 3 1/2 years.”

Never being one to give up, you started doing food at festivals once lockdown eased.

“I’d been a musician for twenty-odd years so you can imagine the conversation at HR if I was applying for a proper job, but I was brought up to think if you don’t have it, go get it. I had to figure something out that I could do under my own steam. I remember the first time in 2021 I was working at a festial. I was doing pizzas and it was the same day a song I’d written called Devils was released by Fedde Le Grand in Germany and it did over fifty thousand streams on Spotify. So I’m serving pizza, watching a few acts and also watching Fedde Le Grand doing a pool party in Cuba.”

I suppose if you’re peforming as well as cooking, at the end of your set instead of saying you’ll be at the merch stand afterwards you’ll be at the pizza van.

“I got booked at a function by a lady who wanted me to sing and do pizzas so I had to cook, then get changed and do an hour and a half onstage. Once was enough. But I could get a great big truck, do live music at one end then pizza at the other. Just turn up and create a party.”

Your album Scars, Ghosts and Glory. It’s said that writing your first novel is always semi-autobiographical and there’s the adage that you have your entire life to do your first album and eighteen months to write yourseond. Put those two ideas together and you’ve got to live some in the next year of so to equal what’s on this one.

“I guess so. Some people are lucky enough to find their feet in terms of songwriting and musicianship early in their careers. I met Ed Sheeran when he was about sixten and he’d already written lots of his famous songs. I guess that second album, versus first album, there’s not many old tracks on this one even though it is about my life, my upbringing and my observations over the past twenty years. There’s one track I wrote in 2012 that’s the oldest one, the majority were written in the last few years so I feel I’ve really found my feet. I feel I’m not doing it by accident anymore.”

You certainly come across as someone who’s particularly happy and, dare I say it, content.

“I guess I am. The pandemic showed me that I’d been fooling myself I was doing everything for my family but it really wasn’t, I’d been looking the wrong way for fifteen years. I have a wife and family, I’m winning. I love music, I don’t want to be without music but I could be. The most important thing is my wife and kids and that give me contentment. I’m loving it, everything. I hope it continues for the rest of my career, however long that lasts. I’ve just done a deal in America that fingers crossed we’re looking at East Coast tours with some big names but whatever happens I’ll be taking whatever life throws at me.”

Scars, Ghosts and Glory by Vince Freeman is out on June 14th. More details can be found here.