Quick question: have you heard of Gerry Cinnamon? The Glaswegian songwriter’s popularity is astounding – he headlined the biggest ever indoor show in Scottish history in November – but his name often won’t ring a bell for those not yet converted. Cinnamon is as D.I.Y. as they come. He plays live with just an acoustic guitar and loop pedal. He isn’t signed to a label and upholds radical resistance to typical press engagements. His interview with Music Feeds was just the fifth he’s ever done – this from a man with more than 100 million Spotify streams, a Gold-certified LP and a sold-out UK arena tour booked for next May-June. Cinnamon explained his reluctance in a recent interview with British magazine The Face. “I don’t trust people that I don’t know. So I don’t deal with any cunt,” he said.
But despite his dogged circumspection, Cinnamon proved a generous conversationalist with an undeniable passionate streak when we spoke during his Australian tour supporting Liam Gallagher. Like the Gallaghers before him, Cinnamon has especially struck a chord in the northern parts of the United Kingdom. He’ll follow that record-breaking indoor concert with a show at Glasgow’s Hampden Arena in July. It’s a 50,000-capacity football stadium that Cinnamon sold out in less than a day. His popularity isn’t limited to the UK, however, as demonstrated by three sold-out solo dates on his Australian tour and major inroads across continental Europe.
What’s at the heart of this popularity? Cinnamon is a working-class man from Glasgow who sings in his local accent. He’s not afraid to include Glasgow patter in his grimy, fly on the wall observations of local life, which resonate well beyond Scotland’s most populous city. Music Feeds spoke to the 35-year-old songwriter about his principles, his prophetic intuition and why he bloody loves the acoustic guitar so much.
Music Feeds: You’ve grown your fanbase through non-conventional means, sidestepping typical media strategies and not working with a record label. What’s motivated you to keep it so grassroots?
Gerry Cinnamon: The quote-unquote fame part of it, I’ve no interest in it. I love music. I try and make it all about the tunes when I come to the gig. I don’t have a band or anything.
MF: How does the way you’re handling your career and the control you have over it compare to your ambitions when starting the solo artist journey six-odd years ago?
GC: I predicted a lot of it. My mate, who always brings me back down to the ground by telling me I’m rubbish – that I was great, but you’re still rubbish – always makes a point of giving credit because I told him when I was 15/16 basically most of the things that have happened were going to happen. And they did. A lot of the songs I’ve written are predictions of what was going to happen, like ‘Fortune Favours the Bold’. These are predictions of what’s going to happen, but also the pitfalls of that situation – like, the bigger you get, the more complicated it gets. So I’m ready for it – knowing that it’s going to happen is half the battle. So there are no surprises because I know.
MF: Did you feel confident you’d found a style of songwriting that could communicate with a large audience while existing outside of the mainstream?
GC: I’ve never really had confidence in anything except my songwriting. When you’ve got nothing but an acoustic guitar and a loop pedal – I’ve got live loops and kick drums and stuff, and I’ve got harmonicas – when you’re limited to that you have to rely on your lyrics. Different people look for different things in songs. They look for the soundscape or they’re going for the scene because everybody’s into it. But at the end of the day, if the song means something to you and it was crafted in a certain way that it means something, it’ll mean something to somebody else. Because anybody that’s decent, whose opinion that I value, they all say the same thing: “What’s happened to music? I want songs that mean something. Where’s the big gigs?” I was like, right, well I better do it then.
MF: Recognising that people would respond to something as long as it meant something to you, is that insight derived from you having found solace and understanding in the music you love?
GC: It’s that, and everybody’s trying to figure themselves out and figure out their position in space and time. I’m saying everybody, [but] there’s a lot of people that aren’t on a journey, that aren’t trying to better themselves. They’re just floating around, whereas other people that are looking, it’s them that I play for. I write for myself and I write for them. If I meet someone, I know they’re on the level. I can say things without having to go into detail because they know the script; they’re on the level. That’s who I hope is into the tunes.
MF: A community has grown around you and your songs. Do you sense this at your shows – can you feel a strong personal attachment?
GC: You can tell, man. You see people crying in the audience and people just going absolutely mental. I’ve been trying to figure out a term for it, but beautiful mayhem. People take it almost to a riotous level, but they don’t ruin it by being dickheads. It’s that fine line between love and chaos.
MF: Your fans tend to take pride in being Gerry Cinnamon fans, which is no doubt related to the fact that becoming one of your fans feels like a choice as opposed to the result of media saturation.
GC: Even the word fan doesn’t sit well with me. I just see it as other people that are on the level. I don’t see people as cattle or as fans. It’s not really my scene. I like people who get it and if you get it, we’re having it and then we’ll take it to the next level. The best gigs that you’ve ever been to it’s like a spiritual experience and everybody kind of crescendos at the same time or everybody starts rocking at the same time. Trying to structure the set and bring everybody to that crescendo and if it gets a little bit chaotic, bring them down and have a wee chat, remind people it could be the best weekend of their lives.
MF: Your new album, The Bonny, is due out in April 2020. Four singles have come over the last six months, all of which display your ongoing allegiance to the acoustic guitar. Is that simply an aesthetic preference?
GC: Acoustic guitar is one of the greatest instruments ever. It’s one of the most honest instruments. I try not to dress things up too much and, again, lean on the lyrics. Because no matter what you do, you’re not going to please everybody. Online you’re going to get people who give you a bit of stick or whatever. One of the best things Liam [Gallagher] told me is that you’re there to be criticised. It’s your job to be criticised. That’s helped me a lot to square things in my head. Not everybody’s going to get it. There’s some songs that have samples and drums and stuff, but I try and lean heavily on the lyrics. I knew that if I didn’t push it then it’d be real and that makes it undeniable. It doesn’t matter if people try and dismiss it because it’s real.
Gerry Cinnamon finishes up his December tour supporting Liam Gallagher this week with shows in Fremantle. Head here for details.