Written by Sophie Wyatt
Since winning an Ivor Novello Award for Jazz Composition for Small Ensemble in honour of his song ‘The Vision They Had‘, Renell Shaw’s versatile musical talents are continuing to amaze his fans. The songwriter, composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist has not only a number of talents up his sleeve, but an eclectic collection of past collaborations with artists from Rudimental to Jess Glyne, Maverick Sabre to Aloe Blacc. Renell’s guaranteed illustrious career means he is sure to keep up this incredible standard of musical talent and knowledge, and we were lucky enough to chat to him about how his passion for music, winning his Ivor Novello Award, and his debut album ‘The Windrush Suite‘.
Having such a broad range of knowledge on music has only enabled Renell to become the talented musician that he is. His was of hearing and composing music is so uniquely recognisable and tells a story about not only himself but the world around him. He started the interview by telling us about his first prominent memories of music as a child.
‘When I was about 4 years old, I remember dancing and spinning around in circles in the living room while my Grandad practiced his trumpet. I associated live music with him first, but my mum would always play music in the house and she sang to me from before I was born. She loves dub and reggae basslines, this is probably why I gravitated towards the bass guitar and a love for the groove.’
Carrying on down memory lane, Renell gave us an insight into the pivotal moment that he realised that his passion for music was something that he wanted to pursue; ‘I was 11 years old and a friend of mine brought in an acoustic guitar for show and tell at school. He showed me how to strum a C-chord and that was it, I knew I wanted to play music from that moment. It wasn’t until I got into theatre that I started to meet professional musicians who were making a living from music, that’s when I started to figure out how to pursue a career in music.’
After working with such an illustrious list of musicians and companies over the years, Renell announced that he was releasing his debut album ‘The Windrush Suite‘ in October 2020. The month of release is by no means a coincidence, as this is when Black History Month falls. The title of the album is of course in reference to the arrival of 492 West Indians to the UK in 1948. This voyage meant the enriching of culture within Britain, but did not come without it’s troubles for the immigrants. The four piece suite was inspired by these very people and their will to survive, as well as the cultural and societal vibrancies that followed them. Renell explained to us the reasoning behind creating this incredibly composed collection of tracks.
‘I had a lot of fun writing the ‘The Windrush Suite’, it was first time in years that I had a reason to tap into my Composer skills for an extended period of time. I was fortunate to work with some really talented musicians including my mentor Orphy Robinson MBE, there was a genuine synergy between all the musicians.
‘The Windrush Suite’ was written to mark the occasion of National Windrush Day. The four pieces are inspired by the men, women and children, who latterly became known as the ‘Windrush Generation’. The music pays homage to the complex origins of the people – their lives ‘away’, their will to survive, longings, loves and disappointments. Being at home but not home. For Black History Month 2020, I released a broadcast on YouTube showcasing the second part of ‘The Windrush Suite’ entitled, ‘Echo In The Bones’. It continues on from ‘The ‘Windrush Suite’ but tackles the psychological impact that slavery had on the generations that followed. Check it out, both suites will be coming as a limited edition double sided vinyl later this year.’
And it was for the first track of his debut album (‘The Vision They Had‘) that Renell was awarded the Ivor Novello Award for Jazz Composition for Small Ensemble. The annual awards ceremony focuses on crediting breathtakingly talented writers, musicians and composers. After congratulating Renell on his award, he told us how it felt to be nominated for such a prestigious award.
‘Thank you very much, I was truly honoured to be recognised by the Ivors Academy. So many composers and artists that are inspirations to me have received Ivor Novello Awards, so it’s nice to know that I’m on the right path. When I found out that I won, I felt a quiet stillness – I can’t really explain it with words but it was a good feeling. Winning has been a gentle reminder to always trust my instincts.’
Following the wonderfully received release of his album, Renell then set his mind to creating a video for his award winning piece. Being his first ever music video, Renell explained that he was able to reach new artistic lengths as he explored working creatively with music and visuals.
‘It was great! My artistic expression goes way beyond just music, so it was nice to be able to use other creative platforms to tell the story. Major Toms (my publishers) have been very supportive of my work, they helped me pull together a great team – Director Otis Dominique and West End Performer and Choreographer Delycia Belgrave came on board and brought my vision to life. The whole experience has opened up the idea of writing for films or even creating my own short films and scoring the music for it.’
Being such an influential musician himself, it’s almost hard to imagine that he was ever influenced himself. However, Renell then spoke to us about how the legendary singer-songwriter, composer, guitarist and producer Nile Rogers played a huge role in how he developed himself musically.
‘I found my identity as a guitarist through listening to Nile Rodgers and Chic, so I felt like I knew him before I even met him. I haven’t actually worked with Nile, but I sat in on a session at Abbey Road studios with Nile and my Rudimental brothers (I had my Bass ready just in case though). That session was a masterclass, his understanding of jazz harmony is much greater than what you hear on the records, the genius part was watching him create something and then remove the parts of the chords or rhythm that he felt was getting in the way of the song. That day changed how I produce music as a guitarist.’
While our beloved live music events are still not within our grasp, musicians are having to find other ways to fill their creative time. And while this may be struggle for some, Renell Shaw is far from relaxing his work. With a number of new projects in the works Renell gave us an insight into what he has planned for the next 12 months.
‘I’m writing new ideas every day, so I never really stop working! Check out my Afro Electronic project called 2fox, we put out a lot of music last year and we’re about to put out even more this year with new collaborations and possibly our 4th EP. I’ll be releasing the 3rd and final part of ‘The Windrush Suite’ and ‘Echo In The Bones’ this year, I don’t want to give too much away but I can tell you that it’ll be a concept album and it will include some really cool features. I also have a Roots/Dub Album that I’m working on with a friend of mine. I’ll be releasing that this summer, dub music has always been my therapy, I meditate to it, and with the year we had last year, I really wanted to create something that would be therapeutic for both myself and the listener.’