First Published August 2020
PAUL WELLER, THE QUEEN, & WOMEN IN BUSINESS
Last month saw singer/songwriter HARLEYMOON KEMP release her debut single, the devastatingly beautiful SPACE, which quickly climbed all the way to the #1 spot on the country charts in the UK. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Harleymoon shortly afterwards for Part 1 of this chat, which you can also catch up on and enjoy here at the official OTRT website.
Although it’s only a few weeks ago, it’s been a whirlwind of activity for Harleymoon ever since. She’s turned in a captivating ‘live’ performance on the Nashville Meets London Facebook page, her video for Space has been featured on the C.M.T. (Country Music Television) website in the U.S., her co-write with Una Healy (and Fred Abbott), Until You, has been released by the Irish star, and Harleymoon has even graced a two-page spread in the pages of the Sunday World for a chat with Ireland’s showbiz king, Eddie Rowley himself. And with more new music on the way soon, we’ll all be seeing and hearing a lot more from the Londoner. And indeed, long may that be so.
But back to today, and to Part 2 of our chat with Harleymoon from last month.
In Part 1 we had briefly touched on the fact that Harleymoon is a very successful photographer. And that, of course, means spending her time behind the camera. While growing up, however, she would have been used to seeing her mum and dad [Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet, and Shirlie Holliman of Pepsi & Shirlie, who had been backing vocalists for Wham!] – and indeed her godfather [George Michael] too – in front of the cameras. But now, as a recording artist herself, I wondered if being in front of the camera more will be something that might take Harleymoon a little getting used to?
“Yeah! I’m gonna have to learn to get over myself! [laughs]. When I was younger, I was always worried that I was going to be judged for being ‘so-and-so’s’ kid, and I had this really horrible stigma about it. And again, it was only myself who had to get over it. Because you’re always going to be judged, no matter what. If people want to judge you, they will. You just have to let it go. But when I was eighteen, and a bit more vulnerable, I just didn’t want to put music out and have people say, oh, is it any good? Or, it’s ‘so-and-so’s’ kid, or…I don’t know…I just always had this, I don’t know what it was, that made me feel too sensitive. Now, I’m an adult, and I really don’t care what anyone thinks as long as I like it [laughs]. I’ve always stayed behind the scenes. But now, I’ve just gotten to a place where I love these songs, and I love writing and feel connected to the music, so everything else, it doesn’t really matter.”
I asked Harleymoon about the making of the video for Space, in which she looks more than comfortable in front of the camera…
“You know what, we had to shoot it in lockdown, well, just at the end of lockdown, just before it came out. And it was just me and one cameraman, and we had to light it ourselves, and the set was probably about five-foot wide! [laughs]. Because it was so homemade, there was nothing daunting about it! It was really, really fun. It was an amazing friend of mine who shot it, so I kind of got away with that one, I reckon!”
Going back to photography, which is obviously a business for Harleymoon, but it’s clearly a passion also. But it wasn’t always like that. I had read that Harleymoon more or less stumbled into photography during her schooldays because it was the only subject she could get away with being late for. So, I put that charge to her: guilty, or not guilty?
“Totally guilty! I was really ADHD at school, I couldn’t remember what anyone was trying to teach me. I’d forget the work, I didn’t do the homework, I didn’t know what was going on. So I thought ooh, in those art classes you can kind of sit in the back a bit and get away with it [laughs]. But then I actually ended up really enjoying photography, so much that I didn’t go to the class because I was booking jobs! I’d be shooting bands, and following tours around. Yeah, so I got out of school quite actually. I think I just love physically making things. Whether it’s with my camera, or with my guitar, I just love the process. At the end of the day, I feel so fulfilled. Even if it was rubbish, it doesn’t matter [laughs].”
Is there a specific moment that Harleymoon can remember being aware that photography was becoming a passion for her as opposed to just another subject in school or a way to earn a living?
“Not so much while I was at school. But I just didn’t stop doing it. The first time I remember thinking, ‘Holy crap, I’m really doing this!’, was when I was doing some magazine stuff, because I was just trying to do anything to get noticed at the time as a photographer. And I was thinking, what do people really care about? And also, I was really young! Only like sixteen. So I knew I wasn’t going to get any big jobs, because no-one was going to take me seriously because I was so young. So I was thinking well, how are they going to take me seriously? Maybe I’ll offer up free celebrity portraits to talent management companies? I said I’ll do some pictures, you don’t have to pay me, I’ll just give you head-shots for your presenters or DJs, or whatever, and they all said yeah. Then all of a sudden, I’d built up this book – not so much just head-shots, I’d made it stylish and made it look cool – but I had this book of famous faces. Then I started going back to the magazines and saying, ‘Look, trust me now?’ [laughs]. And I was still only seventeen, but I got a whole bunch of work! So I did that, and I still got turned down loads and loads as well. BUT, there was one job with Paul Weller, it was shooting his collaboration with Pretty Green, which is Liam Gallagher’s clothing line. I got booked on the job and I thought, oh crap, I don’t know what I’m doing! [laughs]. So I pulled in a big team of assistants with me to help. I knew I could do it, but I was so out of my depth because it was my first BIG shoot, in a massive studio, and with set design. I think I was twenty or twenty-one by this point. Anyway, we did the shoot, went really well, and afterwards my picture was in a shop window on Carnaby Street. And that was it! I was stood there for about twelve hours in case anyone walked past [laughs]. I was thinking, yep, I think I’ve made it, I think I’m there [laughs]. That was the only moment I really remember feeling like, A, I don’t know what I’m doing, but B, I’ve actually done it! [laughs].”
And speaking of famous faces like Mr. Weller and Mr. Gallagher, there’s an even more well-known face who Harleymoon was once booked to shoot…the Queen herself!
“Yeah! That was so weird! So weird! I didn’t know it was the Queen. Basically, I’d worked with this fashion brand shooting their stuff, and they said we’ve got this famous person coming down to our offices, and they didn’t really give me much information, but they asked do you want the job? I thought, well I like the brand, I’ll get paid [laughs], so of course, always say yes! Great, lovely job! So they said well you need to come down for a rehearsal. And I was like, a rehearsal?! What am I doing a rehearsal for to do some press snaps? Anyway, I get there, and there’s all police lined up outside the door. And I’m thinking oh my God, what is this? They had said to dress really smart as well. So I asked if it was someone royal, and they were like, ‘Yeah, but we’re not allowed to say who.’ Then all of a sudden, out of the car, gets this little, tiny Queen in her little leather queeny shoes! And I had to take her picture! But she was surrounded by eight guards with swords! I was terrified out of my mind, I was so nervous [laughs]. I was thinking ok, this is it now…me and the Queen [laughs]. I wasn’t allowed to talk to her. You’re counted in seconds how long you’re allowed to stand in the same room! I didn’t think I’d be as nervous as I was, but the adrenaline was MASSIVE! [laughs].”
Staying with the business theme, Harleymoon is involved in another really interesting project at the moment also, a podcast for women with start-up businesses. I asked her to tell me what she wanted the podcast to be, what prompted her to do it, and what she’d like to see it achieve?
“I think, for me, I was always setting up my own projects, my own business. I never felt afraid to try, and fail. It wasn’t until the past few years when I realised that not everyone feels that way. Others do worry more about the insecurities of what could go wrong. But that stops you from trying, and experiencing something that I’ve had so much fun with. I would never have been in the room watching the Queen’s tiny, little victorian shoes and taking pictures if I didn’t just give it a go [laughs]. So I kept hearing loads of people saying, ‘Oh I’d love to do that, or I wish I did that.’ And I realised that men didn’t really have the same attitude. Men were much more likely to say, ‘Oh I’m setting up something at the moment.’ I don’t know. Men were more excited by business, and women were more afraid of it. I know I’m probably going to offend people by saying that, but that was just my personal experience. I have three or four friends, really good friends, who have all set up their own companies. And we ring each other all the time, and we give each other that buzz! We’ll be saying, ‘And I’ve thought of this’, and someone else will say, ‘That’s a genius idea, I’m going to try that!’ We love that buzz of when we’re talking, even though we have completely different businesses, it doesn’t matter. We’ve all set them up, and we’ve all got that same burning desire inside to try and make something with them. So it kind of stemmed from that. All of those conversations I was having with girlfriends, as opposed to other people I’d met who were saying they wished they had the confidence to do it. Or they didn’t think they were smart enough. Or who were wondering, well what if it doesn’t work out? But it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work out, because IT WILL, IF you throw yourself into the deep-end, you WILL succeed. It’s about trying. I don’t feel smarter than anybody else. I know there’s a million people out there that are better than me at doing business. And a million that are better at taking pictures. Or better at making branded content. But I’m trying! And I’m doing it. And that is all you need to succeed. So I wanted to set up a podcast based around stopping people from saying, ‘I want to do..’, and get them saying, ‘I am doing…’ It’s a bit of a sparky chat really with some friends! We’ve only done a few episodes yet, and they’re still being worked on and edited. I want to record about three more before we work out the release dates and the order they’ll go in.”
We ended our chat by returning once again to Harleymoon’s songwriting. In talking about Space, and obviously aware that it’s an out and out love-song, she had said in another interview I read, not to worry, because ”the pain was coming next!” For me, what country music does best is songs about heartache and hurt. So, meaning it in the best possible way, I informed Harleymoon that I looked forward to hearing about her pain! But what I really wanted an insight into, was whether a lot of her songwriting comes from personal experience? Or is she, perhaps, more of an inspiration kind of writer?
“It’s a bit of both. Some songs are personal. But I can absorb friends’ feelings of pain as well. So sometimes they don’t want to talk to me about their problems [laughs]. They’ll see me writing them down! They’ll be like, ‘And he walked away and left me in the street’, and I’ll be like, well that’s great…[starts singing]…’He walked away and left me in the street’…[laughs]. I think it comes from the emotion and the concept. Half and half, I would say. Sometimes, I know the story because I’ve lived it. And sometimes, I know the story because of one of my best friends who I’ve spoken to. Or a volatile relationship that I’m watching someone else have, that they don’t know they’re in. That’s always quite easy to write! [laughs].”
~ SPACE, the debut single and #1 chart-topper from HARLEYMOON KEMP, is OUT NOW, available on all digital platforms. Also out now, UNTIL YOU, the new release from UNA HEALY, co-written by Harleymoon.