The guitarist, Felix White launched a sports radio programme, writes a music column for NME and has his own record label YALA. Whereas lead singer Orlando Weeks has decided to turn his hand at illustrating and writing a children’s book, ‘The Gritterman’.
In an interview Weeks describes the tale of “a fella who is on the brink of retirement, he’s coming to end of doing a job that he’s loved doing, which is gritting the roads. The story is essentially his last night on the job.”
The project is made up of three elements, there is the illustration, the story and the music, and Weeks has said “The music has informed the look of the illustration, and the story has informed the music, so its been this kind of back and forth.”
The book is accompanied by a soundtrack of original piano music and songs, which are written, played and sung by Weeks, with a full band and choir. The narrator of the book is actor, comedian and BBC sketch regular Paul Whitehouse, who takes on the character of The Gritterman. “The final piece of the puzzle was finding someone that I thought would be sympathetic to the character, who happens to be the actor, comedian and star of many a BBC sketch.”
The book was performed at London’s Union Chapel last year to rave reviews with critics comparing it to the work of Raymond Briggs, author of The Snowman. For the first time outside of Weeks’ hometown – the Gritterman came to Manchester’s Albert Hall.
Weeks tells NME “Last year’s concert was very special, It’s going to be a real pleasure trying to recreate that atmosphere, not just in Union Chapel but in the Albert Hall too. This year my focus has been on writing a new album, so it will be nice to come back to The Gritterman music.”
As you enter the Albert Hall it is almost unrecognizable, the standing area is filled with rows of seats, it is decked out with Christmas decorations, and a huge tree in the corner. It has a theatre feel to it tonight.
Pre-show support came from Toothless – the solo project from Bombay Bicycle Club bassist Ed Nash. He released the debut Toothless album ‘The Pace Of The Passing’ last year which has an electronic/ indie pop sound to it.
Tonight he has stripped it right back to acoustic, just him on guitar with his mate backing him on an electric. Nash tells us he is due to release an acoustic album next year, one to watch out for… it’s the perfect warm up for tonight’s audience.
Nash swaps guitars for the cover of a Magnetic Fields cover; ‘I don’t want to get over you’ which goes down a treat, to finish off he sings Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’ which has the full hall singing along, getting us all into the mood.
Weeks makes his way to the stage to welcome everyone and sets some house rules, he seems timid and humble. He politely asks us all to save our applause until the end and informs us of a charity they are collecting donations for, Marmalade Trust (a charity dedicated to tackling loneliness). “Thank you, I will be back in just a few minutes”
He arrives back on stage with the full band, his pianists, bassist, percussion, choir and narrator Paul Whitehouse. Whitehouse is positioned on the upper tier of the hall with a spot light behind him, that switches on every time he is narrating, listening to his gentleness and compassion in his voice, it’s easy to see why Weeks hand picked him for the role.
Weeks appears a lot more comfortable and confident now he has the band behind him. He’s centre stage as a composer and a conductor. You can feel that Weeks lives every moment throughout the story, his eyes alternating between each member of his band as they play their parts.
He is enjoying the talented band as much as anyone else in the hall. The crowd feel their way into the story when a couple of songs in, we are hit with ‘Angels Singing’. This song is a perfect exhibition of his vocals. Weeks’ distinctive voice has only gotten stronger since we last saw him, or maybe it’s the setting that is bringing out his best?
The lighting changes along with the weather within the story, The Albert Hall is transformed into a magical Christmas setting. The old chapel’s original timber backdrop is fully exposed tonight and draws your eyes to the huge organ behind. The show piece is the knee-high Disco Ball fixed directly centre of the stage, creating silhouettes of the band.
The next song sandwiched between the tales of the Gritterman’s home and his late wife, this is when it all begins with the song ‘Seasonal Hero’ a real tear jerker as you fall into the Gritterman’s world. You can hear a pin drop in the Hall, everyone is deep in the story, taking it all in, silence the whole way through.
The story comes to the end. A beautiful and festive performance. It’s maybe too early to tell whether The Gritterman will become a Christmas staple, with any luck it will, but it has certainly shown Weeks to be a true multi-disciplined artist.
The Gritterman is out now, published by Penguin. The Album is available via download. You can also listen to the whole tale on Spotify.