Since graduating from Goldsmiths in 2011, Joe Newman has worked as a guitarist and musical director for a variety of artists in a wide range of musical styles. He has worked with artists such as Jessie Ware, Ghostpoet, Eska, Petite Noir, Laura Groves, Shakka and James Smith
Please could you tell us a little bit about yourself and the role of music in your life up until now?
Hi there! My name’s Joe Newman and I play guitar. After picking up the instrument at 14, I’ve spent most of the last decade or so working as a session musician – primarily touring and live performance, but also studio recording too. I’ve taught guitar for a long time, but more recently I’ve begun working part-time at Goldsmiths, University of London as a Lecturer in Popular Music. Whether rehearsing, gigging, recording or teaching, my love of music is grounded in moments of collective creativity; whether writing a guitar part that fits the song, or working together to translate a studio recording into a live performance for a tour, working with others to achieve shared goals is at the centre of why I make music and teach.
What/who inspired you to want to become a musician?
As a child my Dad was always playing music around the house, and I still have strong connections to records that he’d play before bed – like John Martyn’s Small Hours and Joni Mitchell’s Hejira – or as soon as the sun came out at the start of summer – particularly Stevie Wonder’s Music Of My Mind. My parents also used to take my sister and I to free concerts on the weekend, and some of my earliest memories are running around the foyer of the Barbican whilst a band was playing. One gig that had a significant impact on me was being taken to see the guitarist Bill Frisell play when I was about 10 or 11, and so when I was a bit older and started to get into music as a long-haired teenager, I was immediately drawn to the guitar. The impetus and inspiration to become a session musician myself came from having guitar lessons with Dave Okumu in my late teens. Seeing him play in so many different contexts but always with such a distinctive and recognisable sound and touch pushed me to want to form my own bands and start gigging.
Could you share with us a musical and/or life highlight? How did it make you feel?
I remember feeling quite overwhelmed when I first appeared on Later… With Jools Holland, just because I’d spent so many evenings watching it at home that I couldn’t quite get my head around actually recording it myself. Also getting to tour and visit places that I’ve never been to before is always really exciting.
Could you say a few words about how music relates to mental health from your perspective?
There’s nothing like the feeling of coming off stage after a great gig, and even though the adrenaline fades and the audience goes home, I’m often left with a hugely validating feeling that I was part of a collective endeavour that involved lots of people working together to make the show happen, as well as the energy and attention of all the people in the crowd. I think that feeling of ‘losing yourself’ in music through focusing so intently on your contribution to the song, whether in rehearsal or on stage, helps me to feel connected to others and part of something larger than myself. There are other challenges of being a musician that can at times feel isolating and quite lonely, but those moments where you can pull ideas out of the air and find just the right notes are incredibly rewarding.
What do you feel you can offer to a participant? What are your areas of special interest?!
Because of my experience in live music and teaching, my hope is that I’d be able to support a participant in preparing for gigs, as well as discussing their artistic practice more broadly. I often meet with students in a tutorial setting within my work at Goldsmiths, and 1-2-1 sessions such as these can be a great way to explore the music that a participant is working on and discuss any challenges they’re facing, in addition to things they’d like to achieve. This could include their guitar/pedalboard/amp set-up, planning and organising rehearsals, or how to approach an upcoming gig. If useful, this could include talking through the meaning of a particular song or songs, in order to consider how best to communicate these ideas within the context of a live performance.
Why is being part of Seed Sessions important to you?
Having studied at Goldsmiths myself, and like many musicians from nearby institutions like Trinity College of Music, I’ve made south-east London my home for nearly 15 years now. As a fellow guitarist, I was well aware of the incredibly high-esteem that Toby Seed was and is held in, and though regrettably we never got to play together, I would often bump into Toby at the pub or when he was out walking his dog. Seed Sessions is a fantastic initiative that seeks to use music and creativity as a means to encourage and support men to open up, both through their music and in conversation with other men. I couldn’t be happier to be involved.