Dan Gillespie Sells are playing at Foodies Festival in Brighton
“Live here, work here, party here,” says Dan, 43, with a grin. “I was very lucky that this happened to be my setup before Covid happened.” As well as the recording studio he built there, the singer has vintage Japanese dolls, kitsch Babycham glasses, retro-collectable 60s vases, old wireless radios, painted porcelain dogs… and the Ivor Novello award for Songwriters of the Year that he won in 2007 with his band The Feeling.
Their debut album, Twelve Stops And Home, a shimmering confection of silky pop melodies and wry, knowing lyrics, sold a million in the UK alone. All four singles from it – Fill My Little World, Sewn, Never Be Lonely, and Love It When You Call – were also huge chart hits and the future looked set fair for a band who fitted snugly into the then thriving British indie-pop scene.
Only things didn’t quite work out like that.
“It was difficult,” Dan admits. Maintaining such success was “complicated.” As he points out, The Feeling’s second album, Join with Us, “still sold shedloads and went to No.1,” but there was only one hit single, I Thought It Was Over. They didn’t know it yet, but it would also be their last.
“It was the third album [2011’s Together We Were Made] that really tested us,” he says. “We hadn’t stopped touring for years and I’d run out of things to write about.”
Five years on, British radio had changed. Bands like The Feeling were no longer welcome on the airwaves. Thoughtful 70s-influenced pop had been swept away by a tsunami of hip-hop, TikTok, and spangly new ways of making your iPhone ping.
“The media landscape completely shifted. That’s when we left Island Records and decided to be a bit more experimental. Out of that came albums four and five.”
Or put another way, two more albums that weren’t hits, followed in 2016 by ‘hiatus’; that muted music biz aphorism for being put out to pasture.
Dan said it’s complicated to ‘maintain success’
Although Dan feels those dark days are behind him – understandably, given the resounding return-to-form of their new album, Loss. Hope. Love, released next month (May) – at the time he was plunged into the depression he alludes to on the stand-out track, Lost.
“I’m very lucky, I’ve suffered one big bout of depression in my life. Everything else has been very minor. This was a proper depression, where you get the absolute loss of any sensation, except for the numbness that comes with it. Where you can’t even get out of bed.
“The hardest part was when music ceased to be my place of solace. My piano has always been my therapist and there was a point in which that was actually stressing me out. I was like, ‘Oh God, this is supposed to be the thing that I do in order to balance myself.’ And actually, it had turned into my job.
“I’d talk about it as this magical golden unicorn that I’d turned into a cart horse. But it’s paid for the mortgage.”
How did he cope? Medication? Therapy?
“Time. I just allowed time to get me out of it. I stoically carried on living my life through this fog. It felt endless. I would wake up months later and go, ‘God, I’m still here’. It stayed like that for about eight months Then it lifted without me even noticing. Suddenly, I was living my life and laughing again. I could enjoy music again and all the things that I previously enjoyed. I always believed that there was a silver lining.”
Dan Gillespie Sells, centre, with The Feeling bandmates
A large part of that silver lining came from writing the music for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, a coming-of-age stage musical based on the real-life story of 16-year-old County Durham schoolboy Jamie Campbell, as he overcomes bullying and homophobia to become a drag queen.
Transferred to the West End in 2017 and subsequently toured around the world, the 2021 movie version starred dazzling newcomer Max Harwood, supported by Sarah Lancashire and Richard E. Grant.
Dan says, “I knew what it was to be a young gay kid”, but adds, “I don’t want to just be telling stories about gay kids. You make things specific so that they feel real. But in doing that, somehow you create something which is weirdly universal.
“We all remember what it was like to be 16, a bit insecure, nervous about stepping out into the world. That’s what made the audience connect with it.”
Writing for the musical rebooted his creative energy, he says.
“I had characters to write for, I wasn’t endlessly trying to express my own thoughts and feelings. That gets exhausting. The musical is another version of me trying other things out, and it’s taken me all over the world again.”
Dan, right, said writing for the musical rebooted his energy
Working with the other band members on the soundtrack also rekindled his enthusiasm for The Feeling.
“We re-signed with Island Records and decided we were going to do a pop album again.”
New song Never Gave Up shows they succeeded. It sounds like a bitter-edged John Lennon song sung by a wide-eyed Paul McCartney.
On Love People, he sings of ‘getting rid of the flags’, including the rainbow one, “because I feel like identity is something which has been used to deny us our rights and equality.
“We’ve had to use that same weapon in order to push back. But there’s a point in an idealistic future, where we can put our identity aside and go, ‘Actually, we’re just people. There isn’t that much difference between us and you’.”
“We’re much more similar to each other. Let’s have a look at that and let’s talk about that and let’s spread that message’.”
Dan’s mother is Katherine Gillespie Sells MBE, a psychotherapist, writer, and disability rights campaigner. She founded REGARD, a national, volunteer-run organisation of disabled lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender people.
Gillespie is his father’s surname. Even though his father left when Dan was three, “technically my mum and dad are still married, which is adorable. We still hang out together, go on holiday together. It’s a very wild, extended family. So I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll have Gillespie and Sells as my name’.”
The future, as foreseen from the old ship captain’s piano that takes pride of place in his converted pub-home, has never looked brighter – or busier.
“I’m working with David Baddiel on a musical, based on one of his kids’ books. A couple of TV projects in development. A movie, in development, and four other musicals in various stages of production. It’s just a case of waiting to see. I never think it’s going to happen until I see it on the stage, then I go, ‘Okay. It happened’.”
Meanwhile, this autumn, The Feeling embark on their first UK tour for four years and will be warming up with festival dates this summer, including bill-topping shows next weekend and in August for the Foodies Festival – also known as “Gastro-Glasto” – in aid of the Musicians Against Homelessness project (MAH) with all proceeds going to Crisis.
There are twelve Foodie Festival events in the UK this summer.
“They raise money for Musicians Against Homelessness,” he says, “an organisation that has already raised hundreds of thousands to support some of the neediest in our society. We are honoured to be involved as times get even tougher for so many.
“The Foodies Festival is going to be so much fun!
“We have been raring to get out there and play live again and this summer is going to be a massive celebration.”
Looks like Dan’s got that good feeling back.
*The Feeling headline Foodies Festival in Brighton next Saturday 30th April – details at foodiesfestival.com. Their new album Loss Hope Love is released on 6th May.
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