Exciting times ahead for Buxton musician Isaac Neilson

He may have been performing live locally since he was 12, but 2022 has marked a whole new direction for Buxton musician Isaac Neilson.

By Louise Cooper
Friday, 17th June 2022, 9:53 pm
Isaac Neilson
Isaac Neilson

Known to many as one half of the covers band Fuzzy Felt World, Isaac decided at the start of the year to take the plunge and step out as a musician in his own right. And he’s not looked back since.

“At the start of this year I was doing Loose Ends on Radio 4 with (Buxton musician) Maia Miller Lewis,” he said. “I was playing piano for her and I was sat behind it thinking why am I not doing this? If people I know can write songs and do well with it maybe I should have a pop at it so my sort of new year’s resolution to myself was to just fully commit to doing original stuff.

“Like all new year’s resolutions I was like I’ll start on Monday and it ended up getting pushed back. I’ve been just single-mindedly plugging away trying to build up an audience and getting stuff together since February and it’s going way better than I expected really. I’ve had BBC Introducing support, I’ve got some festivals going off and I’m currently recording my next EP with Matt Taylor who was featured in the Advertiser recently because he had his number one album with Frank Turner.”

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Isaac Neilson. Photo Kevin Donnelly @kevindonnellyphoto

Isaac’s background as part of Fuzzy Felt World has given him a good understanding of which direction to take with his own music, as he explained: “The point of covers is to get people going with what they know so when you intimately know a bunch of hits and you’ve played them so often you can kind of distill what makes a good song out of that. All of the instructions are there in what people have done in the past so that’s what I’m trying to carry forward into my own stuff and so far it’s been great fun.

“If I know I can get a great reaction to things like say Dakota by Stereophonics I can use that as a measure, sort of like a comparison for when I do my own stuff.”

Music has been a huge part of Isaac’s life for many years, and while he’s had plenty of experience in terms of the production side of things, creating and recording his own material is a relatively new occurrence for him.

“I’ve mostly worked in production roles and doing session musician backing stuff in recording for a few years so I’ve put together fragments but as a concentrated effort and really thinking about it its just been since the start of this year really,” he said.

So how did it feel for Isaac putting himself out there after so many years of covering other artists?

“It was a bit intimidating at first,” he said. “I’m really confident and self assured as a performer so I don’t have any insecurities there. But the moment when it becomes your lyrics and your music, it’s putting a different part of yourself out there which I was a bit insecure about. I’ve had a really good reception from people so I’ve gotten over that quite quickly but it was a bit of a hurdle. It was sort of the same when I was 12 and I had to get over the hurdle of playing in front of people – it’s just a bit more intimate when it’s your own stuff.”

Isaac may have begun performing at the age of 12, but he first started playing at the tender age of eight. Over the years he’s taken on a number of instruments.

“I play anything you don’t blow,” he explained. “So I play keys, piano, guitar, bass and drums. Other than the kazoo – I’m hopeless at blowing instruments.”

So while music is firmly in his blood, he’s now setting himself clear goals to work towards with his burgeoning solo career.

“I do covers gigs for cash and I work with other artists in a support role but I’m just trying to transition because the sort of thing where you do a gig on a Saturday night and you get paid at the end of it is great, but then what? It’s not building something whereas I’ve got a hunger for a bit of a story arc where I can say now I’ve done this gig, its building to something greater with the goal of getting signed and getting management and representation. Now that I feel like I’m building towards a greater sort of goal it’s a lot more exciting than just doing it for the cash.

“I didn’t expect it to be this quick with the momentum really. I’m surprised and really pleased. And it’s making me work harder.”

Isaac’s third single Deep as a River was released on May 27 and like many musicians, his style is constantly evolving.

“I’ve done this batch of my first three songs I’ve put out which were entirely produced and just done by me on my own,” he said. “They are more in a sort of psych rock Pink Floyd, Radiohead sort of domain where they’re a bit more indulgent in that way. But the stuff I’m doing with Matt at the moment is way more exciting and upbeat. It’s got more of a Libertines-y edge to it, more just straight indie rock sort of stuff but its a lot more danceable.”

He added: “The iterations of improving my songwriting style have come to a point where I’m actually sort of bored of these three that are out now because I’ve moved on from it both in terms of my ability and emotionally. I’m just really excited for the next four that are coming out.”

While Matt is clearly skilled in a number of areas of the music business and playing instruments himself, something has had to give.

“On the first three, I’m playing everything but on the batch of tunes that I’m working on now with Matt, I’ve got a drummer in called Daymo Webster. Having a proper committed drummer on it has just really elevated it. It’s difficult to be highly proficient at all the instruments so the one that I’ve decided to let go of is drums, because then I can just be a keys player and guitar player, and more on the vocals, because singing is actually the newest of any instrument to me. I didn’t start singing until I was like 17 or 18. Bringing in Daymo and Matt into it, where you have two opinions you can trust which are serving the song rather than serving an ego of wanting to make a choice is really reassuring because if you’re working on something in isolation, emotionally you can get really caught up in your own nonsense and I think half of the craft of making a good tune is getting out of your own way and not destroying a good idea with too much consideration and just letting things be what they want to be.”

Buxton’s busy arts and culture scene is widely known to be excellent, but there’s still more that could be done, Isaac thinks.

“It’s really frustrating because the music scene in Buxton is really vibrant and there’s so much going on. But the potential that’s there isn’t being realised,” he said.

“You’ve got things like the spring fair, the fringe, the opera house, BLA BLA BLA and Eat in the Park and all the bands who get good slots on these community events are covers bands which I think is a massive shame because there’s actually loads of really good original artists in the area.

“But they all end up like myself, we all have to go to places like Manchester or Sheffield for opportunities because there’s no one really cultivating the original scene even though there’s loads of people around here doing really interesting original music. So I’d like to see more focus on the originals and people pushing that because there’s so much potential and so much great stuff. But it’s being pushed into places like Manchester, where there should be a bit of sort of community patriotism for our local artists who are really good.”

Streaming services may have taken over from things like CDs, but there’s still nothing like enjoying live music as Isaac confirmed: “It’s that magic that headphones and speakers don’t create. It’s like a pseudo religious experience a big live music show. It’s very transformative. There’s an energy live, something emotional that takes place in that transaction of being in front of a great performer that just doesn’t transcend on a record in the same way.”

Anyone interested in hearing more from Isaac can catch at him at a number of Buxton pubs, or at the Eat in the Park festival in the Pavilion Gardens this August.

You can also hear his music on Spotify, or follow him on Facebook or Instagram.