Decades later and thousands of miles away from the rock’n’roll revolution of the Southern States, a small studio in the post-industrial backstreets of Birmingham is the last place you’d expect to find the spirit of rockabilly. Yet here it is, alive and well in the guitar of one of this city’s many unique music artists.
Meet Harry Jordan.
Back in 1969, Johnny Cash sang about “A Boy Named Sue”, but this time, it’s all about A Girl Named Harry. Blending old school influences such as Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and Country & Western with a modern approach, she manages to do something new with an old genre and avoids the trap of becoming merely a tribute band.
Harry takes influences from a large variety of sources, such as Country, Rock’n’Roll, Skiffle and the Blues. However, the goal is very much to infuse these older sounds with a fresher, more modern urgency.
She says her look is based on the pin-up aesthetic (currently enjoying a revival), although there was another secret she mentioned. The real reason behind the “Harry” name, the Harry Jordan creation myth, can all be traced back to new wave punk band Blondie and its frontwoman…
“I was a huge Blondie fan. At a very young age I started bleaching my hair to look like Debbie Harry, and the nickname’s stuck with me ever since.”
Old Sound, New Wave
While the sound may be old (with a twist), the methods are new. Harry and her band could only exist and thrive thanks to the changes in Birmingham’s music scene that have taken place in the last 10 years. Back then the indie scene was the only game in town but now, as band member Toby explains, you can go to a gig featuring Heavy Metal followed by Blues followed by Rockabilly all in the same bar.
Her success is also propelled by the internet. Niche genres like hers are able to find their audience through social media such as Facebook and Spotify, reaching listeners all over the world instead of relying on the make-up of the local scene and the whims of promoters. Harry regularly attracts a diverse audience, from older people who remember rockabilly the first time to a new generation discovering the music for themselves.
“You don’t have to think of yourself as a local artist anymore.”
However, Harry’s under no illusion that it’s “all about the music”. She uses media to craft her image, appealing to a new crop of listeners who care as much about a genre’s look and aesthetic (see: Vaporwave) as about its sound. As she points out, the younger generation “see music before they hear it”.
While many have asked her about getting signed to a label, she’d rather stay self-sufficient: “as a musician, there’s so much you can be doing for yourself, that to me is quite exciting – you don’t necessarily need managers anymore”. As Toby points out, an up-and-coming artist can sell a tenth of what they might sell as part of a label and still make a similar amount of money.
For all this talk about the cover star, Harry Jordan is far from a solo act. Songwriting is a collaborative process, co-ordinated with other band members Michelle Dawes, Terry Lilly and Toby Smith who are able to experiment with different inspirations, ideas and style combinations.
Her biggest fear is shared by many other artists – that one day she’ll run out of ideas, although this hasn’t happened yet: “I’ll have a few weeks where I can’t think of anything to write about, but all of a sudden something will spark my imagination.”
But despite her fears, Harry’s already releasing her second EP of the year after her debut “Blowin Up Your Jukebox” came out in March. Yet already she and the band are planning to have more music out by the end of the year – a work ethic that makes it seem like they’re singlehandedly driving the genre.
Photography by Will Pace.