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Ambassador Interview: Lloyd McGuigan and his original take on Americana

Lloyd McGuigan American music star

I first saw Lloyd McGuigan on Instagram Stories when he was helping to dismantle the Vera Black stall late at night after the Black Deer festival. There was arguably more giggling happening than dismantling… Next up I saw photos of Lloyd helping out on the stall at Long Road festival – dripping with Vera Black necklaces and a fedora hat. Oh yes, and a smile, a huge smile.

My actual introduction to Lloyd is via the less than ideal format of a Zoom call. I’m immediately greeted with that huge smile, plus an explosion of energy and stories. It’s a little bit like interviewing an exuberant puppy; only this human dynamo is on a massive mission. Lloyd McGuigan first picked up a guitar two years ago, he’s just released his first single My Father’s Words, and he intends to be the first UK person to be inducted by the Opry, Nashville.

Lloyd McGuigan’s accidental arrival into the Vera Black family

My first question in these ambassador interviews, after we’ve checked that everything is working correctly, is ‘How did you first meet Vera and Luke?’

“It was a few years ago when they used to have a stall at Camden. I was walking down the street and I saw all the hats and everything and I was like whoah, what’s this? 

“Two years later, I went to the Country to Country festival and I saw the Vera Black stall and it just hit me. I’ve never had a style, a dress style or anything. I love charity shops and vintage shops. But as soon as I saw the hats and jewellery I realised that this is not just how I want to be; it’s how I should have been. I never wore nothing that was different. I couldn’t find anything that suited me. Vera’s style, with the pirates, the rockstar and the gypsy, gives guys who are not run of the mill something a bit different, a bit more quirky, edgy.

“I tried a hat on. I fell in love with it, but I had no money. So I told them I was going to see them at Black Deer festival. I went to the stall at Black Deer and straight away Vera came out, looked at me and said “I might have a hat for you”. I just said “Just make me look nice.” She just took, what looked like, three random necklaces, put them together and said “That suits you so well”. She took a picture of me with the hat as well and showed it to me and I fell in love with it.

“I felt confident and comfortable with myself, and it’s who I should have been a long time ago. Now, this doesn’t come off! I’ve just bought a white leather jacket with tassels. I wouldn’t have done it without the rest of it and I appreciate Vera for giving me that confidence. She’s also given it to a lot of others and that is lovely.”

Lloyd McGuigan at the Vera Black stall

I’m intrigued how Lloyd went from customer to staff member.

“Later on that evening I met Olivia who was working on the stall and she asked if I was going to see The Dead South. So I went along with them and afterwards she said that we should check and see how Vera was doing. When we returned to the stall we saw Vera standing there with her face in her hands. She wanted to help Luke out with packing up the shop, (he was looking after their toddler Bobby at the time) but just didn’t know where to start.

“We ended up taking down the stall together at about one in the morning. Olivia and I weren’t very sober and it was very funny. As the night went on Vera said that I should come and work for them. I replied ‘Yeah, brilliant’, but when I woke up I realised it was an amazing opportunity for me.”

Lloyd McGuigan and Olivia Harriet

“Me and Luke ended up doing Long Road festival pretty much by ourselves as Vera stayed at home with Bobby, and Olivia could only make it for two days. That was the first time I got to hang with Luke and yeah, he was like a brother. We got along like a house on fire and I just love him.”

Selling rockstar hats to country rock stars

Drake White at the Vera Black stall at Long Road festival

Lloyd had a baptism of fire working on the stall as his very first customer was Americana superstar Drake White.

“When Drake White walked in I thought, that can’t be Drake White. I love the guy, I’m a massive fan! I start chatting with him and we end up selling him a hat. I was trying not to fanboy, but I end up asking for a photo with him. He was such a nice guy.

“Then I decided I could use my huge love of Americana music to point out some of the stars to Luke who is newer to the genre. It worked out well when Everette came in. I confirmed what time they were on stage as I didn’t want to miss it. Brent [Rupard] from Everette said ‘That’s a really nice necklace’ so I immediately found it for him in the shop. Also Anthony [Olympia] clocked on and had to have one too. Honestly there have been photos of him wearing the necklace that he bought ever since and they’ve been wearing their Vera Black trucker caps too.

[See Everette’s funny video below as an example].

“When Gangstagrass came in, they had just come off the stage. We had literally just heard their set. The whole band stands out so their fans flocked to our shop. We ended up selling a hat to Rson The Voice of Reason, that he’s always wearing on his socials, and lots of stuff to their fans.

“There’s a lot of mutual promotion, mutual respect really. Everette mentioned us on stage and Drake White said they were all rocking Vera Black today and said thanks to Vera and Luke. It’s funny, but I was so proud of Vera and Luke, from where they have come from when Vera just made things for her own stage performances, to this. It’s unbelievable, to see what they have done.”

It’s always a buzz meeting your heroes but I wanted to know about the other customers. I asked whether Lloyd saw other people having the same sort of journey as him.

“Yes, ohhh yes. One guy in particular tried this beautiful hat on and I took some photos and showed him. You could see his face light up! Just like me, his self-confidence wasn’t quite there, but he still bought it.

“I got a message from him the other day saying that he is now dressed as he feels he should be dressed, how he should be as a person. Just that weekend alone I probably helped at least five people find themselves with their dream hats or dream jewellery. The other day a customer sent me his wedding photos with him wearing his Vera Black hat! It’s so nice. I’ve met friends, fans, new family members essentially.

Customer wearing a custom fedora hat
Lady wearing a custome Vera Black fedora hat
Customer at Black Deer festival buying a fedora hat
Customer buying a Vera Black gambler hat

“The best thing was, we would close down for the day and we’d go and see one of the final bands of the night. Me and Luke would have a little whisky and we’d be walking through the festival. Now we both stand out because of what we are wearing, but people were calling out to us by our names. Telling us about the compliments they’ve received about their new hat or necklace. We missed some bands simply because it took too long to get to them because we were talking to so many people!

“It’s very strange, because it felt like we had given them something rather than having just sold them it. They feel as if they are part of the Vera Black family and they are. I think that’s what Vera extends, she extends her love. If you wear our stuff you’re a part of us. If you’ve created something too, like music, whatever, we’ll share it on our socials.”

Lloyd McGuigan the musician, shy at first, but then all conquering!

“I found a home with Vera and Luke and everyone in between, but it still took a while for me to say that I was a musician. When I did I said it with air quotes. Vera immediately told me not to do that. She said, ‘You are a musician. For years I couldn’t tell myself that I was a designer until someone said; Vera, you’re a designer.’

“Since then I always say that I am a musician. That is what I do, this is who I am. I’m very grateful for her guidance on that.”

It seems that Lloyd McGuigan has taken this guidance to heart. He only picked up a guitar two years ago, yet has his sights on the Opry in Nashville. I ask him about his musical background and discover he was originally a drummer. He also sang in a classic metal band when he was young. He listened to a really wide range of music, coming back to ‘properly listening’ to country music in the past few years.

“I went back to Hank Williams, back to Willie Nelson, right back to the start and made my way all the way through to Colter Wall and Luke Combes right now. I realised that I could make something here. I could blend something; bring my take on it. I’ve got quite a raspy voice. I like my rock, so I can bring the element of a range, rather than just singing in one tone.” 

I sing in different keys all the time just to try and bring uniqueness to each song. Also I’ve had a few people saying my guitar playing is unusual because I’ve got a drumming background and I am quite percussive when I play.

“I love doing characters and voice overs, because in doing that I can bring in different tones. My accent is very weird. I’ve lived abroad for seven years. I just try to bring my life, and what I know and everything I love now, into Americana. So every song is different. One song is blues, one is a bit rocky, another is really country.

“I decided two years ago when I first bought my Taylor guitar that I was going to dedicate my life to music, whether I am playing to 10 people in a pub or at the Opry. This is my priority right now.”

Promo photo of Americana singer Lloyd McGuigan

“My song writing process is that I record myself improvising, just playing whatever comes out. Then I go back over and take what sounds cool and go from there. If I put pen to paper, nothing comes out. 

I like improvising; making stuff up on the spot, from what’s around me. I do it in my live shows too. In one show I basically told a story over a guitar riff about a time in Amsterdam when I lived out there. You could see people realising what I was doing and turning round towards me and clicking into what I was saying.

In my last gig I started making up lyrics about the bands that were following me on stage – the Hound Dogs for Hire and Sleepy Jake. That really got people talking!”

The power of music

Lloyd’s new single My Father’s Words is written about the loss of the father when he was young. Lloyd certainly doesn’t flinch from the difficult areas of life.

“You’ve gotta have a bit of hardship to tell a story unfortunately and I’ve had all of mine. I only have my mum and sister left. I’m still trying to tell the stories. I’ve had a lot of guys come up to me after hearing My Father’s Words and tell me how they lost their dad when they were young. How they didn’t think they would ever talk about it with someone. But they are able to open up to me and say ‘that hit me’ and I appreciate that. It’s why I wrote it. I wrote it for them and for me and for my dad, so if you get something from that song then I’ve done my job as a musician.

“Without the bands I’ve listened to I wouldn’t be here today, they’ve saved my life many times when I’ve been very low. The singers and the words in their stories have got me through. So that’s all I want to do as a musician. It’s not about money, it’s not about fame, it’s about being successful within myself and people just enjoying music for what it is and hopefully get what I do from music.

“My big advice for people is to go pick up a guitar and play it for two to three hours a day, every day, and I guarantee you’ll be able to write songs in two years time. It takes hard work, determination and a love of what you do and I fucking love this music! Every show, every conversation, every article. It’s not to feed my ego, it’s just because I love it!

So what are the next steps for Lloyd McGuigan?

“The first song is done, the next one is still being recorded. We have three more songs to put on an EP after that. They’re all done, they just need to be recorded. I’ve got two big festivals booked for next year already, I’m just applying for some more, including Black Deer and Long Road.

“I want to get onto more festivals and also be a support act on a tour. I have a camper van so I can go anywhere around the UK. My end goal is to get transferred via my work at Lush to Canada and from there to Nashville. So I’d love people to hit me up for collaborations, gigs, support acts or anything in between!

You can contact Lloyd by email here or follow him on:

 

Lloyd McGuigan wearing his fedora hat and Vera Black necklaces

My Father’s Words by Lloyd McGuigan - Single review

You know you sometimes hear a song and it feels like the artist is just going through the motions? It’s a nice enough song, you can sing along to it, but it’s gone the moment you’ve finished listening to it. Yeah, My Father’s Words is not like that. It’s a slow-paced song, but even the intro has a stinging intensity. You can almost see Lloyd’s fingers plucking at the guitar strings, the drum beats have venom and then Lloyd’s deep, raspy vocals hit in.

You can see why the song has inspired men to share the loss of their own father with Lloyd. It’s raw, sentimental and gruff; all at the same time, with more than a touch of anger. He truly has mixed blues, rock and country and come out with something pretty special. The guitar licks are blues-inspired rock, the background is country. The vibe is anything you want it to be as long as you’re drinking bourbon – or is that just me?.

Check it out for yourself here.

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