In a parallel universe, musical duo Jack Land Noble and Robert Cooper, AKA The Coalfield Symphony, would be getting ready for a busy festive period performing on stages near and far.
However, it’s been a long and quiet year for the music and theatre industry, with Covid having cancelled live gigs throughout 2020. But as they say, the show must go on. Instead of donning pantomime costumes or tinkering Christmas carols on the piano, the Barnsley pair are set to launch their debut album, Virtue and Villainy, having used lockdown to their advantage to create a turning point in their careers.
Who are The Coalfield Symphony?
The Coalfield Symphony was formed in 2018 as a collaboration between two freelance creatives: acclaimed theatre impresario and singer-songwriter, Jack Land Noble, and seasoned musical director, producer and arranger, Robert Cooper. With their schedules unexpectedly cleared for a large chunk of the year, Jack and Robert decided to make the best of a bad situation. Rather than mourning the loss of work, they used their new-found spare time and freedom productively to finally make the album they always dreamed of.
“We’ve only ever released singles or EPs before as there has never been the time to commit to a task as grand as an album. But it filled a void the pandemic brought and quickly became a lifeline through those tough and uncertain times,” Robert says.
The making of Virtue and Villainy
Born out of a frustration of modern music and the style over substance culture the industry has become, they wanted to make music they both enjoy listening to.
Virtue and Villainy is a compilation of 11 tracks, all written, arranged, recorded and produced virtually from home. In the beginning, prospective demos were sent back and forth via email, with Jack penning the songs and Robert turning them into fully-fledged arrangement.
As lockdown restrictions lifted in the summer, they were then able to meet up and record their tracklist at Studio 5B, Robert’s new state-of-the-art home recording studio. Once happy with the vocals and instrumentals, it was time for the mixing. Finally, after six months of long days and longer nights, the end is in sight.
Since Friday 6th November, a new single has been released every fortnight leading up to the full album launch on 12th February. A staggered release means each song has its own moment in the spotlight and helps build interest in anticipation of the four remaining unheard songs and album as a complete audio experience.
“Our shared healthy perfectionism came through for sure. We’re not a ‘three chords and bash it out’ kind of unit. I’m pretty chuffed with the lyrical and musical content as each song has a timeless quality without being pastiche. But 99 percent of the arrangements are down to Rob’s wizardry on the production side. It sounds like us properly for the first time,” Jack says.
A symphonic style
Stylistically, theirs is a retro bouquet informed and influenced by classic songwriting wrapped in fresh and original pop sensibilities but always unapologetically theatrical. Think ‘70s or ‘80s pop rock peppered with a symphonic edge: expansive, emotive and deeply melodic.
True to style, there are some big vocal performances from Jack, particularly on Symphony which is the first single they will release from the album.
“It’s been an aspiration of mine to write a synonymous song with our band name in the title and Symphony epitomises just what we are about. It is such a powerful song that I hope it sets the tone and ambition for what’s to follow,” Jack says.
Timeless musical storytelling is at the heart of the album. All 11 songs are character driven, such as the melancholy lament of ‘Glenda’ or soulful groove of ‘Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte.’ ‘Dan’ is about a schoolfriend of Jack’s who was terminally ill. The pair lost touch when they left school and Jack says the track is what he would say if he had the opportunity.
“Both Robert and I work extensively in theatre so our work has a certain dramatic edge. The album is a combination of songs that put a smile on your face or have the ability to make you think about certain issues.”
The character concept is also reflected through the album’s clever artwork. Like a mystery drama of ‘whodunnit’, the intriguing artwork depicts Jack and Robert sat in a traditional Barnsley pub surrounded by the characters who inspired the songs. Amongst others, there is a banker, a beggar, a dreamer and a hopeless romantic.
“The location is The Boatman’s Inn at Worsbrough Dale, an olde-worlde pub that I’ve been going to for years now but it encapsulates Barnsley’s heritage perfectly. The players are all local thespians from my little casting book – talented actors I’ve worked with in the past – who we felt best represented each character.
“It was a difficult concept to pull off, especially in the current climate with social distancing. But it really has helped elevate our idea and hopefully the public will be able to envisage each character when they listen to the songs,” Jack says.
The shot was captured and edited by local photographer, Rosie Masters. Other young musicians from Barnsley have also collaborated on the album with the Coalfield Symphony.
“It became something of a community project whereby everyone we worked with brought something unique to the table. A guest vocal is provided by Sam Dyson and a six-piece vocal harmony group from Barnsley Youth Choir also appear on some tracks. Then there are two stunning saxophone solos by Sam Reid who we’ve worked with before,” Robert says.
In the modern music industry, social media content and engagement is just as important as the songs produced. Robert and Jack have thought outside the box for how to reach their fanbase without sacrificing the classic Coalfield ethos. Before each song is released, there will be a preview video at the start of the week which highlights that individual single’s themes and ideas. After the song’s release on the Friday, a breakdown video will follow to discuss the mechanics of the song such as its arrangement and production.
To listen to the seven initial singles before the full album is launched on Friday 12th February, see The Coalfield Symphony Facebook page where you can also find the ‘Under the Coalfield’ preview and breakdown videos. Or visit their website www.thecoalfieldsymphony.co.uk for more streaming links.
You can also read our previous story about Jack’s theatrical career here.