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Empire Affair, Band

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The band pictured at a secret gig in November 2018

The members of the band from left to right: Neil Tallant, Darren Sheppard, Matt Park, Jack Woolston and Tom Parrett.

They may have been semi-retired in recent years, but Empire Affair proves you can’t keep a good band down. We were invited to a secret gig, on the condition we could interview them afterwards…

Regular Humans of Bournemouth readers will know we love interviewing local bands and acts (Marble Tides and Mikey Ball among them). Even those that don’t play the live music scene all that much anymore. Empire Affair took a step back from regular gigging a few years back, but still come together occasionally. At their most recent event, a documentary was shown detailing their journey all the way up to their last charity concert last year. Following that, we got to sit down with their vocalist Neil Tallant and drummer Darren Sheppard.

ARE YOU ALL LOCAL TO BOURNEMOUTH?

NEIL: We’re all from Bournemouth and Poole, but I now live in London. I’ve lived in London for about a year-and-a-half. All my friends and family are still down here, though.

DARREN: I’m from Bournemouth; we’ve got Matt who’s from Shaftesbury, Jack who lives in Poole, and Tom is also from Bournemouth.

HOW DID THE BAND FIRST COME TO FORM?

D: We were in a band before, called Echo.

N: About two years prior to Empire Affair, so around 2009.

D: And before that, none of us knew each other. None of us had been to school together or anything. When we went into that band, it was from a mixture of online adverts, ads in music shop windows. I was on a website called Join My Band. We all sort of came together from that.

N: Jack and Matt joined the band at later stages, whereas Tom was with us from the very beginning, as was Darren and then I came along afterwards.

WHAT INSPIRED YOUR LOVE OF MUSIC?

D: I’ve always grown up with music; always had headphones on. Mainly, I had to listen to what my dad would listen to – obviously, I couldn’t drive when I was four. He would have Phil Collins on, The Bee Gees, Dire Straits, Fleetwood Mac – those are the ones I grew up with. I guess I was kinda forced to like it, but I still listen to it now!

N: I’m very similar, to be honest. Sunday dinner would be the only time in the week that we would listen to music that my dad wanted to listen to. I remember so many Sundays listening to Sgt. Pepper’s… by The Beatles and saying to him, “This is boring; this is old man music!” Now I look back at it and listen to it now, I think it’s marvellous. But as for what inspires me now, it has always been really big, legendary performers. People like Elton John and Freddie Mercury lead the way for me as pioneers in what they do. I get a huge amount of inspiration from figures like that.

WHERE DID THE NAME “EMPIRE AFFAIR” COME FROM? HOW DID IT EVOLVE FROM “ECHO”?

D: We had a change of guitarist. A guy called Grant Barrett founded Echo, and my brother was also a guitarist in the band. For whatever reason, he wasn’t committing, so we found someone else. That’s when we found Jack.

N: And when he came to the band, he brought a new dynamism to it. A real drive to the sort of music that he liked to make and it shook the band up; gave it a real kick.

D: He likes his indie-oriented styles and Britpop. So we had Grant’s sound and Jack’s sound. And I just don’t think that Jack wanted to do what Grant wanted to play.

N: In the end, we came to the decision that Grant didn’t want to continue with the music. He wanted to follow his career and he’s doing really, really well. And from there, we became Empire Affair. The name came about through us essentially writing down loads of cool-sounding words, interesting-sounding words and we just started pairing them off with each other. Seeing what worked and what we liked.

We really liked Empire Affair because it was a very contrasting name. You have the connotation of an empire, which is grand and for all to see, and then on the flipside, you have an affair, which can be something very seedy, very dirty and quiet and secretive. We liked how contrasting those concepts were, and that’s why we went with it.

WHAT CAUSED THE BAND TO GO INTO SEMI-RETIREMENT?

N: We had been together a long time, done a lot of shows and spent a lot of time in each other’s company. It just became a bit stale. We even started having interests and commitments outside of music. It got to the stage where we weren’t as committed and as motivated as a group. And we were almost going through the motions, which took out all the excitement and the privilege that we had worked so hard to have. It kinda fell apart from there.

But we almost kept in touch and “semi-retired” is actually accurate. Prior to the documentary of us playing a gig last April, we hadn’t played for two years. We’re playing another gig in a couple of weeks, but between then and now we haven’t gigged in those eighteen months. It has taken a lot of time away from each other and living our own lives to realise how special what we have is, and to come back together and cherish it.

DO ANY OF YOU PLAY IN BANDS OUTSIDE OF EMPIRE AFFAIR?

N: I did musical theatre for a couple of years. That was something interesting to throw my hat at, which I really enjoyed. Matt has played in a couple of bands relatively recently. But, you see, that’s what so beautiful. We go off and do other, different things and we still come back together.

DO YOU SUPPORT ANY CHARITIES WITH YOUR CONCERTS?

D: We have supported a few charities, like Oxjam, Prostate Cancer UK; there’s probably a few others from a long time ago.

N: Yeah, we don’t specifically support any particular charity, but we have never shied away from the opportunity to play in a fundraising capacity.

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE SONGS TO PERFORM?

D: With me, there’s a song called “More”. From a drumming point-of-view, it’s quite fun. There’s a lot for me to do in it, it shows off my skillset, I can show people what I can do on the drumkit. I like being able to do that. If there was another drummer in the audience, I could not help but show off, and in my head I’ll be saying, “You need to impress them! You need to wow them!”

N: It’s funny you say that, because my reasoning would be the same. I love “DNA Code” because I think it’s one of the best songs we’ve ever done. But, again, it’s the same motivation from a vocal point-of-view. “End of Disco” is an opportunity for me to do falsetto, an opportunity for me to belt. Like Darren, when I get the chance to play that, I like to show people what I can do.

HOW DID YOU COME TO TOUR CROATIA? NOT JUST ONCE, BUT TWICE?

N: We played in London, and were picked up by a Croatian record label. They were trying to make a name for themselves in England and were picking up English bands. As they were Croatian and had a lot of Croatian ties, that was an opportunity for us to take on a tour of Croatia. We could not believe our luck.

D: I think the second time around was a little bit better.

N: The first time was good, but we were just kinda in awe.

D: It was mostly down to luck.

N: Right place and right time. But I will say that a lot of success in this business is down to luck. Of course, you do have to work hard. And we did graft.

D: Obviously, a trip to London may sound just as easy as that. But you have to arrange the transport, get the people, sell so many tickets before the venue will even let you play there.

N: We used to headline regularly at The Dublin Castle in Camden on a Saturday – that used to be amazing. But the only way we were allowed to do that was to essentially prove ourselves first. That required going up and playing a Tuesday night in a random pub in Islington. I remember I was doing my day job – working in Chichester that week – and I had to finish the job, get a train to London to do this gig, finish the gig with a quick “Thank you, bye-bye-bye”, run to get a bus to Victoria to get the train all the way back to Chichester again. You have to do these things to get the good opportunities.

So, there was an element of luck in that label being there that night we were playing in London, but a lot of hard work went into us getting to play that night in the first place.

DO YOU HAVE A DREAM OR END GOAL? EITHER FOR THE BAND, OR INDIVIDUALLY?

N: For me, when we were doing this more regularly, I thought the end goal or motivation was, “We’ll get signed and we’ll be massively successful; it’ll be amazing.” Now I don’t necessarily think that. The main motivation for me is to do what we started doing, that which we sort of lost track of along the way, which was to just enjoy it. Enjoy the music, enjoy the moment. Tonight, we have played in front of 20-25 people, all sat down-

D: That’s a first!

N: -And it has been phenomenal. But we could play 2,000 people and come off feeling like it wasn’t that good. So, for me, it’s now all about that enjoyment. Spending the time together with the guys and working towards that and feeling those kind of things.

D: Yeah, I pretty much agree. Going back to the question earlier about why the band semi-retired, for me it was because it wasn’t fun anymore. Or not as fun, anyway. It was very serious and I couldn’t really enjoy it. It had become like a job. Now that we’ve had that time away, when we play now, it feels like the old days. We don’t care about mistakes or about being clean and crisp.

N: We took things very seriously, we were very organised, very routine.

D: We had to be, because we were getting serious gigs

N: It benefitted us in a lot of ways because we got to make big strides along the way, which a lot of bands around here aren’t fortunate to do. But I think we took ourselves too seriously and, Darren’s right, it took a lot of the fun out of it.

To find out more about Empire Affair, visit their website and Facebook page.

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Hannah Elkins, Musician

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Musician Hannah Elkins
Photo courtesy of Hannah Elkins

Ahead of releasing her first single, we had a chat with musician Hannah Elkins. Where did her journey in music begin and what are her hopes for the future?

Dividing her time between the hustle-and-bustle of London and the Bournemouth music scene, we were lucky to have a few words with musician and singer Hannah Elkins. As she goes to release her first single, it seemed like a good time to hear about her beginnings in music…

ARE YOU FROM THE BOURNEMOUTH AREA?

Yeah – I grew up in Bournemouth. I studied at Leeds University, and then came back to Bournemouth, before moving to London last summer. But most of my life has been spent in the area.

WHEN DID YOU FIRST DECIDE THAT MUSIC WAS WHAT YOU WANTED TO DO?

My mum is a singer herself. She’s very musical and runs a choir in Bournemouth. So, in a way, I had no choice. I grew up singing and it was just what I knew to do. But it was really at secondary school that I realised that it was what I wanted to do for a career, and what I went to study at university.

DO YOU MODEL YOUR STYLE ON ANY ARTISTS IN PARTICULAR?

My favourite artist is Lianne La Havas. She has very delicate, beautiful vocals, with quite hard guitar sounds. For me, it was the first time I had heard that kind of contrast in music, which I fell in love with. Another one is Jessie Ware. I just found out that she was classically trained, and I studied classical singing at university. I think that’s why I love her stuff so much – you can hear she’s just got this amazing voice in there. She’s a huge inspiration to me.

TELL ME ABOUT YOUR FIRST GIG…

I started writing my own music probably quite late in comparison to others. A lot of them, you hear they started writing when they were 12. For me, that didn’t happen until I went to university. Because I studied classical singing, and then I went for a year abroad in the Netherlands to learn to play piano. And it really changed my perspective of music and how I wanted to approach it.

So I started sitting at the piano and writing my own stuff. And then when I went back for my final year at Leeds, I just thought, “I’ve got to do this!” Took a lot of courage, but I booked my first gig at Hyde Park Book Club. Lovely little intimate venue – it was actually quite terrifying because it was so intimate. We had about 70 people in this room. I just rocked up with my notepad (with my lyrics on it) in one hand and my little keyboard and sat in front of these people, who were the most attentive audience I’ve ever had. And that was it – I was hooked.

NOW LET’S TALK ABOUT YOUR UPCOMING FIRST SINGLE…

It’s called After the Midnight. I don’t have a set writing method with any of my music. Normally, I’ll find this idea, work around it and build the song, but with this one, I had just a chorus – two lines and two chords that I knew I loved. Had no idea where I was going with it. Even when I stepped into the studio, I didn’t have the song in full! Bit risky, I know, but I like a challenge. I don’t know if I’d recommend it…

So, I worked with my friends Elliot Wenman, who plays guitar, and Niko Battistini, who is a Bournemouth-based producer. With those two, I created this song.

When I started writing this, I had started a different mind state of how I wanted to write. So, it was included in a couple of other songs I had written. There was the theme of this midnight, the stars, the universe; it just fit into this collection that I was working on at the time.

WHY HAVE YOU DECIDED TO LAUNCH YOUR SINGLE SPECIFICALLY IN BOURNEMOUTH?

I am really excited to come back and do the launch here. That’s because After the Midnight has been a collaboration with a lot of Bournemouth musicians and artists. The artwork was done by a girl called Amy Leonard, who is studying at the Arts University. She’s done some brilliant artwork for me. Plus the photography has been done by Alice Parmenter, who’s also Bournemouth-based. And then, as I mentioned earlier, the production from Niko. There’s such talent in Bournemouth, and that’s where this single has come from.

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE BEST THING ABOUT THE BOURNEMOUTH MUSIC SCENE?

In Bournemouth, there is this real market of music-lovers. There is something called Sofar Sounds, which is run in Bournemouth. I performed for them a couple of years ago, and then I volunteered for their team afterwards. It’s a brilliant event where they basically get three acts and take them to an intimate venue. Audiences can apply for tickets, and they don’t know where the venue will be or what the lineup is until they’re emailed a few days before. They tell you at the beginning of the gig that they want you to pay attention to the artists and give them that respect, which I think can be lost in some of the bigger venues. London, for example, can be slightly saturated.

WHAT IS THE DREAM OR END GOAL FOR YOU AS A MUSICIAN

Ultimately, it’s to write music that people can relate to and want to listen to. As long as there’s someone there who is listening and says that they like it — that’s the dream, really.

Read more amazing and inspiring stories from the talent of Bournemouth in our Humans section. And find out more about Hannah on her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

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Stephanie Wyatt, Miss Earth 2019

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Learn more about Stephanie Wyatt, 19, from Dorset, as she has been crowned the new Miss Earth 2019…

At the end of last month, Stephanie Wyatt was crowned Miss Earth England 2019 at the Arden Hotel in Birmingham, sponsored by Millennium Balti in Leamington Spa. She got in touch with Humans of Bournemouth with full details on her story and what it’s like to be “Miss Earth.”

WHAT ARE YOUR DUTIES AS MISS EARTH?

As Miss Earth, I will be representing England on an international platform of millions of people around the world. Since I have also been rewarded with the title of ‘Beauties of a Cause Eco-Ambassador’ for my accomplishments, my duties include working with environmental, eco-activities and other social causes.

WHAT’S YOUR ADVOCACY?

My main aim is to advocate the preservation and restoration of Mother Earth. From a young age, I remember being exposed to the harsh reality around me and knew I had to make a change. When I found out that I could make a difference, I knew I had to carry on doing what I was doing.

DO YOU BELIEVE THERE IS A STIGMA ON PAGEANTS?

Despite the stigmas, Miss Earth is different to your everyday beauty pageant. It is an environmentally-focused competition. A platform for change. For example, one of our challenges that was judged was to create an “eco-warrior” outfit. I decided to make mine completely out of real flowers. I believe that we are sending out a message here, showing the public that we all have a responsibility to preserve and attend to what the world we live in needs. Which fights against any stigmas.

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT GOING TO THE MISS EARTH FINAL?

I am extremely honoured to be put in the position to attend the final. Which is the third-most prestigious platform in the world to represent England. I’m also privileged to meet so many like-minded women. I’d like to thank the Miss Earth England organisation and I hope that I will do my country proud. This really is a dream come true for me.

DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER PROJECTS BESIDES FROM MISS EARTH?

I want to be socially and environmentally responsible for our earth. That’s why I created my own project in 2017. I investigated how I could tackle the world’s second-largest polluting industry, which is clothing. I thought of several ways to reduce this problem and also need those in need at the same time. That’s why I decided to aid those whom are struggle with period poverty. My first steps to making a difference were deciding to set up workshops at my local library, where the public could donate their unwanted clothes. Once generous individuals had donated, I was then able to up-cycle them into re-usable sanitary wear for girls in Kenya. This can make a big transformation on a girl’s life in Kenya since they can go to school now in comfort and not have to worry about their period getting in the way of their education.

WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO DO DURING YOUR REIGN AS MISS EARTH?

I hope to set up a lot more like-minded projects, similar to what I have done before. I’m particularly interested in helping Third World countries; they are one of the main reasons why I put my heart and soul into the work I do.

Find out more about the Miss Earth pageant on their Facebook page. And for more inspiring stories about the locals of Bournemouth, Poole and surrounding areas, check out our Humans section.

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Jack Lenton, Personal Trainer

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Personal Trainer Jack Lenton

Meet Jack Lenton. His lifestyle is his career. As a personal trainer, he owns his own business and is able to train clients worldwide.

Learn more about how he decided to become a personal trainer and how his passion for fitness began. Jack also desires to help others develop their own career in the fitness industry…

ARE YOU ORIGINALLY FROM BOURNEMOUTH?

No, I grew up in the south of Somerset. Then I decided to go to Exeter University, so I lived there for a while. After that I lived in America for 18 months. I’ve lived in Bournemouth for the past year. My girlfriend lived here, so it made sense for me to move here with her.

WHAT DOES YOUR PROFESSION INVOLVE?

My day-to-day job is mainly online coaching and training. I also employ people to help with my business and coaching — I love being able to give people the chance to do what they love as a job. We mainly coach one-to-one sessions, giving the clients personal advice on themselves and how their body works and what suits them. Nevertheless, we also coach in groups as well; they don’t tend to be any more than 40 people. An individual’s ability determines what group they are put in. As a group, they will be supported as much as possibly needed.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO GET INTO FITNESS?

Fitness was the only thing that kept my attention; I didn’t really enjoy school. All my efforts went into fitness and sports instead of education. Therefore, when choosing a university course, exercising science caught my eye. It was the only course that for fulfilled my desires at the time.

WERE YOU INTO SPORTS AT SCHOOL?

Of course! It wasn’t weightlifting or strength training — I was too young for any of that. I tended to play more standard sports such as football, basketball and I tried a bit of trampolining. As a kid, just being active was my priority. Fitness has always been a key aspect of my life.

WOULD YOU SAY YOU LIVE A STRICT LIFESTYLE IN TERMS OF FITNESS?

I have made my fitness lifestyle strict because that is the how I prefer it. My mental and physical health has improved by working out daily. Although it never limits me in terms of my lifestyle, since I enjoy it so much, it’s more of a hobby than a chore.

HOW LONG DID IT TAKE FOR YOU TO START SEEING RESULTS ON YOUR OWN BODY?

I was looking at photos of myself the other day. From when I was about a year into my training and my body was so different. It took me about two years to see a massive progress. For a long while, I wasn’t very sure on what worked on my body type in terms on fitness wise. I found that, I noticed what I was doing wrong before finding what I was doing right. Over the years, I’ve increased how much I train. Before fitness and training was part of my daily routine, I was working out about five times a week. My personality is quite addictive, so that certainly helped keep myself on track.

IS SOCIAL MEDIA IMPORTANT TOWARDS YOUR CAREER AS A PERSONAL TRAINER?

Social media makes a significant impact on my career since it allows me to coach worldwide. My personal trainer career is no longer restricted to local people; because of social media, anyone can reach out to me. It also benefits me in terms of meeting like-minded individuals from anywhere and everywhere. Those who share the same passions as me and are part of the fitness community.

WHAT IS YOUR END GOAL?

Right now, I hope to carry on what I’m doing and making money from it. I also hope to keep employing more and more people for my business. This means I can help them gain experience and earn money from doing something they love as a career, just like me.

Don’t forget to check out Jack’s Instagram and website to learn more about his coaching!

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