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Neil Cowley: ‘Adele’s Hometown Glory only took one take to record’

PUBLISHED: 08:00 29 September 2016 | UPDATED: 16:44 30 September 2016

Neil Cowley Trio. Picture: Tom Barnes

Neil Cowley Trio. Picture: Tom Barnes

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Pianist Neil Cowley tells Zoe Paskett about his success working with Adele and how we‘re just Spacebound Apes ahead of Union Chapel show with the Neil Cowley Trio

Neil Cowley Trio. Picture: Joeri RooijNeil Cowley Trio. Picture: Joeri Rooij

Neil Cowley’s phone rang back in 2007 with the request to accompany a young female vocalist on her upcoming album. The original pianist had just pulled out, unconvinced that this singer was going anywhere.

A few Brits, Grammys and Oscars later, Adele has sold tens of millions of albums worldwide.

“I got a phone call from an old friend who said they were going in the studio that Monday morning,” he says. “I said ‘alright’ and they set me up on one side of the studio and Adele on the other and we did Hometown Glory in one take.

“We all looked at each other and said ‘that worked’ and we always recorded like that from then on.

Lincoln is the inspiration for Spacebound Apes, illustrated by Sergio SandovalLincoln is the inspiration for Spacebound Apes, illustrated by Sergio Sandoval

“After that I was hot piano property.”

Since playing on Adele’s debut album 19, Cowley has accompanied Stereophonics, Birdy, Professor Green and Emeli Sandé. His appearances on Rolling in the Deep and Make You Feel My Love have helped in giving him the title of most listened to pianist in the world.

“When my manager first came up with that, I laughed and said ‘don’t be ridiculous’ and then realised that by default I am. Only because I’m on those Adele records. I surrendered to it because every time I walk into a café I hear myself coming back out of the speakers.

“I’m the most listened to pianist on the planet but you’ve never heard of me.”

Adele performs at the Grammy Awards in 2012, where she won Album of the Year for 21 and Song of the Year for Rolling in the Deep, which were both recorded with Cowley. Picture: Francis SpeckerAdele performs at the Grammy Awards in 2012, where she won Album of the Year for 21 and Song of the Year for Rolling in the Deep, which were both recorded with Cowley. Picture: Francis Specker

Music has been in Cowley’s bones since a young age. He performed Shostakovich at Queen Elizabeth Hall aged 10.

“I was one of those annoying little prodigy types and then I rebelled. I really didn’t want to do music until someone came along and offered me a job in a pub band at the age of 14 playing soul music.

“The only other thing I’ve ever been was a bingo caller when I was about 17!”

He formed the Neil Cowley Trio with drummer Evan Jenkins and bassist Rex Horan, winning the BBC Best Jazz award for their first album together, Displaced.

“Rex has got the best beard in the music business. We all love each other’s company, we’re very devoted to each other and we’re like brothers. We feel the highs and the lows together, we’re a family really.”

Cowley effuses about New Zealander Jenkins and Australian Horan with unconcealed admiration.

“We’re quite a dynamic band. There are a lot of peaks a lot of troughs, melancholy and excitement. There’s a lot of fun. I like to talk to audiences so we laugh together. You only truly get the band when you see us live. It’s an inexplicable thing really.”

Playing at Union Chapel on October 27, the group are introducing their latest concept album, Spacebound Apes, which is based on the exploits of Lincoln, a fictional monkey man Cowley created himself. Writing a series of Tumblr diary entries over the past few months, he created the story of a man having a midlife crisis who finds a series of love letters and flies off to a virtual solar system.

Inspired by Stanley Kubrick, he encounters a series of planets that have been taken over by one abstract human emotion.

“He saw places where love had taken over, or governance or duty.

“This half man half ape character made me think that humans on an evolutionary level are just space bound apes, no more than that. We’ve lost a bit of hair, gained more use of our thumbs but essentially our next step is to go into space. It’s a collective title for human beings.”

Lincoln will be joining the Trio at Union Chapel in the form of animations created by artist Sergio Sandoval, who did the original concept art for Pan’s Labyrinth. Spacebound Apes Live sees the group perform the album in its entirety, taking the audience through all of Lincoln’s escapades.

“We’re like a duck flapping our feet underneath with challenging technical stuff, and on top it’s very simple. There’s a lot of complexity in our music but it sounds like melodic simplicity, which I think is important.

“Music is something to feel, it’s not something to be blinded by with science.”

The Neil Cowley Trio perform at Union Chapel on October 27.

Tickets are £17.50 from unionchapel.org.uk.

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