From signing a record deal whilst still a pre-teen, to getting involved in the video game industry and cinema, Dean Friedman’s musical road has been an unconventional one…
Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention, and it has proved for revitalised singer-songwriter Dean Friedman.
Friedman had huge hit records in the late 70s, charting with his debut release ‘Ariel’ and follow ups ‘Lucky Stars’, ‘Woman of Mine’ and ‘Lydia,’, before a critical mistake – releasing a key single referencing the brand McDonald’s – got the track banned from BBC radio stations, and was a huge contributing factor to his label dropping him.
Having been in music since he was first approached by a label at age nine, however, Friedman simply diversified, and looks back at the period with pride in the direction it led. “I’ve never had the chance to rest of my laurels,” he jokes. “My career hasn’t allowed for much rest, I’ve had to keep working.”
Friedman moved into producing early music-themed video games, as well as working on a heap of movies, writing children’s musicals, and producing the music for the British crime drama ‘Boon’.
Today, having reconnected with his old fanbase around the time the internet became a big resource for music, Friedman is back recording, touring heavily, and exploring what he calls “a natural affinity for storytelling.”
“I think I was the first solo artist – Marillion had done it a year earlier – to crowdfund a record,” Friedman explains. “I wrote out to my fans asking them to pre-order the album, via an email mailing list. I was a little worried people would tell me to get a real job. Some did say exactly that, but lots of others backed the idea. I was able to hire musicians and upgrade my studio.”
“This was a few years before the days of Indiegogo and Kickstarter. Since then, I’ve always had a great connection with my fans, and I’ve always done things that way. I never liked the aloof thing that musicians were supposed to do back then. My fans aren’t shy in telling me what they think, but as many of them are connected with what I’m doing now as songs from the 70s,” he says. “Lots will say their favourite album is one of the newer ones. It’s been a great journey.”
While Friedman’s music is quite intensely diverse, there is a thread, in particular to his lyrics. It’s one that runs through everything from the children’s musicals (“I play them live if the mood is right, they’re good fun,” Friedman laughs) to the more subtle country-pop melodies.
“I like to depict a scene, I’m very influenced by people like Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon,” he says. “I like a cinematic quality to my work.”
As well as literally working in cinema, that’s seen Friedman take plenty of inspiration in his environment, not least in numerous trips to Ireland. “I remember coming over as soon as my kids were old enough to travel,” the New Jersey native explains. “It was magical, I remember seeing dozens of rainbows, and the kids were just blown away.”
“I think I have a real connection with Ireland because of the literary tradition. The pubs with their quotes, the poets… I really relate to that stuff. On my most recent album, ‘12 Songs’, I have a track called ‘The Ducks of St Stephen’s Green’, which is about the break in the revolutionary fighting that allowed the greenkeeper to feed the ducks.”
In a strange quirk, one of Friedman’s best selling records of all time – one he was never paid for, due to a claimed label bankruptcy – is a track on an Irish trad compilation.
“I met a man in the Lake District who was putting together a record called Green Velvet, made up of Irish trad staples, stuff like Danny Boy,” he remembers, “He had one space left and couldn’t get the track he wanted, so asked to license a track of mine called ‘The Lakelands’, which is actually about the Lake District in Cumbria, England. It sold a whole lot of copies, though I never saw a penny for it.”
Touring in the UK and Ireland, though remains a more regular thing for Friedman than playing back home. He’ll be this side of the pond for much of the heart of 2019. “It’s about ten times cheaper to play the UK and Ireland,” he explains. “I sell as many records in the US as in the UK and Ireland, but you have to fly everywhere to get around at home. I’ve found myself ‘commuting’ a lot for work.”
“My Irish shows have sold out the last couple of times, and I hope they will again,” Friedman says of his Dublin shows. “The evening one is great fun, quite raucous, and the afternoon one has a bit of a different, quieter feel to it.”
“I take sheer joy in it, even today. I hope I’ve acquired a lot through the experience, too. It’s a craft I follow for passion,” he laughs. “Sometimes I even get it right.”