Over the past few weeks, I’ve been listening to Peter Donegan‘s Superman EP. My first thought was, I really wish there were more songs, that’s a good thing. Peter is a great storyteller and the music is warm and inviting. He sings about family, friends, love and life, all of the things that matter to us. On the title track, Superman, I hear a little Thomas Rhett, and I have to think when listening to I’m Yours, that we would all be lucky if someone were writing this song about us.
Donegan grew up in a musical family. His dad was legendary skiffle singer, songwriter and musician, Lonnie Donegan, the King of Skiffle. You may be wondering, what’s skiffle? Think jazz, blues, and folk played with homemade or improvised instruments like washboards and jugs and then go check out his Spotify link, it’s super cool.
Growing up side stage, Peter Donegan always knew music was his path. A multi-instrumentalist, he plays guitar, banjo, keyboards, mandolin, and harmonica and his years of experience have all come together to bring us a pretty special recording.
Thanks to Donegan for taking the time to answer our questions about his life, his music and his new EP.
Peter Donegan Q&A
Q: What are your earliest musical memories?
PD: To be honest I have so many. I could point to dad (Lonnie Donegan) playing Willie Nelson’s “Willie and The Family” album and I becoming totally obsessed with “May the Circle Be Unbroken”, in particular, the piano being played by Willie’s sister Bobbie. You see the album was recorded in Lake Tahoe where we were living back then so it had a lot of relevance for us. I was around 4 or 5 years old. That I can safely say is one of the first times I decided I was going to play piano and I wanted it to sound like that. Dad didn’t think I was seriously interested in tinkling the ivories and to my grateful dismay bought me my first acoustic guitar. I tried to play it but I couldn’t pass a piano while we were out so dad eventually signed me up for piano lessons. My mom reminds me of me sitting in a stroller on the side of the stage at my father’s concerts adamantly not going to sleep as I was fixated on the music. You see I was born on tour in the UK in 1983 and I got the nickname “Trunk Baby” for spending my time asleep in the back of my dad’s old Ford.
Q: Do you split your time between London and the US?
PD: Yeah I do! I’m a permanent resident in the USA and this is home. I never got my citizenship as it was easier coming on tour with a British passport and coming back home to Florida. Britain has a great place in my heart, I was born there but also with dad being originally from Glasgow we get such a warm reception it’s sometimes overwhelming, but in a totally great way.
Q: Can you tell us about the country music scene in London?
PD: Sure thing. I am still learning it myself but from what I have seen it is growing at an extraordinary rate. I frequently test new songs out at open mic nights where no one knows who you are and just react according to what they hear. Most of the people turning up now are turning up in western boots, flannel shirts and tagging a pedal steel and mandolin with them. They are getting back into Country Music and Americana in a big way which is awesome. For the longest time the CM scene in the UK, in general, consisted of people of a certain age dressing up in cheap cowboy and western gear, 6 shooters and Stetsons and creeping up to the venue in a camper van attached to large Confederate flags still listening to Hank Williams Sr. and Patsy Cline. Today’s youth are inspired by Little Big Town, early Taylor Swift, and Lady Antebellum and more recently by their very own The Shires. Bob Harris, a DJ and former TV presenter in London is largely responsible as he has the largest Americana show on BBC Radio 2 and has been backing some of the UK’s biggest Americana festivals and taking upcoming artists between London and Nashville. I had the pleasure of recording three songs for his “Under the Apple Tree Sessions” which gets aired on YouTube, BBC Radio 2 and the new Chris Country Radio. It’s an exciting time to be into Country Music in the UK.
PD: This was one of the best experiences of my life. I am always writing songs so I have a catalogue of songs to choose from at any given time but once I knew I was finally going to fulfil my dream of going and recording in Nashville, TN I actually sat and composed a couple of songs specifically for this occasion. Most of the songs were already written like Ode to a Friend, I’m Yours and Little Man. These songs were inspired by events in my life.
Ode to a Friend was written after I’d spent a great night hanging out with two of my best friends in West Palm Beach and I was on the plane to London and just thought of how important it is that we all have friends like this.
I’m Yours is inspired by the time I met my wife, whom I met on a visit to Bucharest, Romania. I had always wanted to write a song which could be used as a first dance at your wedding and drew from my own personal experience for it.
Little Man is the oldest of the songs on this E.P. This is obviously written about my little man who at the time of writing this is 2 and half years old. Having a child is such a magical experience and I couldn’t not write about this. Every parent I’ve played this for really relates to it. The other two songs Superman and Shakin’ are pure imagination and fantasy. Especially Shakin’. While I have to say I took a little bit of imagery from the way I viewed my wife the first time she visited a small town I was staying in for a tour in the UK. There she was! This angel from a Hollywood-esque movie set dropped into this run down, backwoods town. She stuck out like the most beautiful sore thumb you’d ever seen. Once I had created the demos for these on my iPad, sent them off to a friend of mine, Pete Young at Ultra Audio Productions in Nashville and spoke in depth about the ideas I had for each song so when I drove into the famous Studio 19, everything and everyone was ready to go. These guys were awesome, they literally listened to my demos, heard my ideas, stepped into the studio like a live session and showed me my dreams in one take. Within three days we were recorded, mixed and ready for the mastering to be done which was the final piece and the only part I wasn’t present for. Basically, I can’t wait to do it all over again.
Q: Who are you listening to that our readers should be listening to?
PD: My inspirations come from so many sources and I listen to so many artists. I like to listen to pioneers in Country Music as well as some of the top artists who occupy the Billboard charts today. I will always listen to Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings specifically. Whether individually or as part of The Highwaymen. The first song I learned growing up was Waylon’s version of Dreaming My Dreams. Dad covered that too in the late 70’s early 80’s. Dad (Lonnie Donegan) is a must listen for performers too. I know I’m biased but he performed each song with so much energy and emotion. He did this all his life until the day he died on our last tour when I was his piano player. He took me with for the experience and so he could finally perform the hit song he wrote which was a top 10 hit for Tom Jones – I’ll Never Fall in Love Again. Also covered by Elvis on his penultimate album: From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee. Out of today’s artists, I listen to, my top two would be Chris Stapleton and The Zac Brown Band. I know not necessarily similar but that’s kind of the point. Stapleton is rawer and leans toward an older and often more blues/rock style while The Zac Brown Band tends to combine reggae undertones and have songs which range from out and out fun like Sick em on a Chicken to the downright beautiful Tomorrow Never Comes.
Q: Is there anything you want to share with our readers that we haven’t asked?
PD: Something a lot of people often inquire about is “what it’s like having an influential father? Is it a help or a hindrance.“ This is a difficult question to answer as the whole situation is a double-edged sword. On one hand, I am immensely proud of everything dad achieved and when I go out I will always do some of Dad’s songs because they mean a lot to me and to the audience. Plus I had the luxury of my dad being my best friend. But on the other hand, when I gig in the UK, people more often than not are coming to see me but actually looking for dad. I can blow the lid off the venue and the response is “Wasn’t your dad great!” I know what they mean and I know they’ve had a great night but to them, it’s like I’ve been channelling my dad all night. That’s kind of what this album is about. Me, just being me and hoping you’ll appreciate me for me.
You can find Peter Donegan all over the internet!