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Interview: Al Lewis opens up about 'Fifteen Years'

“I just hope that by me opening up that it might provide some comfort to somebody else really.” Al Lewis has released his most personal album to date. The Award-winning Welsh singer-songwriter’s latest record, released just last week ‘Fifteen Years’ has been just that - 15 years in the making.

Al Lewis taken by John Hollingsworth

It is a beautifully crafted record that digs deep into the grief of losing his dad at a young age. It’s a loss that Lewis didn’t really face up to until the Pandemic hit. However, his father’s passing was the catalyst that kick-started his career in the first place, as he explains. “It wasn't until my dad passed away that I'd really considered being a musician. I'd gone off to Uni, thinking that I would follow the same path as most of my friends, find a job and, and do something related to what I'd done at uni.” 

Not long after Lewis returned from Uni, his father who had suffered with Multiple Sclerosis, passed away. “It sort of blew everything up in the water,” Lewis recalls. “I was kind of thinking, life is so short, and precious. What is it that I really love, and I'd always been in bands, but never really considered it as a career. I didn't want to have any regrets. So I packed up and moved to London and started doing some open mic nights. And here we are, over 15 years later, I'm still doing it, thankfully.”

Since he first began chasing his dream as a musician, he has crafted many successful songs both in English and in Welsh but this is the first time he’s addressed the grief of losing his father. “I'd always felt that my grief would be a burden to other people, that people wouldn't want to hear songs about grief because people's lives are difficult enough. I thought that not enough people would perhaps have experienced what I'd experienced of losing your parents so young, that maybe they wouldn't be able to connect with the lyrics.” 

But Lewis couldn’t be further from the truth. What he’s created is a body of work that perhaps began as therapy for himself but that now belongs to anyone who has ever lost someone dear to them. These songs have become anthems for those still unpacking the box that is grief. “Having experienced what we all had during the pandemic, people expressing their grief really explicitly, I know how helpful that had been for a lot of people. I decided that I would do the same and hope that perhaps even if there's just one person out there who has experienced something similar that the songs could help them.”

At each stage of the process, Lewis was caught off guard by the emotion. “When it came to recording them and the idea of singing them live, that was quite daunting. I felt really exposed and very vulnerable to people's comments because the songs are detailing my childhood, and it's not anything I've shared before. I'm still really nervous about the idea of the album being out. I hope people understand why I've written it.”

Through this process, Lewis was not alone, he now has a family of his own who have been instrumental when it came to unpacking the emotions around this album. One song in particular gives insight into his family life, ‘In My Daughter’s Eyes’. “Most of my memories of my dad are from when I was a little kid. I suppose that I never really could envisage what I would end up seeing in my own kids of him. But one day, I just caught a glimmer of my daughter and suddenly, I just saw him in her smile for the first time. He had dimples, which I also inherited from him. She's inherited them from me.” 

The discovery made him realise a deeper connection: “It just made me think about this lineage, that even if somebody's gone, they live on through their kids and their grandkids. I think it's hard to try and bring somebody back to life for a child who has never met them. And I was worrying, would I be able to describe my dad to my kids? Would they understand the kind of man he was but then seeing that made me realize that he's in them. It's that thing of, even if you can't find a word sometimes, there's something beyond words that will connect them to their granddad, even though they've never met him.”

Dotted across the album are nods to his Welsh heritage once again, something that he says becomes more important to him the older he gets. His 2013 homage to Dylan Thomas, ‘A Child’s Christmas In Wales’, was the first Welsh-language track to be play-listed on BBC Radio 2. “As a kid, I was always watching Top of the Pops and thinking I need to sing in English, because that's what all these guys are doing. But I've realised as I get older, that the fact that I sing in Welsh is quite unique, and it makes me feel really privileged to think that I can do that. The fact that the language is still here today is quite amazing, it could have easily been swept up but people treasured it enough that they kept on writing poetry in the language and they kept on singing songs in the language and that helped the language survive.”

This record is a must listen, not just for fans of Al Lewis or fans of the genre, but for anyone who has lost someone dear to them. It’s an album which speaks to the heart and comforts the soul.

Fun questions

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever written a song about?

I wrote a song about going on a night out and that feeling in the morning of when your head is all muddled. It's a song in Welsh, and it's called ‘Flies in your Head’, which is probably the weirdest title I've ever written.

If they were to make a movie about your life, who would you cast to play yourself and what would be the opening theme tune?

Well, people have said that Eddie Redmayne looks a bit like me, or that I look a bit like Eddie Redmayne. So maybe I'd go for him if he'd be up for it. And the song would have to be one of my favourites, ‘God Only Knows’ by the Beach Boys.


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