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He's The Juan
Spanish musician Juan Zelada tells TIM HUGHES about his money-back guarantee to fans.
MOST musicians are fairly confident about their work. But Juan Zelada has gone further than most to promise people a good night out at his shows.
In a tactic more frequently employed by supermarkets, he is offering punters who attend his gigs their money back if they are not completely satisfied.
“It’s all going brilliantly and no one has asked for their cash back yet!” laughs the chirpy Madrilino, talking to me while travelling down the M6 to Manchester after a show in Glasgow the previous night.
“The band has been smashing it, and if we are having a good time on stage, that rubs off on the audience. It is sending out good vibes.”
Those vibes seem to be spreading. He is widely tipped as one of our most exciting new singer-songwriters.
Among those to thank is Sir Paul McCartney. Juan arrived in England from Spain, with just a guitar on his back, to join a course at the former Beatle’s Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. Sir Paul was so impressed by what he heard, he gave him an award for his songwriting, telling him personally how much he loved his music. It was an auspicious start, but it was followed by years of grind as he set out to establish a name for himself.
His natural habitat became the piano bar – and he played dozens of restaurants, bars, weddings and even cruise ships. He eventually joined the Bryn Christopher band, and went on to support Amy Winehouse on her infamous Back To Black tour – which was cancelled halfway through when the singer fell ill.
“It all helped pay the bills,” he says. “It was a long slog though. However, I took a major leap of faith and it is now full steam ahead!”
Juan’s debut single, Breakfast In Spitalfields, was A-listed on Radio Two and named a Record Of The Week. At its peak, it was the second most played song on the station. All that was before being signed. He has remained a playlist favourite.
Now celebrating a record deal with Decca, which is releasing his debut album High Ceilings & Collar Bones, he is coming to the end of a 26-date tour which reaches Oxford tomorrow. He is backed by a band whose members previously backed the likes of Lily Allen and The Maccabees.
He describes his music as a blend of soul, blues and contemporary rock, adding: “People have to see it live. Our shows always convince people – which is what we want.”
Perhaps surprisingly, considering his Castilian roots, there is little Spanish influence in his music. In fact, he admits, his musical upbringing was solidly Anglo-Saxon.
“I listen to Latin music but don’t perform it,” he says.
“All the music I loved when I was growing up was British and American from the ’70s and ’80s. There are no clichés – just a solid soulful sound. Paul Simon, James Taylor and Ray Charles have always been in my head, and these are the artists I try to emulate.
“We Spanish do try to express ourselves a bit more than musicians here, though, who are more reserved and stand-offish.”
With his reputation so clearly in the ascendant, why then did he choose to adopt such an audacious marketing strategy as offering to refund their ticket money?
“I wanted to entice new people to come along. Times are hard and people want to know they will get value for their money.
“It is not coming from an arrogant place, though. But I am completely confident that people will have a great time.”
Juan seems to be enjoying himself more than anyone. “We’ve got a six-piece band with a really good brass section, and the crowd gets nice and close and personal. It’s a sweaty affair and we get as much crowd participation as we can.
“We play the kind of shows where no-one stands around with their arms crossed.”
* Juan Zelada plays the Jericho, Oxford, tomorrow.
Tickets cost £6 from wegottickets.com. He also plays the Cornbury Festival, in Great Tew, on June 29. Weekend tickets start at £150. Go to cornburyfestival.com