Getting all Depp and meaningful

SERENDIPITY has played a big part in the career of Babybird.

Be it the journey from bedroom recordings to chart stardom or the latest chapter which sees Hollywood A-lister Johnny Depp playing guitar on the new record...

Stephen Jones says Ex-Maniac is due out in February and his relationship with the Pirates Of The Caribbean star is a friendship forged in a mutual love of music.

"I've known Johnny for about six years," says the formerly Sheffield-based musician and author.

"He is a fan of Babybird.

"Johnny has been listening to us when he's been filming and stuff.

"I've met him over the years and he introduced me to Bruce Witkin, his friend he used to be in a band with when they were 17 or 18. Music's Johnny's first love."

That led to the ever-prolific Stephen taking a batch of songs over to Grammy- nominated producer Witkin's LA studio where, together with Unison Music partner Ryan Dorn, they set about recording what became Babybird's sixth studio album. It prompts a return to The Leadmill on Tuesday.

Stephen describes the turn of events as "a very nice thing," not least as he had no plans to release more Babybird material.

Having parted company from his manager of many years he'd continued writing, releasing only something under the name Death Of The Neighbourhood since 2006 studio album Between My Ears There Is Nothing But Music.

"I had no intention of doing any more really," says Stephen, who has shifted two million records.

"I'd been compiling Neighbourhood for a year and I had a second kid so I was being a dad as well.

"And it was just writing, writing... I never stop, even though I don't have a plan. That's how I relax.

"I'm sure something would have happened."

Now living in London, Stephen admits becoming a parent has changed his outlook slightly.

Gone is the man who once kicked music stands during gigs, and in is a mellow but still clearly maverick musician capable of honing melodic pearls from an often slanted life view.

"If I was asked if children made a difference I wouldn't know what to say directly but I think you're right, it's the selfishness...you put yourself into two other people and it's much better that way. It makes you realise how selfish you probably were, but that's all part of growing up.

"Then I've always written about protecting innocents, all the things that disappear whether it's pubs or corner shops, just the nice things in life that disappear; that's what I still write about on this album, about children and various things."

There's a hint of the old Bad Shave-era Jones, however, on the Depp-directed video for lead single Unloveable.

It also stars This Is England actor Stephen Graham, who has previously appeared in Arctic Monkeys videos and starred alongside Depp in Michael Mann's Public Enemies movie.

"It's the fourth track and Johnny played guitar on Unloveable.

"He came to the studio for four hours and played some stuff over the top."That was the natural one for us to do.

"The video was a fantastic experience – I'm being hung off a bridge. It was kind of both our idea.

"We'd have done a video for $200 but because it's Johnny Depp we can afford to do something a bit more risky.

"I think it is going to turn out to be a 10-minute short film."

The Leadmill has been the scene of at least one drama down the years, not least the night after You're Gorgeous hit high in the charts and Jones lost it with front-of- stage talkers.

Is he nervous of a return?

"I have very little memory of that transition in venues, we seemed to play Sheffield so much.

"Ratners Rest I remember much more because there was no pressure and we hadn't done anything.

"Those are the gigs that stick in my mind.

"That's where the fun started, where it was all innocent before it went a bit crazy.

"Luke (Scott, guitarist) and Rob (Gregory, drummer) are back in the band and a bit nervous of the Leadmill, because it's where they live I guess.

"The Johnny Deep thing throws it way out there but in terms of us just playing gigs no-one's heard any music so it'll just be pleasant to see a few people there."

Beyond the album release, there's talk of a special show featuring Jones's five pre-band lo-fi albums and another tour.

And maybe he will he be popping up in films. Pirates Of Penzance anybody?

"That's more the thing I'd get," he laughs.

"I was pretty much trying to act for the video. I was getting compliments and a big round of applause from the crew at the end of it and I was thinking 'I'm a musician and I feel like every scene is s***' but they seemed impressed. So who knows.

"I got the bug for it."

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