It’s October the 3rd 2009. Jon Windle has just struck the final chord of the last song at the last ever Little Man Tate show in his beloved Sheffield and the reluctant pop star is about to turn his back on music. Tired from the constant touring and the pressures the music business brings, the LMT front-man has, quite literally, “had enough”. The band go their separate ways after four years of gigging, two albums and five Top 40 hits and Jon settles into married life and an alternative career of coaching football to kids. Or that’s what he thought.

The thing is, when music’s in your blood, it’s hard to completely turn your back on it, right? And so it proved to be. The former song-writing force behind Little Man Tate simply couldn’t put his guitar down and the songs began to flow. After four or five sessions in 2Fly studios with Sheffield legend (and former LMT collaborator) Alan Smyth, an album begins to take shape, and Jon is coaxed out of his short-lived musical hiatus and Jon Windle the solo artist is born.

Almost a year later in the run-up to the release of his solo debut album and maiden concerts in London and Sheffield, I hook-up with the gregarious Sheffielder for an interview. He’s in a confident and relaxed mood and is looking forward to stepping back into the limelight.

PB: A year ago when you walked off stage did you really think you were leaving music for good?

JW: Yes, really, 100%, honestly, I did.

PB: What made you want to turn your back on music?

JW: Mainly the industry. I didn’t like the way you had to kiss the right backsides, talk to the right people and hang around with the right people. I thought we were led in the wrong direction. At the start everything was great but then it all became a little too much. Other people were desperate for success but perhaps we weren’t the right band to have signed to go out and get number ones. We were in it for the fun of it and the music.

PB: So what changed your mind about doing music?

JW: I wanted to write for other people. I wrote and recorded four songs and then decided I wanted to keep them for myself.

PB: So you were missing the song-writing side of things then?

JW: I used to think I liked writing best. Then I thought I liked performing best. Then I realised that I Iiked them both!

PB: Did you think about getting Little Man Tate back together?”

JW: No, I didn’t want to be in a band again. And we’d taken Little Man Tate as far as it could go. It was never going to get any bigger. That’s why we’ll never get back together again. We’d just be undoing all the good we’d done as we packed it in at the top of our game.

PB: “Is it strange writing on your own as you had a close song-writing partnership with Little Man Tate guitarist Maz Marriott?

JW: “It is trange. I used to go to Maz with melodies and lyrics and he’d come to me with a great chord progression but no words. People think that Maz wrote all the music and I wrote the words but it wasn’t quite like that. It is strange not having each other around to bounce things off.

PB: With LMT you’d built up a large fan base. Was there a conscious decision to try and bring them with you on the solo album?

JW: To a certain extent. I could have never written a third LMT album. That would have been daft. However towards the end of the album I made a conscious decision that there needed to be a link between Little Man Tate and the new album so I made a few of the songs sound a little more like LMT.

PB: Would you say that the new album and the songs on it are a natural progression of you previous band?

JW: It’s a bit more mature in places. At the same time though I don’t want to come across to people that I’m this ‘Big I Am’ song writer. I’ve matured in the lyrics in places but at the same time I think it’s good to have a sense of fun too.

I wrote the first LMT album, 'About What you Know', at 22, the second album, 'Nothing Worth Having Comes Easy', at 25 and now with this album, 'Step Out the Man', I’m 28. I’d expect that I’ve changed a lot between 22 and 28. There’s a lot of quite personal stuff on the new album. Stuff I like, stuff that I think. It’s my thoughts.

PB: Okay, so not LMT revival but can we expect LMT songs in your solo set?

JW: Yeah - we've toyed with this. I've spoken to Andy (current bassist), Liam (current guitarist) and Dan (Fields, drummer/LMT) and also Ben (Surtees, LMT) and Maz (LMT). There will be Little Man Tate songs in there.

We looked at Ian Brown and Paul Weller and they’ve come out of bands and gone solo and play the old songs. It's not going to be LMT but I don't want people to go away and say "I wished he'd played this LMT song and that LMT song."

PB: Was the recording process for the new album fundamentally different from the other albums?

JW: I can’t remember who said you have the whole of your life to write your first album and a year to write your second. With the first LMT album we had forty songs, demoed 25 and then fully recorded 19 to get a 12 track album. For the second one we had 23 songs, demoed 16, recorded 16 and finished up with a 13 track album. With the solo record there were 14 songs written and 14 songs fully recorded. It was a lot more concentrated. After all I haven’t got the money LMT had. My record label [Tiny Teeth] hasn’t got £35,000 to spend on recording.

PB: Of course. You’ve not got the backing of a major label live V2 now have you?

JW: No. We've set up our own record label [Tiny Teeth Records]. We're managing the whole thing. We've had loads of advice from Barney [previous LMT manager] and other people. There's going to be other artists on the label as well. We'll sign bands coming out of deals that are in the mess like we [LMT] were. We want to work closely with people and develop them.

PB: Is the title track from the LP about going away from music then coming back?

JW: Yes, 100%. I'm singing about what I felt coming out of LMT, not having something that was a really big part of my life for the last five years. And about being unsure about things and then all of a sudden things clicking and making sense.

PB: Is there a romantic thread to the album?

JW: Yeah, ‘Julia’ is a lovey-dovey. ‘Melissa’s Song’ is for the wife. ‘A Winter's Love Affair’ is about having sex in the winter! You get different feelings at different times of the year. In the summer it's all bikinis and swim shorts on holiday.

PB: It reminds me of the Manic Street Preachers' ‘Masses Against the Classes’ lyric: "We love the winter/It brings us closer together".

JW: I can't stand that band. And you can quote me on that.

PB: Okay, so that's you off Nicky Wire's X-mas card list! Back to the album. What were your main influences? I'm getting a bit of a punky-pop feel, a bit of Squeeze and a bit of Ian Dury-style story-telling.

JW: Yeah, punky pop. And the story-telling has to be there as that's what I'm all about. They’re all stories.

PB: So tell me about some of the stories behind some of the songs.

JW: Okay. ‘My Name’s Frankie’ is about the hold people have on the music industry. People have asked why we’ve started that song but both LMT albums started with a song taking a pop at the music industry. The first album had ‘Man, I Hate Your Band’ and the second one had ‘Money Wheel’. I don’t ever want to get tarred with the brush that I’m not in it for the music.

‘Spirit’ is a bit ‘out there’. If you are writing a book or a story it doesn’t have to be real life to be a story. It can be a bit of fun. It’s about being in love with somebody that you can’t be in love with like a ghost or somebody who’s not here or say another world.

PB: What’s your favourite song off the album?

JW: I like some better live than on album. I really love ‘Sober Minds’ live but it didn’t even make the album. I really like ‘A Busker’s Carol’. One of my favourite tracks, ‘Different Days’, hasn’t even made the album and is slated for the second album.

PB: You’ve got the two dates at the Borderline in London and the home-coming Plug gig in Sheffield. Anything planned beyond that?

JW: I’ve got some acoustic support gigs with the South in December. We want to get a few dates in before X-mas. At the end of December Dan gets married; Liam’s missus is due to give birth the day we play Manchester on the 19th December. Then my wife Mel’s due to give birth in January. So we want to get as many dates in as we can. Hopefully we can get out gigging again in March and then do a tour in April.

And with that question we finish up our beers and Jon scoots off to carry on his preparations. He needn’t have worried. Two weeks later 'Step Out the Man' is released and is very well received by his fans, despite little in the way of national press and radio play. Meanwhile a week later at the Borderline in London he plays to a crowd that tops 200. No mean feat for his first ever solo appearance.

The night after in Sheffield it turns out to be something of a triumphant home-coming. The main room at the Plug is pretty damn full as the self-confessed “happiest man in Sheffield” gives an accomplished performance with his six-piece band. The new album translates well live and there’s also room for an anthemic 'Audrey Hepburn' and a colossal 'Boy in An Anorak' from his Little Man Tate days. There’s also space for a couple of new tracks that bode well for his second album, due at some point in the New Year.

Predictably the biggest cheer of the night is reserved for set-closer and LMT chart hit 'House Party at Boothys'. At the end of it all Jon is all smiles and his solo career is now a reality. Less hedonistic and more mature it may be, but certainly no less passionate. And all that without a public vote or cover version in sight. Just a heart-felt belief that it should be about the music rather than the hype and celebrityism rubbish of the times we are living in. Step out the man indeed and take a bow.

The photographs that accompany this article were taken for Pennyblackmusic by Denzil Watson.

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