An inspirational figure
The passing of a family member is painful, but few of us get to pay tribute to the person we’ve lost in the way up-and-coming singer-songwriter Dan Owen has. The life and death of his much loved grandfather, he tells us, provided the inspiration for the title track of his forthcoming debut album, Stay Awake With Me.
‘We lost my grandad in December,’ explains the 26-year-old. ‘My whole family were around, and if you’re going to go that’s the best way to. He remained in good spirits. Even when the doctor told him that he probably wouldn’t make it out of intensive care, he was completely accepting of it.’
Sadly, Dan wasn’t able to be there when the end finally came. ‘I was out in Italy gigging. All I wanted to do was get a plane and come back, but I couldn’t. I found out and then had to go straight on to the radio, struggling to keep it together. He was such an important part of the family that there was immediately this big gap in all of our lives.’
He continues: ‘I don’t think I really accepted it or dealt with it until I wrote the song. Writing that song was like flipping a switch, dedicating myself to thinking about him. I started hearing the stories about my nan and grandad.’
Stay Awake With Me
Dan’s grandparents met as teenagers at a dance in Berlin. His grandfather, "a real character" named Colin, was in the army and stationed in the city, while his nan was there because her father was also in the army at the time.
‘The first verse starts with my grandparents meeting that first night, falling asleep together, and going on to have 54 years together,’ explains Dan. ‘The second verse is my nan not wanting him to fall asleep, because the doctors had told her that if my grandad went to sleep he wouldn’t wake up – so she got into the bed with him.’
‘The vocal I recorded for the demo ended up being the version that’s been released. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sing it that way again.’ The lyrics to Stay Awake With Me are full of little reminders of Colin. ‘The last thing he said to my uncle was “These choices were my own”, so I put that line into the middle eight of the song.’
So how does Dan feel about having to the play the song live? Is it painful because of how emotionally-charged, or he view it as a celebration? ‘It’s a tribute,’ says Dan proudly. ‘All of the family love the song. It’s our family’s little song, so hearing it makes us think of him. But the song is also for anyone that’s lost someone close to them.’
More about Dan
Dan started playing the guitar when he was 9, and at 13 started playing the pub circuit, eventually clocking up around 150-200 gigs a year. It was at one of these performances that a gig-goer captured Dan playing a version of Bob Dylan’s Ballad of Hollis Brown, which turned him into a YouTube sensation and garnered him some famous fans, including Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood.
‘I think I started writing before I even realised that I was writing songs,’ says Dan of his early efforts. ‘They were me just writing things down, not consciously trying to write songs. If I read those lyrics back now I’d probably think they were awful.’
Of the material on Stay Awake With Me, released on 17 August, Dan says: ‘You always trying to learn to get yourself into the right zone to sing your songs, and some of these have taken me my whole life.’