Cardiff Character: Joe Kelly

Indie bands might be struggling to get gigs in South Wales but Joe and his band are fighting to get their new album out in January

Joe has been playing guitar since he was 13, he writes all of his own songs and has travelled far and wide to play his music

Joe Kelly, 27 is a musician from Newport. He is warm and shy, “dresses for the weather,” and is hoping to get an album out in the new year. 

He describes himself as, “free-spirited.” Wearing a country-inspired bolo tie (usually cord or leather) and a vintage waistcoat, Joe’s eccentric style complements both his persona and music. 

Joe has been playing guitar since the age of 13. After a year of playing, his free school music lessons came to a halt. 

When the lessons ceased, Joe’s guitar teacher would let him come in at lunchtimes to jam with him. And so began an inseparable relationship between Joe and his guitar.

He says, “I think if it wasn’t for him being so nice to me, I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunities that I’ve had.”

Joe is a full-time musician and writes his own songs, as well as those for his band, The Royal Pharmacy. A new album is on their radar. 

Joe’s face lit up when discussing the genre of his music, it’s obvious he has sourced his inspirations meticulously.

Joe and the band have put their own spin on Americana, folk and blues music – blending powerful vocals with Joe’s guitar and mouth organ. 

“People say my music is Americana, and I would agree, I’ve always been really conscious of having that kind of dustball sound to it, almost folky blues,” he says. 

The release date of the new album has been affected by his “free-spirited” nature though. When asked about future plans, Joe appeared to be excited but was apprehensive to discuss any concrete timescales. 

“We’ve been pushing for an album to come out for a couple of years now. It’s been a slow process, but the main goal is to get the album out,” he says. 

However, he grinned, “We’re hoping for January, but every time I say a date, it just changes.” He pauses and breaks eye contact, “We’ll see.”

Life as a musician 

Joe admits he has sacrificed home comforts to be a musician full-time. “If you’re going to do what you want to do then you will make sacrifices, you have to compromise,” he says.  

“I think if you’re going to do what you want to do then you will make sacrifices” 

“I lived in a caravan for a long time,” he smirks, “just so I could stay free and flexible.”

He has lived a stereotypical musician lifestyle, always going where the music is. “A couple of years ago, I lived in a Ford Fiesta in the middle of the Brecon Beacons,” he explains. 

Joe explains how much he loves life’s simplicities. He is aware that not many people would be prepared to live in a car in the middle of Wales to pursue their dream career, but Joe did.  “It was magical,” he beams. 

Joe and his band The Royal Pharmacy are aiming to release a new album January 2020

The Welsh music scene 

He is naturally invested in the independent music scene in Wales and explains he’s experienced hardship firsthand due to the volatility of grassroots venues. 

“I think the closure of venues has affected me a lot,” says Joe as he starts to twiddle his thumbs. “We just give up; bands disband because they didn’t have their regular click or usual places to play. It’s definitely affected confidence,” he sighs.

Joe has played fewer gigs due to venue closures across South Wales, the rapport between venue owners and musicians is lost he says, which makes it harder to find places to play regularly. 

He firmly agrees more could be done to help the grassroots venues of the independent music scene here. “The council create a hurdle and they don’t come up with any solutions to go around it, and we all suffer as a result,” he complains.

He shrugs his shoulders. “Every day, I have all these little ideas to improve the music scene and help us musicians, and I think, why can’t they do that?”