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Worker Bee: meet Pops Roberts of Lovescene, the neo-soul band from Manchester

Lovescene are stars of the UK soul renaissance and they're from Manchester

Pops is the founder and one-sixth of a neo-soul and R&B six-piece Manchester band called Lovescene, who will be performing at the inaugural We Invented The Weekend festival this weekend.

The group is a creative collective of alternative musicians curated by Ms Roberts herself. Pops came up with the name for her band out of love for film; she would create tunes from her favourite soundtracks and she recognised that her best work were all from love scenes. She’s an adopted Manc, “I’ve been here for over 16/17 years so I think I’ve done my time.” Pops also works with young people to learn songwriting and uses her love film – soundtracks and dialogue – as a teaching ‘stimulus’ strategy. “I ask my students to write down and describe the scene, what is not being said and how the characters might feel, and that’s how we start to generate lyrics for music production. And that’s how we start to populate a really nice lyric book.”

What got you started in your field of work?

I’ve been dotting about quite a bit. I played saxophone when I was at school then I went on to play drums. And I only started singing because we couldn’t find a singer. I maintain [for 16 years] that I was never meant to be a singer. I wasn’t even going to do music. My mum wasn’t too keen on the idea at the beginning – and I can totally see why – she hung around with the Rolling Stones and people like that so she saw the ‘dangers’ of that lifestyle I imagine. But my school was adamant that I should do music because I had a natural affinity to it so I just carried on. Eventually I started to study it and went to Salford uni [University of Salford] here.

But then I got a job in fashion retail, which I was in far too long, and was absolutely miserable there. I was writing really dark, techno’y scary stuff because of the negative mindset I was in at the time. The people I was around were very opinionated, trends were very fast and there was no loyalty to one genre. When you’re around that and trying to make music it can be really confusing because everyone’s a critic. If you’re just surrounded by critics, where’s the positivity?

So when I got out of that, I felt a whole new lease of life and suddenly I was writing these upbeat tunes, going to jam nights – ‘stalking’ a lot of jazz musicians and approached everyone I admired and that [fastforward] is basically the lineup you see [in Lovescene]. I’m very lucky, I’ve just sort of handpicked all of my favourite musicians in the city and here we are! From the first jam onwards it was magic. I love the way they understood what I’d written, and brought their own influences and alternatives to become a curation of everything we’ve ever heard and liked. Magic ingredients to create a really interesting creative collective.

Who have been the biggest influences on your work?

Peven Everett, Sade, Donny Hathaway, Prince and lots of cinema scores. The entire band have a massive range of influences and there’s little fragments of everything. In lockdown I bought all the Prince films and immersed myself in a world I wish existed…apart from all the dark bits in Purple Rain

Credit James Stack

What is your proudest achievement so far?

Ooo, we’ve had a couple this year. Supporting Roy Ayers was quite a big deal – he’s one of my biggest heroes of all time – and considering that one of my bucket list things was just to see Roy Ayers live and upgrade to playing on the same stage as him, yeah [laughs]. We were also nominated for a Worldwide FM award, and we played the main stage of Cross The Tracks. Jazz and all the crossovers is very London-centric, as we know, so to even be there [supporting the events] as a Manchester band, anyway, or a band from outside of London, and on top of that to be on the main stage alongside the like of Macy Gray, and Patrice Rushen, that was massive. I still haven’t got over that.

We’ve drop-kicked our way over the north-south divide wall.

What does your typical day involve?

It really varies. I do feel quite lucky right now as a freelancer taking the risk during Covid – like a complete lunatic – when there was no certainty. I play basketball and ‘shoot some hoops’ in the morning. I like to go on a bit of a Bandcamp journey – like click on one genre to another – and start listening to what people are making at the moment. I really love Bandcamp [an online music community] for that. I tend to write in the evenings because I find it more calm and it’s a classic time for most musicians as we’re more nocturnal, anyway. With good writing you tend to forget you haven’t actually eaten or drank for ages. You need to stock your fridge with some very easy meals – on the assumption that you will have forgotten to have a meal.

And how do you relax on your days off?

I don’t really have a day off. I have a bit of a weird worth ethic that’s a bit over the top. I went to school on Saturdays so I’m used to a six day week. I have to force myself to have a day off. I bought myself a PS4 [PlayStation 4] because I was really into gaming as a kid. I’ll set myself a little target or get some invoices out the way that earns myself a good 45 minutes on Assassins Creed [an open-world adventure game]. I’ve fallen out with Tomb Raider [another RPG game], I can’t get past a certain bit. And I absolutely love watching films. I’ve just ordered a projector actually so I can write and have films on in the background. I used to go to Fopp [ a music, film and book shop on Brown Street] a lot and I’d just spend like £15 on world cinema DVDs.

What is the best advice you have been given or can give?

Leave time for fun: you do deserve it. On the business side of things: get everything in writing. Don’t work with people who only ring you – anyone who meets an email with a phone call – they know what they’re doing.

If things hadn’t worked out, what else could you have seen yourself doing?

I really wanted to get into making films to be honest. Which is something that I’m actually am *audible torment* thinking about getting into… I might shadow a friend of mine who’s just starting out a business. I’m fascinated by it, I really am. I’ve seen the software [for film editing] and it’s almost identical in a lot of ways to the music software that I use, so I feel like it might be a head start on that front.

But also, I realised in lockdown how much I love working with young people. I’ve worked with kids in the care system particularly, and that’s just opened my eyes. It’s probably a selfish thing where I feel so much better about my place in the world afterwards. I think that when you actually talk to young people who for music, music is ‘life or death’ and music is the only thing that makes them feel like someone else has got through this, or someone else sees them [for who they are] and that they are not alone in this, that is incredibly powerful. I’m sure we can all say that, in our teenage years or in our hardest times, music has really been there for us. Or art or a film or writing, I think it’s incredible. So I think that [working with kids] would have called on me sooner or later, no matter what I was doing..

Tell us one thing about yourself people might be surprised to hear…

Erm… I started off loving opera and classical music. My great grandfather was an opera singer. My grandfather used to work with Alan Turing – a fellow code breaker. So can someone explain to me why I can’t do basic maths? Honestly, the only thing that makes me feel triumphant is that our maths teacher always used to say, ‘listen, you need to learn this because you’re not going to walk around with a calculator in your pocket…’ 

*Smugly presents her smartphone* 

LOL, finally I have a calculator in my pocket at all times.

Red or Blue?

Blue. Do you know what, I’m not that into football. I do enjoy watching it but I’m much more into basketball. But what I do like to do is when people are having heated conversations about football, I just shout ‘Blackburn Rovers’ and all the conversation stops. Everyone stops talking about football.  It’s like a magical power. I’ve lived with a lot of City fans and my closest friend is a City fan, so when I get asked this question, my knee jerk reaction is to say ‘City’.

If you could change one thing about Manchester, what would it be?

*Says to herself, “ooo say something that isn’t controversial”*

I feel like the powers that be, like the Manchester City Council, should be supporting people who are from Manchester, more than ever. There’s a lot of people moving here and a lot of us are a bit concerned for Manchester’s identity. But I also find it frustrating when friends of mine who have been here the whole time; artists, studios, people who’ve made Manchester cool, people who have held tight when people were rude about it – people were rude about it until quite recently – I feel like they should be helped to boost their businesses or wherever they need. I do feel like there needs to be support for the true Mancunians, because I’m finding that people who have held the fort all this time can’t even afford to live in their own city, anymore.

If we’re keeping it positive: more parks. I love parks. More parks and water. 

And finally, what do you love most about Manchester?

Oh, God, there’s so much…

I love the humour, more than anything, it could not have made me feel more welcome if it tried when i arrived here, honestly. The bus drivers, like everyone. The humour, the friendliness, the ‘pet names’ and I just love it. I’ve always said that Manchester’s the perfect size: it’s small enough so you really feel like it’s home quite fast, but it’s also big enough that if you need to disappear and feel a little bit anonymous, you can.

I absolutely love it. I’ve lived here for this long and it’s kept me and it will have me for quite a long time. I adore it.

Lovescene will be performing at the inaugural We Invented The Weekend festival at MediaCity this weekend…

“The festival is amazing,” Pops says, speaking about We Invented The Weekend. “I think it’s important for a lot of reasons. It’s such a relief in summer when families can just go out and do things that don’t cost an arm and a leg. I don’t have children myself, but for my friends that do, I just don’t know how they do it – spend quality time together – without worrying about their finances. This [festival] offers that.

“It’s really accessible and I love the way that they’ve programmed it, that it has something for everyone: there’s gardening, there’s different types of food, there’s just everything anyone could be interested in and it does reflect what is on offer culturally here as well. It really ticks a lot of boxes. I wish I had been encouraged into gardening. I was one of these ‘lockdown gardeners’, who suddenly thinks they’re Alan Titchmarsh after one year of a few successful tomato plants.

“I like the fact that it’s in the MediaCity area, because that’s such a newly developed place and it’s obviously [perceived as] filled with people who are very important with BBC jobs, it’s very glam isn’t it, it’s like glam place with all these new jobs and I think that some people have no positive associations with it. ‘It’s where all these Southerners come in, make loads of money and dust’. So I think it’s good to have that element of positive experiences and really being invited in to say ‘this is yours, too. This space is also yours.”

The full programme of events can be found here

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