Winston Peck on talent management, Chicago and the ‘calm catharsis’ of Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker

Have you seen the video for Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker’s new song, Chicago? It’s a truly lovely thing. The song is gorgeous – seemingly a lament inspired by a poorly attended gig in the titular city, but the video, directed and produced by Bob Gallagher, only nods to this. In it, we see Clarke and an ear defender-sporting Walker playing in a club. Clarke’s voice captivates a snappily dressed, moustache-wearing talent manager, named Winston Peck. He hands Clarke his card, and a business relationship is born.

There’s just one problem: Clarke voice sends everyone who hears it to sleep – with the exception of Peck. This explains the ear defenders Walker (and almost everyone else) has to wear. But this doesn’t dissuade our man. He sorts out a medical, a recording studio, marketing campaign and live show – smiling proudly and encouragingly throughout. It’s genuinely moving stuff.

The video is charming, engaging and funny (Clarke has a gift for comic timing, should the ‘singing beautifully’ thing not work out) – and also pulls off the trick of telling a story that relates to the song’s theme, without being too ‘on the nose’.

Now, some folk seem to be under the impression that Winston Peck is some kind of fictional character – but he has a Twitter account, so he must be real. And we interviewed him!

Folk Witness: Hi Winston! Thank you for taking some time out to talk. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do for Pzazz Media?

Winston Peck: Thank you, Mark, for giving me the opportunity to talk about my favourite people! So I’m talent manager for Pzazz Media and that’s basically in industry terms a combination of two roles. I’m kinda A&R/manager, so I find the talent and then I manage; that’s basically it in simple terms.

Sometimes artists are great but they lack objectivity to see how those talents would best be employed in what is, as I’m sure you’re aware, a highly saturated market.

You’ve recently started working with Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker. How did you discover them?

Ah yeah, my new stars. So I was sitting at the bar in a little basement dive in downtown Chicago when I first heard that ‘knockout voice’. You gotta see it to believe it, Mark, what it does to people! That’s one heck of a power, so she’s got that voice and he’s so darn nifty on the guitar strings, I knew I was on to something before they even hit the chorus!

It seems they have something of a soporific effect on most people – but not you. Can you explain this? And do you expect this to make life difficult for them – during any upcoming dates in Spain, Australia and/or the UK, for example?

Just as well ain’t it! Cos I’ve gotta get the business right, I can’t be off in the land of nod while there’s deals to be done.

You know maybe it’s not the party vibe you gonna get from my two, but they offer an entirely different musical experience. I like to put it this way: ‘sit back, relax and let Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker take you outta yourself, to a land of dreams. Yes, somewhere sad, but also somewhere safe, a place of calm catharsis’.

The video for the song shows off a somewhat unorthodox billboard campaign you created. What was the thinking behind it, and what do you think Josienne made of it?

‘Winston Peck invites you to tuck in for the greatest sleep on earth.’ Ha ha yeah I came up with that!

You gotta find a way to sell what you’re sellin’! Artists don’t always like this, the reality, but she’ll like the results. Some things take a while to find their audience and that’s what I’m doing for these two. There’s a stadium for these guys somewhere, I truly believe that, but the managing part for me is uniting the right artist with the right audience.

Can you tell us what we can expect from Josienne & Ben’s upcoming album, Seedlings All?

As always you can expect musicianship of the highest calibre, succinct and honest songwriting all packaged in beautiful timeless production that celebrates the past as much as it points to a bright musical future.

You can expect to hear the quintessential JC/BW signatures but expect to be surprised by new ingredients because that’s what these two do – they give you what you want but they’re always mixing in a few things you weren’t expecting. Cos these two never stand still.

Will you be continuing to work with Josienne & Ben, perhaps on any future videos? Will we see you at a live show, perhaps?

Sure, I’m hoping to guide them through this tricky industry right to the doorstep of their great musical destiny. However, a great talent manager knows when to step back. There’s plenty of work to be done behind the curtain and that’s where you’ll find me most times.

What’s your advice for any aspiring stars of the future?

Honestly, do what you’re doing, make the art you make and let someone else figure out how to sell it. Never give up, make it as good as it can be and then let it go. There’ll always be tough gigs, bad reviews and empty rooms but you never know who is watching. Winston Peck might just be there in the shadows rooting for ya.

Who else is on your roster at the moment? Do you extend your showbiz skills beyond the world of downbeat balladry? Know any good actors, for example?

As you know we made the ‘Chicago’ video with the help of Bob Gallagher, a filmmaker set for truly great things – the guy’s a frickin’ genius! We go way back and I continue to work with him, being an American with Irish ancestry myself I’ve always got one eye on the art/entertainment world in Dublin and of course Chris Newman is a great young actor (also a handsome fellow) if you need a recommendation.

Thanks for your time, Winston. Finally, what is your favourite sandwich?

Egg salad and Italian beef on rye soda bread with plenty of relish. Bit of a weird one but that’s me.

Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker’s Seedlings All is released on March 23 on Rough Trade

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