Radius Music

The Bonfires



"Hello, I'm the Bonfires."

The four words with which Jon Green introduces himself on stage tell almost his entire story as a musician before he has even played a note. The wanting plural hints at the sense of longing that lingers just beneath the surface of every song - for absent lovers, brothers and friends - while the name itself flickers with the spirit of slash-and-burn that this new phase of his storied career represents. The Bonfires is a tale of timeless, classic songwriting and how you arrive there - what you keep, and what goes in the fire.

Paternal obsession meant Jon's early exposure to music was unintentionally laser-like in its focus on songwriting and stagecraft: "My dad religiously fed my brother and me a diet of Springsteen and the Stones. That was it. The first gig I went to was the Rolling Stones at Wembley on the Steel Wheels tour. I was ten and Daniel was twelve. They came on to Start Me Up, the pyrotechnics exploded, and I just thought: "This is it. What else would you want to be doing with your life?"

On his eighteenth birthday Jon saw Bruce Springsteen for the first time, an acoustic show at the Royal Albert Hall. "With Bruce there's a consistent attention given to melody, and lyrics that have little twists along the way, which is something I've really tried to work on in my own writing. I saw Bruce again this summer; it still feels so sincere, like this could be the last gig he ever does. In a drunken moment visiting my brother in South Africa recently I had Born To Run tattooed on my arm. Daniel was supposed to get one too, but he chickened out!"

Not long after that first Springsteen show, Jon was accepted at LIPA, the Liverpool performing arts academy newly founded by Paul McCartney. "One day during a special songwriting workshop Paul sat and showed me how he went about writing Let It Be, melodically and lyrically. He said that for him every song is about telling the girl you love her. All you have to do is say it in a way that no one's ever heard before, but that everybody in the room understands. That kind of struck a chord."

After LIPA followed a long period of graft and grind. Earning a crust as guitarist in a jobbing function band, Jon played school halls and social clubs the length and breadth of Britain, dreaming of Wembley on the M1 to Whitby. Later, drudging on the Camden toilet circuit in a band with his brother and best mates, session and touring offers started to trickle in, first for Lucie Silvas, then Beulah, and finally for Duffy in 2007.

Touring solidly for two years as lead guitarist for one of the world's most successful solo artists opened a Pandora's Box of opportunity, not least of supporting - and learning first-hand from - the two bands he most aspired to emulate: Coldplay and The Killers.

And throughout that time Jon was clocking up airmiles to Nashville, having pitched up in 2005 with a guitar, some songs and a handful of phone numbers, and slowly started to grow his reputation as a songwriter. He now counts among his collaborators some of Music City's biggest names - Busbee, Gordie Sampson, Hilary Lindsey, Shane McAnally, Jay DeMarcus and countless others - while his songs have been recorded by winners of American Idol and The Voice alike. Jon has worked hard to gain the respect of his peers:

"You can't just walk in and expect people to give you a load of cuts. You've got to earn your colours. It's just that more often that not it was someone else wearing them."

But gradually that started to change. It's no boast to say that Jon had established a name for himself as 'the songwriter's artist'; almost without exception, everyone he worked with asked him to play on, produce or sing the demo, and not just because of that golden voice - sessions just seemed to go more smoothly when Jon was around. "People just seemed to like the vibe I was bringing to the session. More and more I found myself recording my own songs, and at some point that started to feel natural. But I still felt I needed a vehicle through which to inhabit them."

So The Bonfires began as a clutch of songs that only Jon could sing: "Pretty much every night of the week in Nashville we seemed to be around a fire singing. I'd spent a long time writing for other artists, but I had a few ideas I wanted to hold back; songs that were important to me lyrically and which I felt only I could do justice to. After the Duffy tour ended, Phil Thornalley (The Cure, Natalie Imbruglia), handed me the keys to his studio; I kind of cocooned myself there for six months, piecing together the songs that would become The Bonfires' first recordings."

Which brings us to those songs. McCartney's advice to tell the girl you love her is taken up to spine-tingling effect on Same Heart, combining newly-spun lyrical universals - We've had the same breaks / Made all the same mistakes / Played all the same parts / So let's light the spark - with a Killers-esque, stadium-ready sound that raises the roof.

Says Jon: "Same Heart is an imploring message to someone to see a future in our relationship, basically trying to grab them and tell them you love them."

Golden speaks to the strength of emotional bonds that span years and time zones: I know that nothing really ever gets broken / Just lines of latitude and oceans / We'll still be golden.

Jon: "Golden is actually about my brother, who moved to Cape Town seven years ago. We're very close - he's a couple of years older than me - but we're very similar. Golden is about growing up with someone and then suddenly not seeing them every day. I guess I wrote it as a way of saying I'm still here."

And while some things remain unchanged by distance, others are transformed by a sudden, unexpected proximity. The heart-stoppingly beautiful You Walked In captures it in three words. "That was the first song I wrote with my Bonfires hat on," says Jon. "I've got a big thing about people just showing up. It's about that moment when everything can change, how the night can light up when a girl walks into a room and all the shit you might be dealing with gets eradicated. It's about the possibility of anything happening in a night."

Then, of course, there are the bonds that get broken. Bullets is a riff on regret - Sometimes I wish I'd never kissed her / Then I'd have never known that she's the one - while Romeo is a soliloquy on finding the courage to let go, on realising maybe you wanted love more than you want the girl. And The Looking Glass looks mournfully ahead to a time when lovers end up strangers. "Yeah," says Jon, ruefully. "Those ones are all relationships gone awry."

Listening to The Bonfires can feel a lot like looking into one. Just as it's impossible not to be hypnotised by the flit and flicker of an open flame, the honesty and directness of Jon's songwriting are powerful, universal and affecting. Likewise the gravitational pull of the bonfire is a neat metaphor for his uncanny ability to draw people around him, as a writer, musician and producer for whom everything happens in service to the song.

In the end, whether The Bonfires is a band or a solo artist is academic; really what it amounts to is a collection of timeless songs. So when Jon says, "Hello, I'm the Bonfires," he means it.