'It's a remarkable situation,' Jamie says mildly about one of the most intriguing stories you may hear - the life and times of Drewford Alabama.
In 2007, Jamie stumbled completely by chance on the hidden notebook that was to provide him and others with such inspiration. 'When I was playing with the Noisettes, my joy on days off was to find other artists to play with. We had some downtime during the 2007 European tour, so I flew to New York to play drums in a friend's band - but the airline lost my luggage.'
Thus, Jamie found himself in Beacon's Closet, a vintage store in NYC where, amongst other items, he purchased a battered suitcase. Back at his hotel, Jamie noticed something sticking out of the ripped lining. From within the frayed fabric, he drew an old, beaten-up, leather-bound notebook with 'Drewford Alabama' written on its spine.
'I thought it was nothing,' he recalls. 'But something drew me to it - there were words, sketches, little stories, chord progressions... I immediately knew I was looking at something special.'
The story of this discovery could have ended right there. Rushing to make it in time for soundcheck, Jamie tossed the notebook aside and didn't examine it again until much later.
In 2010, his life was in upheaval following sudden changes. He had left the Noisettes, moved house, built a studio, and sat there wondering what he would do next. It was during that move that Jamie once again came across the old, tattered book. Soon, Jamie was absorbed in the worn out pages, covered with the scrawled thoughts and dreams of a man who, like Jamie, seemed to be sitting alone in the world, not knowing where to go or what to do next.
Just like the man who owned that notebook many years earlier, Jamie had no one to share his thoughts and art with. He was, however, surrounded by instruments. 'I saw it as a sign. I taught myself how to record and how to play guitar and piano. That was how I was going to communicate. Bringing Drewford's journals to life gave me a reason to do it. The journey started there,' he recalls.
The path, much like the lonesome road Alabama seemed to travel, led Jamie to educate himself beyond his achievements as a drummer. He began reaching out to artists from all over trying to find like-minded spirits ready to collaborate with him on Alabama's soulful words. 'I started asking around' he says, 'the first people to agree were the ones who wound up being on the record.'
What was so special about Drewford Alabama's jottings? According to Jamie, 'I felt that I had to tell Drewford's story. As I read and re-read his journals, they seemed to increasingly reflect my own life and what I was going through at the time. They truly resonated with me. I understood him. I felt what he felt, I was greatly influenced by his humane and ultimately optimistic words. There is not enough realness in the world and Drewford's spirit just seemed so honest and true. It was purely about art. About story-telling. It became a collaboration between Drewford and myself. He had never played his music or expressed his ideas in public because he didn't have a band, or like-minded people to enable him to do so.'
'Being a person who comes from drumming, you have to be collaborative and this was my forte. Alabama's notebooks became a way for me to make music and work with other people.'
I took it upon myself to tell Drewford's story in the most open and honest way. I took the first step and began inviting artists around, everyone who chose to listen was immediately drawn to the story. It resonated with them too.'
Fyfe Dangerfield, singer of the Guillemots, had a long history with the Noisettes. 'Fyfe was a person who showed great belief in me. We worked together many times. When he came to the studio in 2010 I showed him the book and played a piece of music I was working on. He bolted upright from his chair and simply said "I need a microphone". I pressed record and the song "Water" was done in that one take. At that exact moment my idea was validated and I knew this project was possible.'
'Every time I went back to it through all those years, the project got better, deeper and more exciting,' explains Jamie. 'It became an undeniable body of work telling an incredible story; and it became obvious that now was the time to tell it. Building an album over a long period of time in this leisurely, organic way gives you perspective. When you return a few months later, you not only have fresh ears, but you are more knowledgeable about music. You've been on earth a few months longer, developed your taste further. So as every year went by, I would add more to Drewford's record.'
As Jamie's passion for the project deepened, he realised he needed to spread Drewford's vibe in more ways than just one. 'It was not just about saying, but doing and showing what you are doing,' he observes. 'I realised that if I played it to people, they still wouldn't get it completely unless there was a visual to compliment the music; I understand that for the human mind, it's easier to connect to something with a sonic and a visual.'
So the gathering Pop Morrison crew travelled north of Newcastle to shoot the videos that you can see on the Drewford Alabama YouTube channel.
But even though the ideas had come to life, one question remained: Who was this mysterious stranger, Drewford Alabama? Intent on solving the mystery, Jamie dug deeper.
'I have a friend who is a skilful researcher. She not only managed to establish the existence of Drewford Alabama in the 1940s (he was real!) but also managed to track down his sister Marianne Alabama, in Poughkeepsie. While I was touring the US with the Stereophonics in 2012, I went to meet her,' explained Jamie. 'She told me Drewford worked in the city's transport services but that was never where his heart was really at. He loved entertaining his family at home in the evenings, playing music and telling stories about the things he had seen, but he never had the confidence to play to anyone outside the family.'
'In the end, I was certain this was a sign,' Jamie concludes. 'I was supposed to lose my luggage in New York and find this book, Drewford was obviously an amazing character with so much to offer but he didn't have the spirit or the circumstances that enabled him to tell his story. But I do.' And it was then, with Marianne's blessing, that Jamie decided to release the eponymous 'The Life & Times of Drewford Alabama'.drewfordalabama.com