It’ll be five years next month since Gerry Cinnamon released his debut single Kampfire Vampire on Glasgow-based micro-label First Run Records, a half decade in which the Castlemilk-born singer-songwriter has gone from jobbing gig jockey on the city’s DIY scene to a bona fide musical phenomenon with combined Spotify plays of well over 100 million.

More than that, he’s a phenomenon who has made it big on his own terms without a record label and without any of the traditional music industry add-ons such as pluggers, promoters and publicists. He issues statements to the press but doesn’t do interviews as a rule, preferring to communicate with fans directly via Twitter or through his website – or, his platform of choice, from the vantage point of a stage somewhere with just his acoustic guitar and his loop pedal for company.

That’s where the magic happens and where the all-important connection between artist and audience is cemented. His roistering, Dylan-influenced folk songs are delivered in a Glasgow accent and come hitched to anthemic choruses that recall Oasis in their stadium-filling pomp. In his football casual stage garb of sharp trainers, sharper jeans, Bob Dylan cap and zipped-up Adidas tracksuit tops he looks the part too. But the difference is in the lyrics. Cinnamon’s have a lived-in authenticity that’s rare, and as many acts know to their cost, that’s not something you can fake.

Those 100 million Spotify plays are proof enough of all this but they’re just anonymous numbers. For a personal flavour of the widespread esteem in which the Glaswegian is held, turn to YouTube and check out the comments below live favourites such as Sometimes, Lullaby, Belter and Diamonds In The Mud, his acerbic love letter to his home town (“It’s 13 degrees and there’s folk in the street in the scud”). One comment posted below footage of a typically triumphant (and sell-out) 2018 gig at the Barrowland says it all: “Never been to any gig ever in my life like that, full of normal lads and lasses having the time of their life, passing gear to strangers like it was 1969 and not one spot of aggro. Followed him everywhere ever since”.

This year should have been the one in which Gerry Cinnamon went from being the biggest musical star you’ve never heard of to the one you never hear the end of. There was a high-profile US tour planned as well as a raft of UK festivals and arena shows, and last November he announced his biggest gig yet – Hampden Park, the home of Scottish football. All 50,000 tickets for the show on July 18 sold out in just four hours.

Post-lockdown, everything has changed of course. The US tour has been postponed though at the time of writing the Hampden gig is still going ahead as planned. What definitely hasn’t been affected by the coronavirus pandemic is Cinnamon’s new album, The Bonny, the follow-up to 2017 debut Erratic Cinematic, which topped the iTunes charts. The Bonny was released yesterday through his own Little Runaway Records. “It’s probably not smart to release during a lockdown when the shops are closed and everyone’s isolating,” he said, “but no chance I’m letting folk down”.

Opening track Canter is a well-established live favourite and two other tracks from it, Where We’re Going and Sun Queen, already have 10 million Spotify plays between them. Sun Queen also topped the vinyl singles chart on its release in October. Those wanting more than a stream of the new tunes were able to pre-order CD or vinyl copies – Cinnamon has spent his weeks in lockdown signing some at random – and for the true believer The Bonny (short for bonfire) is available on flame-coloured vinyl, all delivered via Cinnamon’s website.

Born Gerard Crosbie in Glasgow in October 1984 and raised mostly in Castlemilk and mainly by his mother, Cinnamon’s stage name comes from The Cinnamons, the short-lived band he fronted in the late Noughties with friend and fellow Castlemilk boy Chris Marshall. By 2014 he was performing on his own as Gerry Cinnamon at pro-independence events and had recorded Hope Over Fear, a rousing anthem for the movement. He gave up the series of jobs he had had since leaving school – among them scaffolder, joiner and chef – and honed his sound playing at Open Mic and Jam Nights at the Priory bar on Sauchiehall Street. Word of mouth seems to have done the rest. Although technically unsigned when he announced that he would play two nights at the Barrowland in 2018, tickets sold out in hours. The same thing happened two years earlier when a Facebook post alerted fans to a date at the city’s O2 Academy on Sauchiehall Street.

Following that gig, Cinnamon gave a rare interview to Glasgow Live’s Christopher McQuade.

“The only reason I’m in this game is because it’s full of imposters ruining music and my very existence annoys them and it pleases me,” he said then. “If you’re a working class musician hearing this or reading it and you respect the art of song-writing more than the art of pretending, then you have a responsibility to get involved. There’s a war on for real music and if you’re sound and can write decent tunes then you’re on the front line whether you like it or not.”

The essence of his approach, he said, could be summed up as “anti-marketing … that's what I call it. I try not to sell myself because it feels fake”. Not for him the “smoke and mirrors” of false stories cooked up by publicists to make their artist appear more interesting. “If you try to pretend you're something you're not folk will see right through it and if they don't then what does that achieve?”. Not for him a record label taking half of his money “for absolutely nothing”. He prefers to try to do it himself.

Late last year Cinnamon broke cover again to talk to veteran Scottish rock journalist Craig McLean – and in re-vitalised 1980s style bible The Face, of all places. All it took was six months of negotiations and an audition of sorts when the pair met at a concert in London. “I don’t deal with people that I don’t trust and I don’t trust people that I don’t know, so I don’t deal with any c***” is how the situation was explained to McLean.

The interview itself finally took place ahead of Cinnamon’s gig at the cavernous, 15,000-capacity P&J Live complex in Aberdeen, but revelations were few. Cinnamon suffers from insomnia, which is what new song Head In The Clouds is about. He’s managed by his partner, Kayleigh, a former human rights lawyer. He has a dog called Rascal. Fame feels like “holding on to the spoiler of a Subaru Impreza going round a roundabout at 1000 miles per hour”.

But he did re-state his aims and perhaps it’s their awesome simplicity which drive to the heart of his ever-growing appeal – a desire to tell the truth, give audiences the best night ever and show it can be done by one man on a stage with a guitar and a head full of killer songs. And to forget the rules because “the rules are bullshit, man.”

You can’t buy his sort of adulation, and you can only sell the thing that inspires it if appears to transcend the cynicism of the industry and the empty posturing of many of those who inhabit it. Gerry Cinnamon, who affects to care only for the songs and the buzz and not a jot for the numbers, seems to have squared that circle. He has the mystique of the cult star, the common touch of the Everyman and – just one of the reasons he’s so adored in his homeland – the tongue and the wit and the insight of the true Glasgow patter merchant. In an age in which disruption is praised and disruptors held up as mould-breakers to be emulated, it’s Bob Dylan caps off to the wee guy from Castlemilk who took on the music industry and won.

The Bonny is out now


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