In the belly of Scotland’s biggest ever indoor gig, they’re knocking them back and belting them out for one man and his guitar on a distant stage.
Heads tilted up, chests puffed outwards, arms thrown skywards and pints spilled everywhere, the crowd sing along – actually, bellow – to foot-stomping, Glasgow-accented, locally-slanged songs about chancers who “dance like a dafty for a bag of snow”. About a guy who’s “a lightweight, one or two jars and he’s buckled”. About a girl who’s “a gangster with a hundred-mile stare/When she walks, her feet don’t touch the flair”.
It’s a freezing, rain-sodden Saturday night in the recently opened P&J Live arena near Aberdeen Airport – a location that makes sense given that this eyeball-bogglingly wide concert hall has the dimensions of an aircraft hangar. When all the rows of seats are rolled into wall recesses, its 9000 square metres give it the biggest arena floorspace in the UK.
Tonight the concert promoters need all that floorspace to accommodate the 15,000 fans – all ages, all sexes, couples and gangs, kids and parents, teenagers and more teenagers – who’ve travelled from all over Scotland for a show that sold out in a couple of hours. Liam Gallagher played here last week; Rod Stewart’s coming in next month. Neither, and no one, can sell as many tickets as this guy. Tonight’s show is the final night of a UK and Ireland tour that ran through November and which played to 125,000 fans.
With most tickets costing 30 quid a pop, the gross for this single show is something of the order of £450,000. Then there’s the merchandise income. That’s for a guy who, a bass player hidden in the wings notwithstanding, performs alone. Just him, some acoustic guitars, a harmonica and foot pedals that trigger a bass or kick drum – plus, to be fair, some impressive, not-cheap confetti-cannons and pyrotechnics. Of course, the live artist takes home nothing like all of that gig dough. But still: even if he has a serious plectrum habit – and if his preferred Adidas trackie tops, kagoules and trainers are costing him (they’re not) – that’s a tidy, well-earned profit margin.
What else? His robustly-melodic, singalong Scotpop-folk anthems about drugs, mugs, thugs and ordinary life have 100 million cumulative Spotify plays across his Top Ten most-played tracks. His debut album has sold 132,000 copies – and that’s an album he wrote, recorded and paid for himself. He’s an unsigned artist who, this month, sold out Hampden Park, Scotland’s national football stadium, in less than a day. That’s 50,000 tickets, gone, in a few hours. He could have sold out two.
Back on the drink-slicked concrete floor, a familiar chant strikes up. “HERE WE! HERE WE! HERE WE FUCKING GO!”
Then, another: to the chorus melody of KC and the Sunshine Band’s 1983 pop-disco classic Give It Up, 15,000 Saturday night gig mentalists sing: “Cinnamon, Cinnamon, GERRY CINNAMON!”
Who the fuck is Gerry Cinnamon? He’s the festival headliner you’ve probably never heard of. He’s currently the second biggest live draw in the UK, beaten only by Stadium Sheeran. He’s the word-of-mouth music phenom of 2019. In 2020, he’s only going to get bigger. And tonight this media-phobic megastar is giving his first ever proper interview to The Face. It only took six months of negotiation.
“I don’t want any exposure, man,” Gerry Cinnamon says as he fidgets on a couch in his dressing room. “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 cunt. You know what I mean? That’s the only rule of thumb that I’ve dealt with, and anytime I’ve broken that rule, I’ve ended up with a lot of fucking shit.”
In any case, he adds, fame is the last thing on his mind. “It’s about the tunes!” the singer-songwriter exclaims. “I try to make the tunes stand on their own, because that’s it for me, personally. Then all this is real. Does that make sense?”
Gerry Cinnamon – born Gerry Crosbie – is a 35-year-old musician from the Castlemilk housing scheme in Glasgow. His childhood was challenging (“my life was fucking mental growing up”): no father figure around, it seems, and some trouble in his teens. He’s worked as a scaffolder and plumber, and he’s tried the band route, but it didn’t suit him. He has, then, some life experiences under his belt, and it comes pouring out in his songs.
He’s a stick-thin pocket Mod, lean and compact and smiley, a cheerful man bristling with wiry energy. Underneath his near permanently-affixed Bob Dylan cap is a carefully coiffed Britpop haircut. The rest of his uniform comprises skintight, heavy selvedge jeans and Adidas sportswear. Covering the entirety of the back of his right hand is a full tattoo of the face of his beloved Rascal. The wee terrier accompanies Cinnamon on tour, as does his (Gerry’s, not the dog’s) manager, Kayleigh. She’s given up her dayjob as a human rights lawyer to look after her partner. Cinnamon doesn’t drink before shows and is trying to give up the fags on this tour, but is allowing himself the odd weed vape now and then.
Before he comes onstage, he tickles the audience with a carefully curated playlist: a bit of Oasis, a bit of Courteeners, before climaxing with Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, which everyone in the room tears into with vocal gusto. It’s like your best mate’s bevvied-up birthday party or wedding, or an arena-sized one-night alcoholiday.
On stage he sings with a soulful rasp, strums like an amped-up busker, scurries round the stage in joyful circles, leaps on and off little platforms and has an erratic laugh that bursts out between songs (and sometimes in the middle of songs). His stage patter, such as it is, consists of exhortations to have the best nights of our lives, stop throwing drink, stop pushing the folk at the front. We also shouldn’t forget that it’s all about the tunes, nor that we’re all here without the help or support of the traditional music industry or media.
Or, as he says with a cheerful shout: “Fuck ’em!”
As “gimmicks” go, it’s pretty thin stuff. That’s because it’s all about the songs – tunes that have become old-fashioned, word-of-mouth sensations, viral hits whose spread has been hyper-accelerated by social media. He’s a DIY-built blockbuster.
The music and the vibe of Gerry Cinnamon, then: it’s not cool, it’s not clever, it’s not edgy. It’s just real. He’s just real. That’s all – and everything – his fans want.
“I started writing songs, and I was like: right, I need to gig these,” he begins by way of explaining his one-man-band approach. But playing multi-band bills in the pubs and clubs of Glasgow, typically, “you get ripped off. They take five to six quid for a £7 ticket. You need to sell between 25 and 50 tickets, then you have to get on the bill and stuff and it’s a fucking cattle market.
“I thought, ‘fuck this, man,’ and sold all my electric guitars. With the money, I bought a loop pedal.”
That way, even when playing shitty pub gigs, Cinnamon could control his own sound. “When the sound guy fucked off for a fag, I could [hit] a kick drum, do my own mix and if he’s done a shit mix, just pump the volume. I would have the place absolutely rocking. And then from there you start taking over a wee bit, you know what I mean? I started establishing myself.”
I first heard about him a year ago, from my brother in Edinburgh. He tipped me off about this guy who was selling out gigs all over Scotland but who’d had zero media coverage and no playlist traction.
Digging back, I found that in 2017 he’d self-released a nine-track album called Erratic Cinematic. It bristled with punchy, football terrace-friendly anthems like Belter (a live monster with, to date, 27 million Spotify streams) and hometown tributes like Diamonds in the Mud. The latter, Glasgow’s new unofficial anthem, is the best example of Cinnamon’s smart-casual street-poetry.
“When I was a wean, I used to sell puff to make money /but we’d smoke all the profit and by Friday it was no longer funny /I know a guy who’s a lightweight, one or two jars and he’s buckled /He’s the guy that loses keys, has to break into his ain hoose and gets huckled…/
“I’ve been all round the world but there’s nowhere compares tae ma hometown /The mayhem o’ Glasgow is buried deep in ma blood /And there’s no other placed where a cunt might no’ be a putdown /It’s 13 degrees and there’s folk in the street in the scud /No’ the best place but there’s diamonds in the mud.”
When I ask about that embracing – championing – of local vernacular, he shrugs.
“It’s just unashamed. I knew that people would have a go at it, and there’d be a bit of classism and there’d be a bit of anti-Scottish, anti-Glasgow kind of thing. I couldn’t give a fuck.
“I put the word ‘cunt’ in my song because cunt, up here, is totally different. You got a good cunt and a great cunt or a right cunt. I was in a taxi the other day, sat in the backseat, and the taxi driver turns around and says to me: ‘You get two types of people in this world. Good cunts, and shite cunts.’ I said: ‘What kind of cunt are you?’ He stopped the car and goes: ‘A right dodgy cunt,’” concludes Cinnamon with a delighted grin.
I first saw him live at Glastonbury this year. He was playing the John Peel Tent at around tea-time, so off I went. It was a solo mission – no one would come with me (“you’re going to see who?”). I went early, figuring I’d grab a spot near the front.
When I arrived, 30 minutes before his set, I couldn’t even get near the tent. And that’s a big tent (7000 capacity). Even The Killers’ secret gig there in 2017 wasn’t that busy. Then, when he played, everyone knew every syllable to every word to every song, and, mad Italian football crowd-style, set off red flares throughout his set. Then he played a brand new song, Canter, a Proclaimers-meets-Sam Fender battle cry to which, again, everyone already knew all the words: “This is the beginnin’ o’ the rest o’ yer life…/ You know it could be a canter – if you were just a wee bit less of a wanker.”
Say it again: who the fuck is Gerry Cinnamon?
Backstage that same day, I happened to meet someone from Kobalt, the label services company who had partnered with Cinnamon to distribute and market Erratic Cinematic (he still retains his own masters and all other rights). I said The Face would love to interview him.
Their reply could be summed up as: “Ooft.” Gerry was wary and Gerry didn’t have a press officer because Gerry didn’t like press. Nor did Gerry need press. He’d done pretty well so far on his own without it.
We kept plugging away. Earlier this month, Cinnamon was in London to play two (sold out) (of course) nights at Brixton Academy. By now he did have a press officer but still wasn’t doing press. He didn’t even want reviews of his gigs. Given that he was still mostly under the radar of the mainstream media, this didn’t seem to be too much of an issue. Still, his press officer asked me to come meet Cinnamon beforehand at the venue. Just for a wee chat, to prove that I wasn’t (hopefully) more than a wee bit less of a wanker.
He was thoroughly lovely, but his jitteriness was obvious, as was his paranoia. It was at least partly understandable: his new home address outside Glasgow had been leaked by someone and the ravenous Scottish tabloids had already been at his door. They’d also doorstepped his mum. If that’s what being in the media meant, he wanted none of it. To which you again have to say: fair play.
Luckily, we got on. I won’t lie. Mutual Scottishness may have been a help. Plus, I could genuinely reassure him: this is a good news story. I didn’t care about his house, or what his mum did, or about “exposing” something that wasn’t even there to be exposed.
I just wanted to know who the fuck Gerry Cinnamon was – other than a wee guy from Glasgow who, later that night, had the balcony at Brixton Academy literally shaking up and down with the fervour of his feverish fan faithful.
Audition passed, nine days later I was in Aberdeen, for Scotland’s biggest ever indoor gig, and Cinnamon’s last UK show before a quick trip to Australia to support Liam Gallagher. That would be followed by a pair of year-capping homecoming victory laps at Glasgow’s Hydro arena. He’d play to 26,000 fans on those two nights, his biggest single-city audience yet – a feat almost as impressive as the record he’d broken at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena earlier in the tour: biggest bar bill ever. Even the Gallagher hordes, in the venue the week after, didn’t drink more than #TeamCinnamon.
“The statistics I never really gave a fuck about,” he says with a sigh. “But it’s just the magnitude of it, I don’t know…” Cinnamon tails off. “I’ve never really cared. When I’m going out to do a show, I’m just trying to imagine it being the best gig ever. Even Hampden – people are like: ‘Are you buzzing for Hampden?’”
He is, of course he is. But, also, curiously, he isn’t.
“To be honest, I’ve got no ambitions in terms of – ” He stops. “I’m trying to say this without sounding like a negative bastard, but I don’t really have any ambitions for it to go any bigger. I don’t want it to get any bigger. It’s just trying to make it better. And if that means a bigger venue, then so be it.”
He muses that he might be more into Sheeran-style one-louder one-upmanship if there was a record label involved. “If I had that stuff maybe it would have been different – but then I wouldn’t have any ownership over my own stuff.”
More important by far is “giving people a good weekend” but also “trying to survive it…And then it kind of became about proving people wrong. I work hard to make the best night ever, and then I move on. There’s never been an overarching ‘let’s get big’ [plan]. There’s been none of that. It’s just been [a case of]: let’s try and make one song at a time, one gig at a time. Let’s just try and make it like the last [final] gig.”
Three years ago, talking to a local Glasgow paper (only over the phone, it seemed), Gerry Cinnamon said: “The self-belief thing I don’t even have, I’ve got too much self-loathing.” Where does that come from? Unusually, the voluble Cinnamon pauses momentarily before replying. Then he dives in.
“I don’t sleep. Got insomnia. So constantly, I’ve stayed up for three or four days. Not through natural recourses, no,” he smiles. “On a good day I’ll stay up for probably 24 hours. But as it progresses, if it gets bad, I’ll stay up for three or four days.
“Fuck me,” is all I can say.
“It’s just a constant battle, to try to frame that around – ” He stopped again. “I’ve not spoken about this before. But to try and build a tour around that, accommodate that… The last UK tour, I think Birmingham was the last show, I’d been awake for a week or so.”
“Aye. I was on the bus, I couldn’t sleep. So what I would do is I would just rest.”
“You didn’t take a Valium or another tranquilliser?”
“I never take Valium. Valium to me growing up is people in school. Fucking idiots would take Valium. You know what I mean? A lot of violence came from Valium.”
No, he wouldn’t speak to his doctor and have another sleeping pill prescribed because “then you can’t write. You can’t write because you become sedated. So I’ve just managed to craft a life.”
So Cinnamon is up through the night, not writing or watching telly or reading. “I sit there doing fuck all, aye.” This has been a lifelong affliction, “since I was a wean [small child], aye. My mum’s got it as well.”
I tell him: all things considered, he looks pretty peachy considering his parlous sleep deprivation. Cinnamon grins.
“I’m fucking dying, mate.”
Gerry Cinnamon is already full steam ahead with his second album. The Bonny – short for “bonfire”, which to him is a primal image of defiance, light, coming together and, well, fire – will be released next spring. Yes, he’s obviously quids in these days, and the Kobalt partnership is helping push things to another level. But ultimately, he’s done it all himself, built this wall of support brick by brick. Well, with the help of Kayleigh (and Rascal). He nods.
“I know there’s people that think that the fact I don’t deal with labels is some sort of front. As if I’ve not had any offers from labels! If they think that what I’m doing just now is ’cause I haven’t had offers from labels, then they’re a fucking idiot, aren’t they? They don’t know what they’re talking about. Of course I’ve had offers! All sorts of offers. But it’s like, why would it work for me? Why should I sign? At the start I was like: [let’s see] if I can open the door. If I can show that there’s a way to do this without the glass ceiling or waiting for somebody else to do it for you.”
It is, then, job done. For Gerry Cinnamon it’s been an overnight success that’s been years in the making. Three years ago, advertising only via a Facebook post, he sold out Glasgow’s 1300-capacity ABC in two days. Now he’s sold out Hampden in less than a day.
How would that level of achievement have impacted on him if it had happened ten years ago, in his early twenties?
“Oh, I’d be dead, probably!” he shoots back merrily. “You need a little while to know [who you are]. Because now I’ve completed all the nonsense, you know what I mean?” Cinnamon says, alluding (I think) to partying. “But now I’m at a point where I’m cool.”
So, after Hampden, what’s next?
“I don’t know. Give my mum a house, look after my mum. And give people the best weekend ever. Get up a couple of bands to support us. Just show that it can be done, and whether it can be done with an acoustic guitar. The rules are bullshit, man.”
“The folk I’ve met is the only thing I really give a fuck about. The moment you think about [what’s next] you start resting on your laurels and having a blag – I think you’ve lost it. Maybe when I’m a bit older and a bit fatter, maybe I’ll look back and think, wow, that was alright.”
Right now, though, Gerry Cinnamon is just enjoying the ride – mostly.
“I feel as if I’m holding on to the spoiler of a Subaru Impreza going round a roundabout at 1000 miles per hour,” he concludes, loosing off another of his 1000 watt smiles. “Just trying to survive it. Who knows what the fuck’s going to happen? And that means it’s real. Who gives a fuck, man?” he concludes with a final rhetorical swear. “Fuck everything.”
Who is he? As it says on the front of the T‑shirts flying off the merch stalls, he’s Gerry Fucking Cinnamon.