From Somers Town to Glastonbury. The rise of Huw Olesker

RAW TALENT 16-year-old Huw Olesker will be playing at Glastonbury
RAW TALENT 16-year-old Huw Olesker will be playing at Glastonbury
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While most year 11 pupils are revising for their GCSE exams, Huw Olesker is preparing to perform at Glastonbury.

When his peers celebrate leaving school this summer, he’ll be hitting the stages at more than half a dozen music festivals.

And, while many of his friends are thinking about college courses and vocational training, Huw’s career in the music industry is already burgeoning.

The 16-year-old from Somers Town is spending this weekend at Glastonbury, where he’ll be performing at the Strummerville stage as well as on a host of other stages across the Somerset festival.

He returns home to Portsmouth to sit his final exam on Tuesday, before heading off for another festival appearance at Blissfields next weekend.

Huw has put thoughts of further education on hold while he promotes his current recordings and writes and records an album.

The youngster – sporting a flesh tunnel ear piercing and trendy quiff – says his interest in music started at birth, as the youngest in a musical family.

Huw’s father, Stuart Olesker, is a musical playwright and course leader for Creative Arts at the University of Portsmouth. His mum is Anna Potten, who co-founded Dot to Dot Arts in Paulsgrove and is now involved with the Pulse Fringe Festival in Portsmouth.

Huw’s brother, Max, 24, writes for Esquire, and performs in a musical comedy troupe, as well as running a London Comedy Club plus Portsmouth’s Max and Ivan comedy nights.

Meanwhile middle brother, Leo, 21, is studying film at Greenwich University and is an up-and-coming MC.

‘My parents are proud,’ Huw laughs. ‘Proud and worried, because none of us have a sustainable income.’

Following in his father’s footsteps, Huw’s interest in music began with musical theatre. Then he developed an interest in percussion and played in the Priory School orchestra and samba club.

He honed his writing skills at workshops at the New Theatre Royal. But the turning point in Huw’s musical youth came when he got hold of a ukulele in year five.

After teaching himself to play the instrument, he began writing and recording songs with it.

Then, before he knew it, Huw was an internet sensation with comic songs such as Touching Terrapins and Marmite.

The young star had a short stint in a four-piece indie band called Failure to Land when he was 13, but it was his solo gigs (where he would perform his own material, interspersed with twee ukulele covers of tracks like Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Sprit and Guns N’ Roses Sweet Child O’ Mine) which really drew the crowds.

‘My first ever gig with that style of musical whimsy was at The Barn at the Milton Arms,’ says Huw.

‘I had a spot for two songs, but after two encores it turned into four.

‘Nick Courtney, who ran the night, offered me an hour’s slot. I didn’t have an hour’s material, but I accepted graciously.’

Huw found another way to earn money for his music while performing at free open mic gigs.

‘My music is entirely funded by the good people of Portsmouth,’ he explains of his busking days with Miguel Martinez, who is now a big name on the Brighton punk scene.

It was while busking that Huw was discovered by his manager, local music promoter and radio personality, Joel Ransom.

Huw recalls: ‘We were quite annoyed at the time because he just sat and watched us but didn’t give us any money.’

What Joel did give Huw was a slot at an afternoon concert he was curating at Southsea bandstand.

He also got Huw involved in his Me and Perrin You and Everyone We Know Express FM show, which Huw co-hosted and wrote jingles for.

Then, at Southsea Fest in 2009, Huw got his first taste of festival life, playing seven venues in one day.

He’s since enjoyed some high profile support slots, including a gig in the famous Camden Flowerpot, where he was watched by musicians Frank Turner, The Holloways and Ronnie Wood.

He also supported Eliza Doolittle at the Cellars at Eastney with both a solo slot and the very first gig for his ska band, Zoo in The Sky.

With their promotion handled by Huw, Zoo In The Sky sold out gigs across town, until Huw decided to move on.

In the summer of 2010 he played at Blissfields, jumping on the stage after the headliners had finished.

‘When I started, there were three middle-aged drunk people singing Oasis a cappella. By the end, the whole tent was rammed,’ he explains.

This performance got him an invitation to the Secret Garden Party where he performed on the carnival-style rolling stage.

By chance he was spotted by The Times music journalist, Lisa Verrico, who named Huw’s set as her highlight of the whole festival, over acts like Gorillaz and Marina and the Diamonds.

‘I was sort of afraid,’ says Huw of his reaction to the accolade. ‘But it was good to have some recognition.’

He was also dubbed the alternative Justin Bieber by the international music press, but it’s a comparison Huw doesn’t appreciate.

‘I hope that dies...or Bieber... either one,’ he jokes about the popular 17-year-old Canadian popstar.

After receiving a nomination for The News Guide Award for Best Solo Artist in late 2010, Huw signed to Turf Records.

He laid down three tracks at Monotwin Studios in London, then went back to school to work on his GCSE coursework.

‘As part of my English GCSE I had to do a PowerPoint presentation or a podcast about a charity. I was pretty uninspired by the task, until I found out I could write a song,’ explains Huw.

‘I wrote a song about saving the rhinos.’

When the record company heard his GCSE composition, they decided Rhinos was the track to use as his very first release, in January.

Now Huw has is own backing band, The Barebackers, made up of his old Zoo In The Sky bandmate, 15-year-old bass player, Oskar Jeffs and melodica player Toby Walton, 17.

The trio are releasing a second single at Glastonbury on Sunday, where Huw will be giving out CDs along with a graphic novel designed by Oskar.

Hearse will be released for download on Monday.

Huw says his grand plan is not for fame and fortune.

In the future he would like to get involved musically with environmental issues.

But ultimately he says of his music: ‘I just want people to get it.’