Back in 2018, during a break from touring for a few weeks, I decided to paint a portrait of The White Buffalo (real name, Jake Smith). I had been a fan of his music for several years, even then; probably since I was 15. At that time, I’d been watching a lot of Sons of Anarchy whilst I worked, and Jake’s music is all over the show.
On a whim, one day when I was back on the road, I sleuthed a little online and found contact details, and I reached out to Jake’s team – I had tickets to an upcoming date he was playing in London, and I asked if I could hand the portrait over to him.
Surprisingly, I got a response the very next day, and the date was set for some time in April, 2018.
I finished the work, uploaded to social media and had it shared by Jake, and then packaged it and headed down to London early. The portrait itself came together very quickly, and was fuelled by coffee and copious amounts of Sons of Anarchy in the background.
The day arrived, and off I got at Shepherd’s Bush station on the Underground after a two hour journey, perfectly on-time, and so I made the short walk to the venue.
I headed round to the stage door, and knocked, standing back a little. A short, kind lady swung open the huge doors (from the theatre’s Edwardian heritage), and asked who I was here to see.
I told them it was for The White Buffalo…and she just glared at me. I took a big ‘gulp,’ and she ducked back inside to peruse a list of some sort. I was panicking a little now…and then panicked even more when she returned, telling me that the show that night was some Brit Pop tribute event.
I realised that in my excitement (or late-adolescent timekeeping issues!), I had just assumed the show was at Shepherd’s Bush Empire – it was actually at The Forum in Kentish Town, some way away!
I turned and began to run back towards the station, shouting my thanks to the woman over my shoulder. I bounded across pedestrian crossings, past the parade of shops, the painting thumping against my legs as I ran through the station and just boarded the next Central Line train in time.
After nearly an hour more, sweaty and panting, I arrived at the stage door for the right venue (imagine!). I’d been lucky enough to hang with some of my favourite bands here, one being Vintage Trouble just the summer before. I knocked, and was greeted by a total unit of a security guard.
I told him the reason for my visit, and gave him the contact and he disappeared back inside to find out more. I remember it was really hot, and it was early evening at this point, so Kentish Town was bathed in this crazy beautiful, golden glow.
I was there for just over an hour I think, when Jake’s tour manager emerged. He was suspicious – who wouldn’t be at a 20-year-old kid with a lot of hair, clutching a portrait. He shook my hand, and asked about the painting.
I unwrapped it, and he smirked. He thought it was cool, and then asked who I had arranged to meet Jake with. I told him that I had leased with Jake’s management in California via email…only to be told that he didn’t know anybody by that name.
Maybe it was cursed, or maybe I was just unorganised (can you believe it…?), but he ducked back inside.
I held my breath, and he returned around ten minutes later. He told me Jake knew all about the painting, and that he was out at dinner. I received two guest passes (one for me, one for my friend Luisa who was meeting me later that evening), and I was told to go in as normal, but to put my phone on LOUD. If Jake had a moment before the show, I’d get a call, and I’d need to be quick if I got it.
We queued, and we got a spot standing towards the front. I met an Irish guy called Stuart and his better half, and we got to chatting (partly due to the fact that he was a way taller version of me and was also into Viking history!). That was when my phone started buzzing, and I bid myself a quick leave and headed towards the stage door.
In the middle of negotiating with another huge security guard, I was pulled around the barrier by Jake’s TM and made the long walk up to the dressing room (which is three or four flights of steps up!)
I walked in, and Jake and his band came to greet me. I’m pretty short, and Jake is…well…tall as hell, so no wonder he can sound like he does! That was what I remember being my first thought.
What struck me was how Jake seemed psyched to meet me, which was pretty crazy. The painting had been placed in the dressing room by his team earlier, but he had waited to open it which was very sweet of him.
I tore the bubble wrap and various layers of packaging off of it, and stood back. His band (Matt and Christopher ) expressed their compliments, and Jake switched between inspecting up close and walking back to take it in, smiling the whole time.
Jake was real happy with it, and he asked me if I wanted him to take a picture of it so I could advertise that. I told him that honestly, I had just wanted to meet him and I’m glad he enjoyed the painting…I know for a fact the former was true, at least…
We took a picture with it, with both Jake and I ‘hitting the crazy eyes’ from the portrait. The portrait itself was a shot taken by a great friend of mine and a great photographer, Rob Blackham. It was ethereal, and moody.
I returned back to the pit, and the show was on fire – the crowd was electric, even in the quieter songs. Afterwards, we went back upstairs to the afterparty, and shared a beer or three with Jake, the band, and some label guys who I’d bump into a few years later with my own band…but that, friends, is a story for another time…