Ida Mae
Photo: Zach Pigg / Courtesy of Missing Piece Group

Chris Turpin and Stephanie Jean Band Together to Make Ida Mae ‘Click’ in Nashville

Summer might be the perfect time to celebrate Ida Mae Day with a refreshing married duo from England whose new album Click Click Domino should heat up lukewarm Americana traditions.

Click Click Domino
Ida Mae
Independent
16 July 2021

Humble Beginnings

Growing up in London, Stephanie Jean Ward received a musical education from her mother, who grew up in Northern Ireland. 

“She was very musical and creative. Played a lot of folk music on guitar but encouraged us to do the more educational music route,” shares Jean, who still uses her middle name publicly while taking on her husband’s last name after their December 2016 marriage. “So I grew up doing my grades on piano and flute and other instruments. And then fell in love with jazz, really, when I was quite young, probably 12 or 13. I just really loved Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington. And I got more interested in other things before I went to college to [study] music.” She laughs while confessing, “I did quit to join a rock band,” but modestly leaves it to Turpin to recognize her past work with major artists such as Mary Chapin Carpenter and Tom Jones.

Her husband comes from Norwich in the eastern part of England, raised mostly by a single mother (Meg) who’s a piano teacher. Since his grandfather was a choirmaster and church organist, his indoctrination began with English choral music, so he chuckles when referring to himself in those early years as a church “choir boy”. At age 15, he was introduced to the guitar by a friend who brought his instrument to school. It was love at first sight. 

“I just thought that was the coolest thing in the world,” Turpin recollects. “A neighbor as well down the road, I’d hang out at his house and they had a music room. Occasionally, we’d open the door and we’d go in and he’d pull out these big leather cases from under the sofa, where his dad’s acoustic guitars [were]. … Crack the latch and open them up and I … slowly became really fascinated. … I learned [to play] very quickly after that because I didn’t want to learn the piano because my mum was teaching it.” (laughs) 

Though he didn’t spend much time with his father (Nigel), Turpin discovered rock stars like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin from dad’s “great” record collection, and later began listening to the Black Keys and the White Stripes. 

“I just put two and two together and said I wanted to learn to play guitar,” adds Turpin, who also became enamored with American blues legends like Robert Johnson and Blind Willie McTell, “a bit of ragtime” and the slide guitar. “That’s how it kind of began for me. I just wanted to be Jimi Hendrix.” 

Turpin, who first learned to play from a jazz guitarist living next door, was still only 15 when he got his first gig, performing ragtime instrumentals in a business park rehearsal room at a Norfolk industrial estate. “I couldn’t sing,” he points out, apparently losing that choir boy voice by then. “It wasn’t glamorous. It wasn’t memorable.”

Ida Mae
Photo: Credit: Joe Hottinger / Courtesy of Missing Piece Group

Steph and Chris: Remember When?

Though the first time they met was neither romantic nor very noteworthy, Turpin and Jean agree it involved signing up to play in a band (he says jazz; correcting him, she says soul) while attending college in Bath, where he was studying commercial music. 

Picking up the pieces of their remembrances, they seem to enjoy themselves during this juicy exchange.  

Steph: “You know when you start college and … everyone joins a soul band.” (laughs) 

Chris: “We only had like three rehearsals.”

Steph: “Well, I got kicked out. … Not for rock ’n’ roll reasons, and I can’t remember why I was kicked out. I think I was too bluesy on the keys, they told me.” (laughs) 

Chris: “Apparently, I wouldn’t move my chair for Steph.”

Steph: “I remember Chris being a little rude and standoffish. But he’d disagree.”

Chris: “Because I’m never rude and standoffish.” 

Steph: “Maybe he was just nervous. … I had a fake book [sheet music for voice that includes the melody with lyrics and chords] with ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ by Etta James in it, and we were discussing he was going to play on that for me. I remember that. But it was quite a while ago now.” (laughs) 

Asked what their impression of each other was after that first meeting, the snappy banter continues: 

Steph: “Ummm. This is like therapy.” 

Chris: “I thought Steph was just amazing. I thought she had an incredible voice. I’d never heard anything like it. And I just had the impression that if I could make music with her for a little while, that will be fantastic.” 

Steph: “And I had a little poster up on my wall of one of Chris’ shows that I’d been to in Bath. I remember keeping the flyer because I was like, ‘That was really good. I should keep this flyer to remember that show.’ So I think we were both quite impressed with each other.” 

Chris: “We didn’t know it would go this far, though.” 

Steph: “We didn’t know we’d end up getting married.” (both laugh)

Ida Mae
Photo: Joe Hottinger / Courtesy of Missing Piece Group

Getting Serious

In early 2008, Turpin and Jean were among a handful of musicians who formed a rock band called Kill It Kid, named after the Blind Willie McTell song. Their first EP was released that year.  

Signed by One Little Indian, Kill It Kid’s self-titled full-length album debut was produced by Ryan Hadlock and released in 2009. The quintet — also including Richard Jones, Marc Jones, and Adam Timmins — got noticed, according to Turpin, after he “pretended to be a booking agent and called up about 35 venues,” promoting “this band that’s really kicking off.” 

Dates around Europe and at underground indie showcases led to more attention. “We did one of those at South by Southwest really early on [2010] and, one label gets interested and then everyone gets interested, and suddenly everyone’s at your showcase,” Jean asserts. “That’s how we got with Warner [Bros. Records] and Sire.” 

In November 2015, though, the end was near for Kill It Kid, who announced in a joint statement on Facebook they were “going to be taking an extended break” and “we don’t exactly know when we will be back.” 

For You Owe Nothing, their third studio album, “We had signed with a major label deal [at Warner Bros.] that wasn’t good,” Turpin divulges. “And we were relatively trapped in this deal. And a lot of the things that we’d been promised hadn’t materialized. And also, we were all kids that had grown up together and we just, as bands do, grew apart a little bit.”

Though “the wheels kind of fell off” for Kill It Kid, Turpin and Jean saw their relationship move forward from best friends to a serious couple. “My parents weren’t keen on the rock band but were very keen on Chris. So when the rock band stopped and Chris started, I think they were very happy,” Jean exclaims with a laugh. “We just decided, ‘This is either gonna be the worst idea in the world or the best,’” Turpin contends. “And thankfully, it was the best.” 

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