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December 01, 2023 8 min read


Music director William Bowerman talks translating Jessie Ware’s That! Feels Good! record into the live arena.



As a session musician in the late noughties/early 2010s for acts like La Roux and Mikky Ekko, William Bowerman found a home in some of the music industry’s biggest arenas. “Doing big shows and doing TV performances really excited me,” he tells Man About Town.

So much so, before long, he found himself taking a natural lead within artist’s bands, turning his hand to architecting their sets as well as merely playing his drum parts. “I started making arrangements for the band and pitching that to the artist. And then I had this little transition period when I was a drummer and also became a music director.”

He started working with a new artist at the time, performing with and putting on her modest first show at a bar in Nottingham. Her name was Dua Lipa. “I was her drummer as well as her music director for about three or four years,” he says. After a sprawling tour following Lipa’s multi-platinum, Brit and Grammy Award-winning self-titled debut LP, Bowerman’s days on the road felt like they were coming to a natural conclusion.

Thankfully, music direction allowed him to still be instrumental in creating magic on stage, whilst vacating the process before the actual city-hopping began. He took on clients and before long branched out, establishing a company alongside his wife Ace, WFB Live, hiring and training people to do the same. Their client list is now a who’s who of some of the past few years’ most emminent stars – Post Malone, Kylie Minogue and Rina Sawayama to name but a few, and most recently also Jessie Ware.

Stepping into translate Ware’s 2020 album What’s Your Pleasure, a pivot to disco that marked a turning point for the star’s career almost a decade in, he’s returned for its follow up, That! Feels Good!  – a catalogue of some of the genre’s most liberating, sensual and rapturous sounds and a further graduation into the prime Ware now finds herself in. The tour this autumn proved her biggest yet, with two sold-out nights at London’s 10,000-capacity Alexandra Palace.

Head below to read our chat with Bowerman on the process of bringing the performance to life, navigating relationships with artists and his most memorable moments on the job.



Hi William! Congratulations on the amazing reception to Jessie’s tour. You went to some of the US dates - how did you find seeing that reaction in-person?
I was really excited to see Jessie's fans because on the last run she did in America, she said the American fan base had really picked up and really got what she's doing. So I was excited to see it for myself and she's absolutely right. No word of a lie, every single person was dancing in the room. And people say that, but that actually is the first time I've seen every person dancing. It was really amazing to see.


Can you talk me through the early stages of bringing something like this to life, especially with Jessie?
Jessie very much tells me what songs she is happy to include and happy not to include. Obviously she's five albums in now. So there's a lot of songs to pick from. We start there usually and then it's about learning from Jessie what the theme of the show is creatively, as far as on the visual side.

And, you know, certainly with the last two records, she's created little worlds within her albums. And so with That Feels Good, as far as that beginning point, it's definitely talking through with Jessie, working out the songs that should and shouldn't be there and talking about an overall feeling of what we want the show to be and how we want the audience to react to it. There’s a lot of conversations that happen before any music is started. And Jessie has been touring for a long time. She knows what her fans love and don't love. So it's really, really good to go through with her and get her insight there before we start.


And once that early process is out of the way and you've exchanged your first ideas, how do you actually go about architecting the set? As someone who doesn't know much about musical direction what is the process like of bringing a show to life?
We sit down and we listen through to everything. We'll come up with a bit of a brief for ourselves.

But this tour with Jessie, there's a lyric in one of her songs, “Pearls”, which is, “I’m so nine to five / I’m a lady, I’m a lover, a freak and a mother.” And I very quickly realised that lady, lover, freak and mother should be our four different things. So, we have three different acts in the show. So, again, before we've even started on any music, it's about finding the homes for everything.

And depending on the show, it slightly changes how the approach happens. With Jessie, for example, the last two shows, we wanted it to feel like a DJ set. Even though there's been a band, even though she's singing and even though there's backing vocalists and dancers, we love the way that DJs flow from track to track, transition from one track to another. So what we did is took Jessie's songs, took them all apart into their individual pieces of drums and bass and music, etc, and we started piecing this hour and a half DJ set through our four acts. And our goal was to try and basically not let the party stop the whole time.

For us, there's a huge, huge benefit and a huge win always in when we come to the decision, if no one would ever expect Jessie to do that, then we should probably do it. That's always the goal.
And I think we found a few parts of this show that, again, people will find really unexpected, which I feel very, very happy and very proud of that we got to.


And before you start working with an artist, when you are discussing maybe coming on board for a project, what kind of are the biggest pulls for you as a musical director to work with an artist or to bring a particular album to life in a live setting?
I have to fully believe it. I have to fully believe in the artist. I have to fully believe in the record. I have to fully believe in what they're telling me, you know. I have to love it because ultimately you spend days and days and weeks and weeks listening to it. But for me, what was so inspiring about Jessie is that this was going into her fourth album and she had more fire than I'd ever seen in a lot of new artists.

She had the fire to become bigger than ever, better than ever, have the best show she's ever had, become the best performer she's ever been. And I absolutely wanted to help her because I believed in what she was saying.


And you said there would be kind of a couple of like surprises or maybe risk-taking moments on this tour, what would you say being part of the Pearl Club and everything that that entails kind of represents?
So Jessie is the mother of the Pearl Club, right? This is her evening with her cast and her fans and she's invited everyone in. It's a wonderfully welcoming and friendly experience going to see a Jessie show. It's definitely one of the best crowds I've seen at a show. She takes the audience on a real journey. And she's not only a wonderful singer-songwriter, but she's also kind of the host and the presenter of the evening too.

Which obviously with things like the podcast, she does so naturally. And it's such an important part of the show and you really feel you're there, even in the biggest of rooms.

There's a real intimate feeling with Jessie in the room, as well as being able to switch on pop diva like that.
I think that as far as risks and things, I think if anyone's not seen Jessie, certainly since doing these last couple records, they'd be very surprised on her performance compared to what she used to be. Her demeanour on stage, her choreography.

I think as far as the arrangements, the references we're pulling from is kind of early 80s house and late 90s house. And, you know, this kind of very electronic world, which again, no one would be expecting from Jessie.

And, you know, on this show, for example, there's a whole DJ set in the middle where she is doing a PA performance. And it's like, that would never have been expected before, but it fits so naturally within this show that, yeah, that wouldn't have happened two albums ago. So it's now pushing that further.You know, if we've done a DJ this time, what do we do next time? What's even more shocking and challenging and stuff going forward?

But I think visually it's very, very exciting, very challenging. And yeah, just the pace of this show as well, I think would surprise people.


And for you as well, I know you mentioned that you were previously a session musician, what's the path to what you're doing now been like?
So my path has very much been a teenager who just loved heavy music and still loves heavy music, but then I went from there into having my own band who were signed to XL. We did a couple of years touring the world with my band. And then I ended up becoming a session musician when my band broke up. I ended up with an artist called LaRoux who did very well in 2009, 2010.

We went around the world a few more times with LaRoux and she won Grammys and had number ones and had this really great experience when I was about 21, I think at the time.

So I started WFB Live with my wife, Amy. And we took on more clients and kept growing.. And we have a very healthy roster now of 30 or 40 artists across the world, with our team and myself and my wife building shows and doing lots of different promos and studio sessions and working in all sorts of different scenarios now.


What would you say are the key traits or skills you need to deploy in music direction?
I think it's not being a people pleaser. I think that’s a big thing. I think being able to work in a team is beyond important. And I think genuinely, like I touched on earlier, it’s about just being able to get on board with different people's visions.


WFB is now working with so many different artists like Jessie, Post Malone, Kylie Minogue as well. There must have been some crazy moments for you and for the team?
It's very funny, a lot of the pinch me moments for me will be different to another person.

For example, playing in the arena in Nottingham doesn't sound like much to most people, but it's where I went to my first ever show. So therefore, that's a kind of full circle moment.  

Festivals always do it. A festival is good. There's been a lot of the Dua performances at Glastonbury that have always felt really exciting and fun. We did The Grammys with Dua and St. Vincent as well. Leeds Festival, again, one that for most people won't be that important. But to me, it's where I went as a kid.