Having spent a fair few hours on the road to get to the penultimate date of a tour which brought them to Edgworth area of Bolton where the Bromley Cross Folk Club is located (try and work that one out) the trio of Saul Rose, Benji Kirkpatrick and Paul Sartin were ready for something other than sitting in a car on a Friday.
Soundcheck done, it was a chance to sit down and eat, have a pint of something local (Paul opting for the old man’s choice but a good one with Moorhouse’s Pendle Witch brew, Saul taking on the local Bank Top challenge while Benji, faced with a ginger ale/ginger beer dilemma, opted for an OJ) and be quizzed about just what they’ve been up to recently.
And talking of folk clubs and their journeys around them, the chat started by pondering how active the ongoing folk club scene is around the country…
Saul Rose: I don’t know if the scene is as vibrant as it used to be but it’s still a great place to learn your trade. I met Eliza Carthy at Watford Folk Club twenty two years ago and she basically hired me on the spot if you like, and I’ve not looked back, so I have a great respect for folk clubs. There aren’t as many as there used to be – the successful ones are still going and the ones that just have singers nights and never book a guest are going by the by, but I think that it’s great and long may it continue.
Benji Kirkpatrick: There are some new folk clubs that have sprung up with younger organisers – as in ‘new to folk clubs’ organisers – and part of the problem is that younger people aren’t taking over the mantle of running the clubs so a lot fall by the wayside.
Paul Sartin: There are plenty of young performers but not organisers.
SR: It would be good if it did have a future. It would be sad if folk clubs went by the by.
PS: There’s something about the informality of a folk club that you don’t always get at say a a larger arts centre or something – just a bit more banter and you’re crossing the footlights more which is great. If you have floor spots with audience members performing it mixes it all up and democratises things in a way that more formal venues don’t do.
BK: There are also some staid, fusty old folk clubs…
SR:…which haven’t changed since they started in 1962 or whenever …
BK:…so it’s good that places exist but it can be a difficult atmosphere sometimes…
SR:…oh I know where you’re thinking of!!!
PS: We’ve never done any of those clubs though have we…?
PS: We’re residents for the whole of the year – our responsibility being to be ambassadors for the Manor and get the word out. It’s not as well known as it should be despite going for many years. It’s the National Centre for the Folk Arts and it’s residential which other centres for the folk arts are not. That’s one of its strengths but the problem is that it’s out in Somerset and word hasn’t just got around. It was bigger in the heydays of social dancing but that generation is getting a bit older now, so we’re trying to spread the word and in return they’re giving us unfettered access to their library and archives and letting us stay there doing workshop weekends, doing some concerts and generally getting involved with the things that are going on and introducing them to other musicians and artists who might be of interest to them.
SR: It’s a very creative place. Some of the residential stuff they do isn’t just music; they do instrument making – at the moment they’ve got a melodeon making workshop on for five days.
LTW: The funding has come from the Arts Council England?
SR: Yes, so the collaborative project gave us a basis on which to approach the Arts Council for a bit of funding which we had to pitch for, which we always do but the collaboration is quite strong and it’s about profile for both us and Halsway Manor. Halsway are raising our profile and we’re raising theirs which is mutually beneficial for the furtherment of folk arts. The Arts Council said “yes” straight away – no problems, which is great.
PS: We have a few pans afoot – we might be getting a photographer and a poet involved and also linking up with some local schools so hopefully there’ll be some legacy left from our residency which isn’t just material but passing some stuff on…
SR:…and saying that we’ll probably record the album at Halsway Manor because the producer we’re looking to use has a mobile studio and Halsway Manor is a great location – it’s out of the way and it’s residential so hopefully we’ll record the album there.
PS: We’ll be using some of the material we found in the library and archives.
LTW: So producer-wise, is it going to be Stu Hanna again who’s worked on previous Faustus albums?
PS: We’re negotiating at the moment with a chap called Rupert Christie (who’s worked as arranger with Coldplay, U2, Green Day, Lou Reed) and trying to tie up a few loose ends with him. He’s produced Fisherman’s Friends and also did Bellowhead’s ‘Revival’ although he’s still to be confirmed.
SR: The basis of the third album and a different producer is that we’ve made two albums with Stu and they’re great, but if we made a third album with Stu there’s the danger that it could just be another one of those and actually we’d quite like to turn a corner with our sound and let it evolve a bit and that needs a fresh pair of ears and we’re all agreed on that.
LTW: So what kind of direction will that take?
(At which point the conversation took off on a bizarre tangent bearing in mind Mike’s love of prog rock, capes and visions of multi-necked instruments and stacked melodeons before common sense prevailed.)
SR: But we don’t know until we start working with a new producer into which direction it’s going to go, but with a fresh pair of ears and with someone who’s open to suggesting stuff and us doubling up on various instruments and maybe try few things.
PS: The odd twenty minute melodeon solo that sort of thing.
LTW: So in terms of putting material together for an album did you have anything prepped before you took up the Halsway thing on…?
SR: A couple of bits but the Halsway thing has really helped actually because if I’m honest we got a little stuck in a rut with the usual songbooks – the usual resources from which we’ve got stuff in the past. We’ve spent a couple of rehearsal sessions just looking at the books and just going…
PS: And it’s also great to just have a space in which to work that’s not one of our houses and homes as we all have kids and telephones
BK: And they get in the way! They have to be locked in a cupboard while we’re rehearsing which isn’t cool…
SR:…unless you’re Harry Potter
LTW: So getting away from the traditional songbooks and into something else…
PS: There’s an archive at Halsway Manor which has been looked at but not very much, the archive of an amateur collector called Ruth Tongue. There weren’t many female collectors and the ones that there were are just starting to be properly recognised so we’ve been looking through her collection which is quite obscure and quite bizarre too. Saul found one of her songs, liked the words but the tune was slightly generic because she was quite old when she was writing this stuff down that she remembered. She was quite creative in her process but not creative enough because all of her tunes sound the same so we rewrote one of them. We’re still looking at a few of her pieces. On top of that we’re doing a song written by Bill Caddick which Benji found in a book. We don’t generally do songs by living writers, we tend to do ‘trad’ so it’s nice to be able to do that as a bit of a departure. I’ve just got some books of old poetry through the other day from eBay to look through so it’s work in progress.
LTW: I always thought of the Full English at Cecil Sharp House as being THE archive
PS: What they don’t have is all the dance tunes books for a start but there are still pockets of stuff that they haven’t got so it’s not comprehensive.
LTW: Sam Sweeney’s band – Leveret – take a lot of material from the ‘John Of The Green – The Cheshire Way’ songbook…
SR: It’s a good book. There are going to be some songs from that on the Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band album from that. (of which Saul is a key member)
SR: Yeah, the basis of Wayward was a project with Eliza celebrating twenty one years on the road and Jim Moray was celebrating ten years since the launch of his first album and so we did a collaborative tour in which Jim did the first hour and Eliza did the next hour and a half and we were the house band if you like, for that. Jim has gone onto pastures new, False Lights and so on and Eliza decides she wanted to keep the house band. We’ll be recording an album a week after next – I feel very ready… We have a double A side out now – a reaction to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean and a shanty about whaling.
LTW: Going back to your own prospective album, recording these days seems to be quite a rapid process.
PS: It is, but the process of finding the material can be painstaking although I think once we get the ball rolling it tends to speed up. That certainly happened with the last album. Took ages to find stuff but once we got into a bit of a groove things came quite quickly and that seems to be happening this time.
SR: I think the difference between us and say, some of the bands from the seventies who would go into the studio for a year and write an album is that we write the album outside the studio (because they’re £1000 a day) and then go into the studio roughly or completely knowing what we’re going to do and we’re in there for five days or whatever it takes but it’s not weeks and weeks. It’s just not possible anymore; there’s not that amount of money swilling around from record companies like there used to be so you don’t get a large advance to go and write an album – no-one does. We don’t have that luxury so we have to be ready when we go in.
PS: We’re playing four new tracks on this tour
SR: We have the Bill Caddick song, the Ruth Tongue one and two new tune sets we’re doing live which really hones them before you get in the studio. You understand how they work and what’s right and wrong with them.
BK: Yes it is – I did a few solo dates in February one of which was at the Handel & Hendrix house which was very cool to play there and to be asked to do it. They’ve done up the room he lived in as it was when he lived in it. I’m hoping to do a bit more of that in the Autumn although it’s a finite project and I won’t be drawing it on forever. Beyond that I’ve got the original solo work and I’m also working with a singer called Janie Mitchell as a songwriting duo which we’re trying to get off the ground at the moment – we have some gigs in some venues where we’ll exchange money for music and hopefully some people will come. I’m doing a bit with John Jones (of Oysterband) on his walking tour too.
LTW: I saw some photos of you Paul doing a Belshazzar’s Feast gig with Paul Hutchinson at a hospital
PS: We usually do some community work – we’ve done some with Faustus as well. We did a few visits to hospitals and elderly care settings in Bristol with Belshazzar’s – we did a lot of that but not as much as we used to. I quite like doing community work.
LTW: I suppose I should ask about the imminent Bellowhead final round of gigs?
PS: No….But Belshazzar’s are doing quite a lot of stuff. We’re doing a workshop down at Halsway Manor as well a month after the Faustus one. There’s also the Hothouse Festival down at Halsway which is a bunch of local young people coming in and being looked after by Will Lang and then at the end of the week they’ll do a performance.
SR: Hothouse is more like a residential youth workshop for young adults who can already play a bit so it’s more like a developmental thing like Folkworks Summer School sort of thing and it’s extremely creative as working with young people full of energy bless ‘em and Will is overseeing that.
PS: So Belshazzar’s are doing stuff there and I have a new book out with Faber music – a book of community choir arrangements of folk stuff and a few more irons in the fire as we’re all doing – but Benji and I in particular with the demise of Bellowhead…
BK:…which is funny as I never iron my clothes ever but I do have irons in the fire just in case.
Which of course led naturally into reminiscences about the world of bri-nylon and Paul’s confession that he once had a pair of sta-prest trousers (“you’re wearing them now aren’t you Paul?”) and the advantages of such static generating fabrics. Meanwhile the new Faustus album will be released September in advance of launching it on tour in October.
The website for Halsway Manor, National Centre for the Folk Arts can be found here