O Drom interview

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Tell us what kind of music you like?
I love all music, from English to Galician music from Spain to China.
Singing is my favorite kind of music, from Gospel to Waulking songs to Sardinian polyphony singing and Mongolian.
and I adore the Big Band music of Duke Ellington, all those instruments and musicians that he used, playing live around one mike. He used instruments for their color, texture, their voices, he got all that individual expressiveness from each instruments voice out and playing together in an ensemble, those orchestras, and those arrangements, what a vision! You can hear all that life, no overdubs, life That's how it should be, recording, trying to capture a moment. Not falsify a moment..
I like simple tunes, songs, they have a pure strength. Sincerity of the heart, honest not pretentious music or posing. None of the hype and myth making, but the reality. I don't find drug induced music interesting, I never liked the psychedelic pretentious experiments in public that took place in the sixties, all that unintelligible mysticism. It was a bit like the emperors new clothes for me.
I preferred Muddy Waters and Blind Willie Johnson, The Humble-bums and Otis Redding, an eccentric song writer called Dory Previn etc. Jazz. John Prine, Stevie Wonder, Clash, Chuck Berry. Bert Lloyd, some Ewan Macoll songs.
I love ballads, story songs, love songs, Topical, George Jones, Songs and music that take me on a journey make me cry, laugh, move me, joy, feet jumping all that I need to get from music.
You can hear that some of the music I make is influenced directly from Black blues music, not white blues, but the Afro American soul singers.
I can't play like them, don't want to, but I did learn and use what I learned because I was playing with a jug band on streets etc. those years ago, that's what we played, so I was trying to make songs that we could sing in the band. But I could never be a black Afro American man. I sang in my own accent, which annoyed my mates who wanted me to phrase Americanisms like them, and I wanted to be myself, not pretend. It was the Emotions, the soul, or 'duende' as the Spanish call it, the spirit in the music that I loved, and was moved by.
I did make songs and we sang them, the young band had an attitude which was the rawness we liked. No limp, fay, namby pamby folk songs for us we were boys who wanted to be MEN!
I liked all kinds of stuff back then, Country and Rock 'n' Roll. I made all the connections between the music, where it came from Blues to Jazz, Louis Armstrong playing blues trumpet, those wonderful double time, stops soloing flying around Bertha Chippie Hills voice like a lyrical honey bee.
I was brought up on 78 records my mum had a wind up gramophone player, which we played with like a toy, as 9 year old kids would do. records by Tennessee Ernie Ford, Danny Kaye, Stan Freberg, Musicals like Oklahoma,
The first records we bought were Beatles 'All you need is love', 'Hello goodbye', 'I'm a walrus' singles. We had gone to Butlins Holiday Camp for a holiday and The Beatles Hit was played and played as we drove on the bumper cars) That song stuck in our heads. My mum had a Tijuana brass record that I liked to play, and I also heard Rock and Roll into Rhythm and blues and Blues…. I didn't know what British Folk music was, But the first song I learned to play on Guitar was a Woody Guthrie Song 'Blowing down the road' . 3 chords, that's all I needed.
I went to a record library in my teens and heard The Radio Ballads Ewan Macoll and Bert Lloyd singing and that was my first listening. It was the Songs I loved, stories about people, Bert Lloyd sung with a laughing voice, to me it was like Louis Armstrong's', 'What a Wonderful World' voice, or Billie Holidays, voice, my favorite singers with Otis Redding later. I was borrowing records that I could never buy in a shop, stuff I found by accident in the library.
I listened to Dylan, Beatles, Tamla Motown, Django Reinhardt, Herb Alpert, Tijuana brass music, Shankar, Captain Beefheart, Radio Luxembourg, I'd listen to that in the bath, The Persuasions they were one of my favorites, singing accapella soul music.

Are you happy if other people sing your songs?
I'm very flattered and I'm happy that my songs can travel without me.
I like to think that people will take my songs and add to them, change it around, (they aren't written in stone,) borrow, that they, like me, are part of the folk process, it's a currency. I made a song in Southville like that for folks who live there, for them to sing. After we all performed it, I left it with them to keep or forget, and asked people to add their own verses etc. to make it their own. It is about them and for them. to use or forget. It belongs to them. I have borrowed from them too….reminiscences, from their pasts, my past, our past. etc… (I've a song about Borrowing somewhere) Maybe, You have to borrow something before you can develop.
I'm just a link in the chain. I am traditional in the way that I am part of the tradition of people making music!
Just attempting to communicate..

So do you believe that English Folk Traditions and music is still alive?
That 'British, or English' culture whatever it might be, that folk tradition, art, history etc. Is still there, we are all struggling to keep it alive and help it grow, change, adapt and develop. To keep it relevant.
The Church stole our culture years ago, and Capitalism broke up communities, families, The English ruling class, elite, Victorian priests, teachers all tried to destroy "folk culture" make it polite, tame it whatever. Tie it up, kill it, and pacify it. This thing that people were making for themselves, for the sake of it.
I, like may other singers and musicians, would play and make songs even if no one paid me. Between jobs, after work, I would carry on. If I couldn't get a gig, I busked, when I was arrested for that I'd sing in peoples kitchens, parties, weddings, whatever. I am Stubborn. But to me it's like eating, I don't care about artistic judgements that people make about what I do. There's music I don't like or is boring to me. But I think all kinds of music can exist together and meet sometimes. I want diversity. It's healthier, more exciting. It's happening all over the world. We need it when we're sad, we cry, maybe in singing and dancing we cry till we laugh.
I need the soulful way a tune and rhythm can liberate us from the sadness of a song. The blues work that way. It's like the slow, sad slow burning Jewish melody played on a violin, so melancholy, crying, lamenting but then a rhythm is found, very very slowly it is found, and the feet start to move slowly and the rhythm picks up more speed. You rise from your chair, and your body moves with your feet as the tune pulls you up, and your heavy heart starts to rise like bread in the oven and you realize that despite all this sadness etc that life must go on, and we survive with that.
So in that way rhythm and tempo and melody can liberate us. Or am I the only one that happens to?
I don't believe so. I think It can be the same In Irish Music, with a slow lament on the Uillean pipes that speeds up and becomes a reel or a jig. You get that surge of inner strength that stirs you, moves you fills you up and makes you Yelp like a happy dog and encourage the piper to "throw it off you Mucker"
Tradition doesn't stand still it evolves technically, I hope I'm part of that journey of discovery , the soul or spirit still has to be there in the music for it to survive. It is soul music to me.
My Grandma again maybe. There are songs for all moments of life, we all have songs inside.

No one in my family played instruments, trying to earn a living, no time to learn, but they all enjoyed singing and dancing.
Al Jolson, old songs, music hall.
Bands like the Pogues maybe helped to get the young interested in "traditional", and folk musical forms" as opposed to corporate pop music, that is a good move reclaiming our folk culture and evolving it, adding to it, inventing, making new songs, for today.
If you play a live instrument people are fascinated by it. For young DJs, real instruments are a novelty, I played spoons for a friend DJ on DAT tape with some Latin music. He wanted to mix them into the track as he played the record. Also a young sound engineering student in Bristol visited me in my bus and got me to play and sing my harp for manipulation later on some mixing, sampling she was welding splicing together later on. I don't know what she did with it. Maybe it became part of another new folk process!

Where are you born? Where are you from?
My first identity is not exactly English. I'll half joke and say I was born in London so I could be near to my Mum!
My dad is from the Govan shipyards of Glasgow, I suppose I am part of a long journey of my ancestors, refugees from Russia, Jewish, and work seekers from Scottish Islands, fortune seekers and adventurers from Scotland and Russia, a mongrel. etc. I am British.
I/we are all/am the sum of what I have heard, who I have met, my lingo, jokes, places, family, divorce, everything.
I never wrote a song and said this is a British, song or going to be a Cajun, or even Latin.
I evolved a style without really knowing I was evolving a style.
I am a British man, singing a song that I made up about my travels in Mexico, using a, kind of, Mexican feel tune but actually it isn't Mexican. Maybe the Polka part is kind of Mexican. I don't know where the tune came from, my voice and guitar, improvised and blossomed, but in the end it's the story, it happens to be my story, biographical, but it's all I know about, what to sing about, my life, about my family my mum, Shirley and people I've met. etc.
I think people have seen me as some kind of Maverick, loner.
I'm not a loner. I don't like herds or Gangs but I do like togetherness.
I returned to UK. London after some 10 years away, just like Ossian or Rip Van Winkle might, to a strange country I was born in and raised in. Yet I still wondered where my home was. I was seeing my country and culture with new eyes. Also, in the midst of travelling, I had wondered if I was going somewhere or running away. My family had split up, and I was feeling very sorry for myself at the time and I thought travelling might heal my wounds. But in the end You can't run away from yourself, and all that emotional baggage is carried on your back with you wherever you go.

Labels are always a problem. For Rock music stations maybe I was always folky and for folky I was always too contemporary not traditional enough.
I joke and say. You'll find my record in the "Difficult Listening" section of the record shop!
I feel maybe that I should be in the Soul, Folk, pop, rock, country and Eastern sections,
All labels are straight jackets and I never feel like I belong. I always feel like I am a soul singer, because I sing my own songs, from my soul. That's where my songs are really rooted, not in a country or part of a clan or tribe, club, gang. We are soul singers. At times, depending on what I'm singing about, I do have a strong sense of singing for my class of people, sometimes, it was the way I was brought up. Class conscious,
It's a journey to me, the threads, you can see how styles, ideas, stories, tunes, travel, like language, immigrants, etc. There are medieval Greek words in the Romany language that is spoken in Wales by ROM peoples, Yiddish is made up of German and other languages mixed, borrowed and twisted, adapted.
The Oud, Lute that became the guitar, brought back by the crusades, string harps that were left in Vera Cruz, South America by sailors. I left a harmonica or two in Afghanistan, a gift for hospitality or traded for something else. Baksheesh. I wonder what they are playing or trying to play on those harmonicas. Music has journeyed, from African to Moroccan, to Flamenco Spain. To South America, Cuba, and back again to Africa, cross fertilizing, using accordions that were made in Germany, Harmonicas and accordions then going back to China where they started as an ancient mouth accordion, harmonica, with free flowing reeds, a sheng.
The Drones in music, that thick river of light, universal like blood and pulse and....from Eire, Scotland, Galicia, Australia, India.
People always want to separate, pigeon hole, and yes folk musics are separate in their forms and aesthetics, but I can't help making the connections, it must be the hippie in me. Fighting the Teddy boy Rocker and skinhead punk in me!
The fascist in me, fighting the communist in me. The Cynic, fighting the sentimental. The believer fighting the unbeliever. All the contradictions I have, we all have. It keeps life interesting I suppose.

You told me you're an internationalist, does that mean you aren't patriotic?
I am not Patriotic in the sense that I believe my country can do no wrong, Government wise, and the colonialist mentality of the ruling classes. Etc. I'd be the same with a friend I loved, I'd still tell them off. Criticize them.
I do Love British Isles, travelling around it, the richness. The language, the humor and character, But I still see squalor, poverty, racism, selfish greed and fear. I can't ignore the evidence that the 'third world' is in our own back yard. Most Countries I have visited I have loved. There are rich and poor and dispossessed everywhere.

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