This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
Photo: Brian Newton
S.R. I’ve heard it suggested that vocal problems can be your body’s way of telling you you’re overdoing things in general.
J.T. Yes, that is very true – it hits you in the place where you notice it the most. My voice started to go; it wasn’t good when we were rehearsing and doing the Silly Sisters, and then the gigs I did after that got to the point where my voice started to disappear. That got me very worried so I went to a throat specialist (my current specialist is called Norman A. Punt, he’s absolutely wonderful) and I was told I’d strained my vocal cords and the only thing I could do was stop singing and, if possible, not speak for a month. So I did it – I had a notebook, several notebooks, they’re all thoroughly obscene!
But back to the management thing – I’d acquired management before; I’d got Paul Brown to take me on at the time of doing the first Topic album because we were at Oxford together. We’d been friends for years and we stuck together up to now. Now Jean and Jane do that because I’m only actually doing gigs with Martin Simpson, not doing any unaccompanied gigs, so as they do Martin’s agency they’ve taken over.
S.R. I’d though the tour you just did with Martin was a one-off and you’d generally continue with solo work.
J.T. Oh no, I’d got to the stage where I wanted to do something different, I felt I was getting stale just doing unaccompanied gigs and I felt I needed a change to put a bit of life back into what I had been doing. So I virtually stopped doing gigs on my own apart from one or two clubs I’ve always done for the last 7 or 8 years. We’re doing another album for Topic, Martin and I, with the guys from “the band”; Ric Sanders, Dave Bristow the keyboard player and John Davy the bass player. That’s three out of four of Ric’s band.
S.R. How much of this album is going to be the combination of you and Martin as people will hear you and how much of it will be more arranged?
J.T. Well, the whole thing is based on what Martin and I are doing in the clubs at the moment. We are going to use the band on about half of it, but even so I’m a great believer really, these days, in doing an album so that you can present most of what’s on there in a club and people won’t think “Oh, that’s not the way it sounds on the album”. It should be out the 1st of April – that’s a good day for an album!
S.R. Do you know yet what’s going to be on there?
J.T. Yes, it’ ll be mostly what we’ve been doing on our recent tour; things like Unicorns, The Green Linnet, Davy Lowston, the French song Le Roi Renaud. The same sort of mixture as the last one.
S.R. You have stuck fairly closely to the way Pierre Bensusan arranged Le Roi Renaud. Even with my limited, lapsed O-level French, hearing you sing it gave me goosepimples at exactly the same point in the song as on Pierre’s version.
J.T. It’s tremendous, actually, the reaction we’ve had doing that, because I was a bit apprehensive about standing up in a club and singing something that wasn’t in English. I do make a point of explaining the whole song before I sing it. I’ve heard Rum do this, singing something in Flemish but they told the whole story first and although I don’t speak a word of Flemish I could pick up the key points in the song. Most people in an English club have done some sort of French at school. And it is such a strong song, extremely emotional.
But there I was worrying about singing something not in English in a folk club and it occurred to me that Dick Gaughan does it all the time!
S.R. The tour with Martin certainly seems to have done the trick. The last thing anybody who heard it could imagine was any of the staleness you said you’d been feeling before.
J.T. I find it a very interesting combination to work with Martin who has been doing mostly American music and me who’s been doing mainly British traditional stuff – we really find each one is sympathetic to the other’s way of playing. I always considered myself to be the kind of person who would perform mostly British traditional songs or contemporary songs written in the traditional style, like Bill Caddick’s or Richard Thompson’s. But having worked with Martin, it’s opened out a whole new vista because on the tour, our second set was all songs of the American Civil War. So I’m actually singing American songs. That’s something I’d never done before, I’d never even sung American versions of traditional songs – and it’s great!
From Southern Rag No.3 (the original title of fRoots), January 1980
This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down