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Come Write Me Down
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This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
Photo: Dave Peabody
S.R. Were you actually playing floor spots by then?
NJ. No. Once I tried on a singers night. I learned The Ballad Of lra Hayes off a Pete Seeger record and I tried to sing and made a ballsup of it. I had worked it out so I could sing it at home and as soon as I got to perform it, it was all in the wrong key. I was nervous, and I could see everybody was looking down at their laps and coughing and taking sips of their drinks, and I was singing out of tune, and I just thought “this is ridiculous” so I stopped halfway through and vowed I’d never, ever do it again. It’s only sheer conceit really that makes you stand up in a folk club and sing anyway.
S.R. So, at some point you must have got interested in singing traditional songs, or was that by accident?
NJ. Yeah, by and large, all of the things I have done since I left school have all occurred by chance meetings. I’ve not initiated any of these things, I’ve drifted into things and become involved in things, not against my will but not through any conscious decision of my own. I was going down to Chelmsford Folk Club quite regularly after a while, and I got to quite like the resident group who were doing chorus things and what-have-you. It was all a bit of a laugh, and then their guitar player left and they said “would you like to try and join the group?” I said that I couldn’t play that sort of thing, I wasn’t that sort of bloke. But they said “Give it a try”, so l said I would and tried it for a little while, had a few rehearsals and made a right carve-up of it all, and then I said “I can’t do this, it’s no good”. Then they said “Well, just stay for this last couple of things we’re committed to”, something like a Young Conservative booking, so I did that, and by that time they had taken another couple of bookings somewhere else and said “just help us out on these two”, and it drifted on, you see, and lasted for a year and a half, or something like that. Then in the end we just fell out, really, argued with each other.
S.R. That group was the Halliard?
NJ. Yes. Then one or two people wrote to me to ask “would you do some solo bookings?” and I’d got no other job so I thought, well, I might just try. I did this tour up in the Rotherham and Barnsley area and I thought I was bloody terrible, I thought it was really appalling. The main trouble was that I just couldn’t talk, I couldn’t introduce songs, because the other fellow had always done the talking. About halfway through the tour, I was sitting at Dave Burland’s place, and I said, “Look, this is ridiculous, I might as well back out now and get a job or something,” but Dave encouraged me and said “Keep going, it’s alright! It’s only a matter of practising a bit and you get used to it.” His encouragement really made me keep on doing it. Then I got a few more bookings so I thought I’d leave it for a bit and keep doing it, and I’m still doing it really.
S.R. So what took you to Bill Leader’s?
NJ. Actually I think it was a number of people. It was Dave and Toni Arthur, Shirley Collins and Robin Dransfield. They all recommended me to Bill who was looking round when he split up with Topic.
S.R. Was that a fairly simple and quick recording job, the first LP?
NJ. Yes, I think it took about three hours, the first one. I just sang the songs and buggered off, really.
Photo: Ian Anderson
Nic Jones live
S.R. There’s obviously a great leap between your first two albums and The Noah’s Ark Trap
in recording technique. Either you’d thought about it a lot or you’d decided to do something different.
NJ. I think the difference was that Bill forgot to turn the tape recorder off between the tracks on the third one! The first two I was just doing songs that were in the repertoire and not really thinking much about it. Put the tape recorder on, sing a song, switch it off, switch it back on again and do another song. I didn’t really want to do just another old record of songs. I was getting a bit cheesed off with listening to folk records which had one song, gap, one song, gap. And I thought, in a lot of rock records you hear things where they’re joined together and it makes it interesting and maybe it would be nice to do that with a folk type record.
S.R. Did you have any idea with that one of it being, appalling term, an overall concept, or were you just going for interesting links?
NJ. No, I just wanted to join it together really. They were all linked, the songs, anyway, by the fact that they were predominantly love, human relationship type songs. Initially I had more of a concept to it because I started out with a definite idea of a plan of campaign; that it was going to be a single person who did various things and had various adventures and then got back home again; went to foreign countries and did all the things that people do in folk songs, and then got back home again by the end of the record, but that collapsed in the process of doing it. In the end any concept that was there occurred more by accident than by planning, the fact that we put it in a reasonable order and linked the things together. You can get any handful of songs and put them in an order that will give them an apparent sense of continuity.
S.R. You’ve obviously evolved a style which is instantly recognisable and very much your own. Have you consciously aimed for that or is it another thing you’ve drifted into?
NJ. I’m not that aware of having evolved a style. By and large, I’ve gone through phases that other people have gone through, copying other people, swiping other people’s ideas and trying to be like them, whether it be Bert Jansch, initially, and then Paul Simon, Tom Paxton, Peter, Paul & Mary, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Martin Carthy; all these people I’ve attempted at some stage to be like, to copy and make the sound that they make.
From Southern Rag No.2 (the original title of fRoots), October 1979
This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down