Photo: Dave Peabody
S.R.Do you have any single idea as to why, in your view, it didn’t work?
NJ. Yes. It didn’t work because we were all too different. There wasn’t enough time and maybe not the ability for each of us to meet each other and make that happen, and I don’t think the excitement was in the group. There should have been some sort of excitement in the music and it wasn’t there. It lacked a certain bite. That element; I’m not quite sure why that didn’t happen.
S.R. But there’s no reason why it shouldn’t happen with an acoustic group. Andy Irvine and Paul Brady – that’s incredibly exciting music. Do you think in Bandoggs it was anything to do with you being three very individual acts, taking Pete and Chris together, so used to standing up alone in folk clubs?
NJ. Yeah, I think that is a lot of it. It’s very hard for me to render myself to play less. I’m used to making things on the guitar that are self-sufficient and it was very hard to play fewer things.
S.R. It must have been the same for you all.
NJ. Less so for Pete and Chris actually. They were the best ones for the group. Another thing was that we were all pulling in different directions. Pete and Chris have got this old English ideal in their heads somewhere; Tony had an idea of doing harmony things which he liked and again I find restrictive, and I probably had some sort of vague idea of doing something Ry Cooderish, something maybe a little bit more modern, which again was not compatible to the others.
S.R. Is it possible that in order to produce a group like that, it would be better to have people who aren’t that experienced, who in fact would learn something from each other and who’ve got the excitement of doing it for the first time?
NJ. Well, not really, if you get together naturally and you’re round each other naturally. With the Bandoggs thing, we decided to get together, we fixed some rehearsal dates, worked out some songs and then started performing them. That’s not the way to do it. If you live near each other, and you’ve always known each other’s music, you get together and you play. For instance, myself and Tony Hall; whenever we get together, because I have always liked his music and I know his tunes, he’s not having to learn new stuff and make arrangements of it, he plays it as he wants and I find it very easy to join in because I have heard the tunes quite a bit anyway. In Ireland they can all play each other’s tunes anyway, because they all get together in the pubs and play. It doesn’t happen that much in England.
S.R. So in a sense, it’s probably more fruitful to try and work our who you can get together with, who is living near you.
NJ. A group should evolve. This is why so many groups are a vast disappointment when a bunch of great superstars get together. I mean look at the Silly Sisters group, what a hash that was. A load of people get together and because they’re good as soloists everybody thinks this is going to be the greatest thing since apple pie and they don’t realise what a bunch of fumblers they all are in the main.
S.R. Yes, it’s this thing of people being self-contained units again, not really being able to play anything else other than what they do themselves. Do you envisage trying another group if the opportunity arose?
NJ. I would like to. I’ve always got it at the back of my mind. Where I live there’s nobody really who plays that much. Tony Hall is about the only one that I could probably cope with. He plays such good music anyway.
S.R. You were also saying that you thought something folk clubs needed again was the enthusiastic group that got up there and sang songs that people knew and could join in with.
NJ. I think audiences relax more with groups. A soloist relies on tension in fact.
S.R. Do you rely on tension?
NJ. I think all soloists do. Carthy is a supreme example of that. He creates a lot of tension in the audience, because they’re watching him make these excruciating faces and noises when he makes a mistake. He’ll use the tension all the time and he’ll create tension. People say, “Is he going to get through it or isn’t he? Is he going to collapse?”
S.R. I wonder if he actually realises he’s doing it?
NJ. I’m sure he does. I’m sure he realises it. I don’t think he ’d admit it to us, but I think he does realise. I think underneath there is this tension, and I think all soloists use it up to a point. There is tension there because it’s more of a fragile thing. With a group, if one person makes a mistake the others are going to keep it smooth so the tension isn’t there.
From Southern Rag No.2 (the original title of fRoots), October 1979
This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down