This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
S.R. Later on again, you were one of the first people who really opened up what has become the major part of many folk musicians’ sources of income, the European touring circuit. There had been a lapse after the old Paris thing. How did that start up?
W.J. In my case, there’d been quite an interest in folk music in Germany for a couple of years, but in 1969 I was contacted by a guy with a small agency and record company who brought me over for his festival. If that had never happened, I probably wouldn’t be playing now. Although I went on for another four or five years on the English scene after I left Pete, I never did as well again. We were very entertaining, swinging music, but when I went solo it inevitably became a bit more introspective as it is when you play guitar and sing on your own – unless you’re a joke teller, which I’m not. These last ten years, you can blame Germany for me still being playing!
In a way I’ve kidded myself that I’ve made a real living from playing all these years, but whenever you have a crisis and think “I’m going to have to stop doing this”, there’s always something around the comer and that’s always something in Germany! Right now I’m doing another Folk Friends double album, which is artistically interesting and financially very good – with TV and radio. We’re doing a thing in Germany in August with Lazy Farmer, which in this case will be the family – two of the boys playing with Sandy and me.
Wizz Jones 1968
S.R. You blame not working in England so much on the fact that you, solo, weren’t as ‘entertaining’ as with Pete; but also the English folk scene veered strongly away from guitar players, blues and modem songs after the big boom of the sixties. In a way you were a victim of fashion. But don’t you find things are beginning to open out again now?
W.J. I can’t say really. When I do a good gig these days, there are some very young people come up and say “We really like the sort of stuff you’re doing”, which admittedly wasn’t happening a few years ago – it was unfashionable. There’s a lot of interest in blues again now, of course, a real interest in rhythm’n’blues and I think it’s spinning off again into interest in acoustic blues and things.
In Germany, I think they like to see me as a sort of ten-years-on Alexis Korner figure. I had more success in Germany because they didn’t know anything about what happened before, they’ll give you a fair listen and are not so influenced by trends. In Denmark, say, there’s no way they’ll listen unless they think they’re supposed to, unless they’ve read something to impress them and they think you’re famous.
In Germany, you’re playing in a little bar and they’ll walk in and say “What’s zis, Vizz Jones, never heard of him” – then they’ll sit down for a good five or ten minutes and give you their undivided attention, then if they like it, you’re in. Of course, if they don’t like it, you’ve had it! But the point is, they’ll listen first – in a lot of countries they won’t even do that.
S.R. So do you think people have a preconceived idea about you in England?
W.J. Well, that might be in myself, it might influence the way I behave in England. In Germany I can go in as a stranger and feel confident – maybe it’s myself, not the people. After all, I’ve been doing the same thing here for twenty years…
S.R. But every time you come to a local club, it’s amazing how many different songs you do. I think of you as one of the classic people with a big repertoire. How many songs do you think you could pull out?
W.J. I hate to think – I couldn’t put a figure to it. I’ve got books at home – every time I learned a song I wrote it down, and I’ve got volumes and volumes of them – must be thousands and thousands of songs.
S.R. How good is your memory if you have to dredge something up?
W.J. lt’s not bad, actually, for singing a song that I haven’t sung for a long time. I tend to forget chord sequences if I haven’t played a song for about four years; if it’s complicated I have to go back and learn it again. I find that abroad people often ask for a song I haven’t done for years and I jump straight in and do it. The first time round I’ll make a couple of mistakes but then I’ll do it again and it’ll be perfect.
From Southern Rag 6, October 1980
This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down