This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
S.R. What attracts you to learn a song these days?
W.J. I find it a lot harder these days to get new songs, because for years I was quite happy to listen to other artists and groups and every time I heard a song that impressed me, sitting down and learning it quite close to the way they were doing it, then after a year my own angle developed. But I find that more difficult to do now because I feel it’s no longer as valid as it used to be – in a way I was championing the kind of music before, turning people on to different music, wanting to tell people about all this material. Now it’s no longer valid to me. I had this kind of crisis that I should write more. But what attracts me to songs? Just that they’re good songs!
S.R. Words or music though? – because people think of you as a guitar player…
W.J. I can never understand that. Wherever I go, people always introduce me saying “Here he is, one of the best guitarists you’ll ever hear,” and I can’t understand that. It’s amazing how much you impress people with a little bit of technique. I really get scared sometimes, there must be guys in the audience who can play the arse off me, what will they think? But I’m a lyric man, definitely. When Clive James wrote all those lyrics for Pete Atkin, it really blew me off my feet. I’m probably more interested in that than good melody, that’s why Dylan really impressed me, when he started, though I’m way out of touch with him now.
Wizz Jones 1979 Photo: Brian Newton
S.R. Would it be true to say that you’re more interested in a contemporary lyric, something with modern relevance? You do some traditional ballads and so on, but they don’t form a very large part of your repertoire.
W.J. No, I’m not interested in trying to do something like, say, Peter Bellamy does, even if I could. I’m not interested in re-presenting old themes. I get very excited if I hear a good new song. People say, “Oh, come on now, you play blues and all that stuff”, but for one thing I was never able to duplicate, like Sammy Mitchell, an old Robert Johnson record – I never tried to, I wouldn’t want to. That’s why Bert Jansch was such a genius, he came up with all those songs he wrote using that technique and that style. I used to get annoyed with Robin Williamson from the Incredible String Band – all that stuff about fairy princesses and castles…
S.R. Why don’t you feel that there’s still a role for somebody to go about turning people on to music they wouldn’t otherwise hear?
W.J. Well, my kids are into all these bands in South London, I go and listen to them – mostly young people, some of them are brilliant musicians. And I think “If they can hear this in the pub, there’s nothing I can turn people on to any more.” All I can do is pick the songs I like and enjoy doing them, make a nice job of a song and there’s something actually happening. The danger with me is that I play for my own enjoyment too much on stage, that’s a problem with working abroad a lot, for someone like me who’s so into lyrics. I work to an English audience now less than to any other nationality.
S.R. Would you like to work in England more?
W.J. Of course. I mean, it’s fun to travel and everything, but you don’t want to do it for twenty odd years. I’d love to work more in England.
Sandy: The comparison between what was happening on the folk scene here in the early ’60s and what was happening in the charts – the music on the folk scene was far superior, it was an underground thing and much different. But now, what’s happening in the charts is often a lot better than what you can hear in a folk club!
W.J. Too right! That’s what’s so different. The general mass music scene is such a good mixture now, with everything that’s gone into it over the last twenty years. We’ve found ourselves with a family of musicians, inevitably, like all musicians who have kids – and they’ve discovered all that blues stuff quite independent of me, they didn’t know I had all those tapes and records. When they were very small and I was playing them, they didn’t know. They bring all these records back from the library, and go up to Dobell’s.
From Southern Rag 6, October 1980
This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down