Westpark Music / Proper
John Jones – Rising Road
Debut solo album from the charismatic lead singer of Oysterband
Oysterband’s John Jones is going back to his roots with his debut solo CD, Rising Road. After 30 years with Oysterband, John has teamed up with friends old and new to explore and re-invent some of the classic traditional songs he loved in his youth, which stand alongside several beautiful, self-written tracks.
The idea for the album came about when, on a short break from Oysterband a few years ago, John toured alongside his friends Benji Kirkpatrick (Bellowhead, Faustus) and Seth Lakeman. The collaboration worked so well that a seed was planted. Four years later, Rising Road was born. The album features contributions from Seth and Benji, as well as Ian Kearey (banjo/dulcimer), Rowan Godel (vocals), Sophie Walsh (harp), Dil Davies (percussion and drums) Francois Deville (pedal steel guitar) and Alan Prosser (guitars). Producer Al Scott added some more musical colours wherever needed.
John has a great love of the British countryside, and he had always felt that traditional songs go hand-in-hand with the landscape, so he wanted to choose songs which reflect this: “A lot of the songs I’m singing are traditional. I’m not a very urban animal; I feel folk music to be rural and open. When I sing, I’m visualising the story, and the landscape is a big part of that. Much of this album is an imaginative retake on songs I’ve known for years. I’ve tried to look at the traditonal songs very simply, and I’ve chosen ones that have a story for me, a close attachment.”
The album is more pared-down than the usual big, bold Oysterband sound, with simpler, more understated arrangements. But this doesn’t mean that the tracks lack sophistication, as John still brings his full range of influences to bear. The traditional song Polly on the Shore, for example, gets a brilliant, slightly sinister acapella re-working which sounds more redolent of the American south than the British countryside. “I had been listening to some of Alan Lomax’s American prison farm recordings, and that percussive approach of the work song just seemed right.”
While Rising Road contains seven traditional songs, including the mellow, reflective Rocks of Bawn, the spare, poignant Newlyn Town and the stirring, shanty-flavoured Fire Merengo, there are also five new songs written by John. And, as with the traditional tracks, “Some of the songs I’ve written for the album have a real sense of place,” he says. Amongst these is Walking Through Ithonside, which reflects on exploring the wild, untamed Welsh countryside where he lives. This re-connection of the music and the landscape has been very important in the genesis of Rising Road - the album was even given a short sneak preview tour in the spring, which saw John WALKING from his home in the Welsh borders to all the venues along the way, ending up at Oysterband’s Big Session festival in Leicester – a total of almost 200 miles. The album’s themes (and title!) were given full realisation in a few weeks on the road, where fans, friends and fellow musicians joined John for both the walking and the gigs. Part endurance test, part completely mad idea, and part homage to the countryside he loves, the tour really helped him to crystallise his thinking about the new album.
“I’ve spent so much of my working life travelling, but it’s mostly been sitting in a tour bus. I’m forever looking out of the window, following the shapes of the hills as they go past and wondering what it would be like to be out there,” John says. The tour idea and album evolved almost as twin projects, and everyone involved loved the experience so much that John hopes to do a similar tour to promote Rising Road later in the year.
So after 30 years in music, why is this John’s first solo album? ”The other members of the band have often gone off and done separate things, but it’s always been difficult for me as the singer, as my voice is attached to the emotional weight of Oysterband’s music,” John explains. “With the Rising Road project, I’ve really enjoyed being able to express what I do and who I am when I’m not fronting Oysterband.”
John Jones was born in Aberystwyth, Wales, and brought up in Yorkshire. He was and continues to be one of the original driving forces behind Oysterband, a leading voice in the politically-fuelled folk rock movement which took off in the 1980s. In recent years, collaborative tours with rising young stars under the banner of The Big Session, a Big Session “live” album with artists including June Tabor, Eliza Carthy, The Handsome Family and Show Of Hands, and finally the Big Session festival, now in its fourth year, have all helped to cement their reputation as musical custodians and godfathers of folk. Oysterband have recently celebrated their 30th anniversary. Their performances and CDs attract legions of loyal fans around the world, with John Jones as the band’s charismatic leading voice.
John lives in the Welsh Borders, and loves exploring the local countryside with his two lurchers (who feature on the cover of Rising Road). John is a committed, hardcore long-distance walker. One of his first serious walks was the annual Radnor Ramble, which takes in 25 miles in a single day, and on three separate occasions, he has walked across Wales in two days. His passion for walking was one of the key inspirations behind Rising Road.