Friday, 31 August 2007

5 Questions for Clive Leyland

1. For audiences that aren’t familiar with you or your music, tell them a bit about what they have in store if they come to ‘An Evening With Clive Leyland’ at the Octagon?

It’ll be just me, solo, with a collection of original songs accompanied on acoustic guitar or piano. Some will be from my CD, A Northern Man relating to either Bolton’s or my own family’s history.

Others will be songs on any subject I’ve chosen to write about – love, loss, relationships, personal philosophy, social commentary, “life the universe and everything”, plus a bit of humour – what James Taylor calls “singer/songwritery stuff”. A couple of instrumental things too. And some chat in between.

I play sitting down these days, so it’ll be relaxed and informal. Comments from the audience will be invited and there’s the odd chorus or two to join in with.

2. You came to folk-music relatively late what was it about folk music that appeals to / inspires you?

Short question, long answer! Setting aside the “folk” thing for a minute, I actually came to “music” very early and I’ve been involved in music all my life, including acting as musical director and composing for stage shows.

I’m not concerned about labelling my music. The “folk” tag came about through discovering, around the mid 90’s, that the most likely place to get new songs heard without being specifically booked, was the folk club circuit – where they have “sessions” and “singarounds” and “floor spots”. All but the most traditional clubs don’t really care whether what you play is “folk music” or not so I fitted right in.

One of my earliest engagements as a folk musician was in a dramatisation of Flora Thompson’s “Lark Rise” by Bolton Little Theatre in 1997 – a “promenade” production in the grounds of Smithills Hall. Around the same time I’d joined Auld Triangle, the house band at Westhoughton Folk Club and, mainly via Bolton’s Howcroft folk club, met up with the people with whom I eventually founded Bandersnatch. All these things came together to spark my interest in the folk tradition as an adjunct to writing my own material.

Anyone who plays an acoustic guitar is generally thought of as a folk musician but this is a generalisation. Even the term “acoustic music” is misleading as amplification is often involved and I even use an electric guitar in some shows. And you can play convincing rock music on an acoustic.
Having said that, folk song is a recognisable form. Traditional folk music tends to be songs whose composer is unknown and which have evolved over the years, sometimes into many different versions – arguments rage constantly about which is the “right” one. It tends to tell stories about real people from any time period, that people today can still relate to today. Its style lends itself to telling more contemporary stories too. So there are many musicians on the folk circuit who perform no “traditional” material but write their own in a folk / acoustic style. Several of my own songs come from finding a real-life story that no-one’s written a song about (sometimes concerning my own family) and making up a “folk song” around it, or from finding a poem or the words to a traditional song that I haven’t heard a tune for, and setting these to music myself.

The debate about what is folk music goes on and on. In my view, folk music is music written by folk – like any other kind. I’m with Louis Armstrong when he said “all music is folk music; you ain't never heard no horse sing a song have you?”.

3. You mention on your website you were influenced by The Shadows, Chuck Berry, The Hollies, and later Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Crosby, Still & Nash to name a few. Where else do you find your inspiration for your own work and are their any recent musicians / bands that you admire?

All of those you mention, and many more, are still influences, particularly in instrumental style. Other life-long influences include Debussy and Beethoven. More recently (a sign of age?) – Mahler and Bruckner. Over the last few years I’ve met and worked alongside many leading artists on the folk scene (that word again) such as John Tams, Allan Taylor, Fairport Convention, Dougie MacLean and too many more to mention. All are inspirational in different ways. For sheer enthusiasm and the ability to play powerful blues and rock in a small venue, Animals and Friends (the current incarnation of the original Animals) are the business. Any type of music performed well and with feeling is fine by me - classical, blues, rock, folk, choral, brass band, jazz ……… whatever.

Inspiration for particular songs can come from anywhere. A phrase, a book title, a news item, an experience, a comment, a thought. Sometimes a “noodle” on guitar or piano can trigger a bit of tune or just a mood that some words seem naturally to fit into. The standby if you’re really stuck is to tune the guitar to something weird and just fiddle about and see what happens! As for technique, I say flippantly that the first 40 years are the hardest; it gets a bit easier after that. But I’m not very interested in technique for its own sake; I like songs or tunes that say something and reach people and sometimes these are the simplest.

4. What inspired you to use Bolton as the basis of your album ‘A Northern Man’?

Well I lived there for over 60 years! I started researching my family history a good few years ago and discovered stories about them and about the related local history that gave rise to songs. The ancestors of all four of my grandparents lived in Bolton, Blackrod, Rivington or Chorley for a minimum of 200 years and, in at least one case, probably upwards of 400 years. After a while I realised that these songs were forming a chronological “snapshot” of life in and around Bolton over a couple of hundred years.

It’s always assumed that Lancashire had no history before the Industrial Revolution started – around 1780. This is obviously not true – we just know very little about it. The CD opens with a song about a farmer (one of my great great great grandfathers) who, in 1803, had to leave the land which his family had worked since at least the mid 1600’s and try to find work in “Cotton Town”. Looking at the view from Scout Road one day, I was struck by how little the underlying landscape must have changed despite the ravages of the mills and the mines. This is the “framing device” for the CD – man’s works fade away but nature survives.

5. I believe you have performed at the Octagon a few times over the years. Does it hold any special memories?

I’ve appeared twice as part of Auld Triangle when we opened concerts by Sean and Dolores Keane and by Eddi Reader, Clive Gregson and Boo Hewerdine. Great atmosphere, great audiences, very enjoyable. It’ll be good to be back!

Clive Leyland will be performing in the Octagon's William Hare Bar on Tuesday 4th September. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

Images courtesy of:

Roger Liptrott , Anglezarke
Ian Austen, Westhoughton Folk Club


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