Here's the unedited interview I did with Jay Terrestrial from the folk band Firepit Collective (www.firepitcollective.co.uk), that features ina recent piece for Unofficial Britain.
The full article can be read here:
1. Firstly, what was the genesis of Firepit Collective? There were folk elements already in the ITs with you covering ‘The Moving On Song’ by Ewan Maccoll and tracks like ‘Barry Horne'. What made you want to start playing this kind of music? Or was it inevitable, as the liner notes say.
I started playing guitar at 13 years old with no formal training. Singing, playing and harmonising along to songs around the fire or in kitchens, back rooms, trailers or wherever was where i cut my teeth as a musician. I learned all i know by ear and much of it from jamming with other players of all skill levels and styles. Early folk and blues influences (and crossovers) were there from the start, from Robert Johnson to Bert Jansch and too many others to mention.
Even though i started gigging as a rock guitarist i wrote a large part the music played by Inner Terrestrials on an acoustic guitar. Some years back (during one of our many periods where of drummer issues) i started playing a few solo gigs and it was from there that it started to evolve from family do's and nights around the fire on site. Chezney, who was an old mate, moved just down the road from where i was living in Devon and we started to play a lot together. As you may know Cheggers plays a mean bouzouki (also tenor banjo, guitar, mandolin) which gave it another element because, being a very trad style player himself, he brought a whole load of jigs and reels into the mix. Before long we started gigging as Jay Terrestrial & Chezney and enjoying the low tech, low maintenance simplicity of it all, we were often joined by guest musicians so the name for the project evolved from that to Firepit Convention then finally Firepit Collective
2. With the traditional songs on the record (and the s/t CD) what was the process of discovering these songs? Was it wholly organic or did you seek out specific stuff (and I’m guessing there are a huge number of other songs you could have put on the record – why choose these ones?)
To be honest it was a pretty organic thing. The traditional songs on the album are ones i have been singing for a good while, many years in some cases. You're right in saying there is a huge amount of material out there and i have always been selective about the ones i choose to play, i avoid singing songs that i feel are nationalist, sycophantic towards royalty and the aristocracy or that glorify war for example (there are far too many that fit into those categories!) It's an impossible task to re-live the process that led to this point through all the decades, but i'll try and explain something about it..Artists that had trad folk in their sound like Led Zeppelin and Dylan were an influence from early days but I remember really taking notice when i heard Traffics version of John Barleycorn Must Die at around 14 or 15 years old, i realised there were depths to it that spoke to me, pre christian origins even. It started me wondering about the bardic path, the oral tradition, the stories passed along until the names of the authors are long forgotten. Occasionally I go through periods of researching songs and tunes, sometimes inspired by a version i've heard, sometimes discovered in books and manuscrips or in rare cases stumbled upon on the internet. Basically as i said in the sleeve notes of the new album it's partly an expression of roots and culture North Atlantic style but mainly it's about playing music we like to play
3. Why did you choose to include Spanish, Italian and Appalachian songs along with the British ones?
They're great songs! The Italian song 'Bella Ciao' is an anti-fascist anthem of the partisan fighters and is a subject close to my heart, 'Ay Carmela' is a song of the Spanish anarchists again a subject i find politically relevant in these dark days of creeping right wing hysteria. The Appalachian tunes have got a real charm to them, European folk with blues and Creole influences. I first heard Deep Sea on a folk radio station called WUMB and loved it straight away. Poor Liza Jayne was something the fiddler David Garner played me and I locked myself away and learned how to pick it in my newly discovered DADGAD tuning, an achievement I was very proud of!
4. It may seem obvious, but what would you say the links are between punk and folk (and dub, reggae, ska) in the UK are (and beyond)? I’ve read various different theories that say everything from folk was basically apolitical, to the other extreme, that by its very existence as ‘people’s music’ it was, and is, inherently radical.
I’m sure it’s a common question but I’ll give you my opinion- punk and reggae are folk music, grass roots music by the people for the people. As for Radical? It’s not necessarily so, I enjoy a good ballad and we’ve all seen babies dance to it haven’t we? It would be true to say a lot of folk music has been radical for example in the 20th century a lot of artists were outspoken in their fight against militarism, racism, sexism and other forms of oppression. There have also been themes of resistance, revolution, paganism and cultural taboos throughout the ages when meanings often had to be hidden to avoid the wrath of the church and state. That said that there’s some very nationalistic trouser swinging stuff out there as well as the leftfield and revolutionary.
Music is so primal, so natural to us. We can’t help but express ourselves through sound and word
5. Following on from that, what is your definition of a folk song? Is it just the song itself or is it the way it’s reproduced, passed on through generations, where it’s performed etc. For example, people called Mumford and Sons folk music…it seems like it can be a pretty broad term. Is where and how you perform the songs as important as the songs themselves?
It’s a good question but I can’t help thinking that it’s not for me, or anyone else really, to define what a folk song is. Firepit Collective is a project that likes to explore trad folk style among other things, but as I said earlier I had a lot of influences. many of them contemporary folk players from the 60’s and 70’s not to mention all the rock, punk, psychedelia, blues, reggae, ska, dub, and countless other musical styles from all over the world. Personally I’m not a fan of the band you mention in your question, it’s not my cup of tea mainly because I find that kind of sound a bit contrived and lacking in integrity not because it doesn’t fit into a genre.
It doesn’t really matter if your gig’s big or small, getting on stage and giving it your all is what you’re there for. Acoustic music without mics or speakers is my favourite way to hear it in its natural state but it’s a rare thing to have the ideal conditions for it. Most of the time when you’re performing the idea is to present it to a wider audience (and hope to hell you’ve got a decent sound engineer).
6. What was your entry into the travellers scene? And how would you say it links in with the world of squatting, something that is very city-based, as the travelling world is more rural? Or am I wrong there? (Incidentally, we’re doing a book by one of the ex-protesters at Claremont Road, about the M11 protests and what happened to that part of London, who knew Old Mick who you dedicate ‘Winter Mist’ too).
My parents were into festivals, I used to go to them as a toddler. I remember a squat in Kirkdale my dad’s band used to rehearse in and I used to go with him, I can remember my baby brother in the rehearsal room in his pram. The alternative scene has always been a part of my life because of the culture around me growing up. I started squatting going to festivals, parties and gigs as a young teenager, travellers were always part of it, especially the free festivals. There has always been a crossover of squatters/travellers particularly among those who are looking for alternatives to the given hierarchy. All around Europe there are still squatted buildings with sites attached to them, the distinction isn’t massive though there are sometimes differences.
The main difference is that many travellers make a living on the road. For me it’s with music and occasionally other bits of work when need arises, for others it’s with seasonal work – daffodils in early spring, crewing and performing at festivals in summer, apples in the autumn etc. A lot of us spend a good six months of the year on the road then find other bits of work and site up somewhere quiet for the winter.
7. I imagine a lot of people reading this think the world of the travellers is something confined to the past, to the 80s and 90s. How hard is it to live that way now, and is it a smaller world than it once was?
There are less sites than in the past and many of those that do exist are under constant threat form eviction or being turned into council reservations ie no coming and going without the wardens permission, no visitors sometimes no dogs, no wood burners…in those cases the situation is pretty dire.
There are still a good few people travelling though, some on squatted sites, some rent or own their own yards, others go down the road horsedrawn. It’s nice to hook up at Beltane after the winter and see faces old and new.
8. Following on from that, Britain has one of the most unequal states of land ownership in Europe (and the world?) – there’s a real class issue in terms of who the land is seen as being ‘for’, that somehow it should be the preserve of wealthy elites to use as hunting grounds or private holiday-escapes. Do you feel this is being challenged enough, and how does the music fit in with this?
Are you trying to provoke me to go on a fifty page mega-rant? It has been challenged throughout time (see below for an example) and as long as there are free thinkers and people who refuse to be dictated to it will continue to be questioned and resisted. It’s a preposterous notion that people who’s ancestors were thieves and murderers and are often thieves and murderers themselves have earned some kind of historical right to lord it over the rest of us, anyone with half a brain cell can see that.
The music is essentially just music, Firepit Collective doesn’t exist a political vehicle although it can work as one. I just write lyrics that reflect my passions
I’ll finish on a quote from a reasonable man -
“…the Earth was not made to be the successive inheritance of children of murderers that had the strongest arm of flesh and the best sword, that can tread others under foot with a bold brazen forehead under colour of law and justice as the Norman power does…”
Gerrard Winstanley 1649
Nothing radical about that, just plain sense.
9. Some lighter questions now: as Unofficial Britain is very landscape based, what would your five best sites in the UK be, that people may not know much of?
Well there are lots of untouched and quiet places I know that are very hard to find and also too many others to name five as my definitive best but I’ll give you five real beauties
Deer Leap and Ebbor Gorge - Mendip , Somerset
Just up the road from Priddy village (which incidentally hosts my favourite folk festival) lies Deer leap with it’s awe inspiring views. West is the Severn Sea, South Wales and the Devon border, east the Somerset levels as far as the Salisbury plain and south lies Dorset. Ebbor gorge, just across from Deer Leap has tall limestone outcrops towering through ancient Ash forest, it’s like a land that time forgot
May Hill – Longhope, Gloucestershire
An ancient meeting place May Hill can be seen from all over this part of the country. It has views over The Forest of Dean, Severn Valley, Cotswolds and Brecon Beacons
The Isle of Purbeck, Dorset
The coastal paths around the Isle of Purbeck are a beauty. It’s avery primal place, there are no beaches here and the cliff paths are not that kid friendly so consequently not so many tourists. If you want a swim you can climb down the path to Dancing Ledge and its rock pool (caution the sea has strong currents)
The White Horse of Uffington, Dragon Hill and Waylands Smithy - Oxfordshire
The Ridgeway is our oldest road and is littered with ancient monuments. Supposed to have once run from the Norfolk coast to the Dorset coast (it still does if you want to navigate a route). It’s a short walk between Waylands Smithy and the White Horse (dragon..) of Uffington, you’ll see views far across Oxfordshire and Wiltshire
Maidencombe - Torbay, Devon
A tiny little cove that’s never that busy, only catches the sun in the morning. If you walk from there along the South West coastal path towards Teignmouth you’ll have views east all the way to the Jurassic Coast
10. For anyone interested in this stuff, what would be the folk records/artists that you most recommend people listen to? Old or new.
I’m listening to a band called The Chair from Orkney a lot at the moment, Mel Rogers and Magnus Martin are fantastic, they have a new album coming out I believe, Joe Yorke is a great young artist from Lancashire, recently come across a pretty good folk/rock band called Blackbeard’s Tea Party, The Jack Ratts from Dorset are a jump up outfit, Tofu Love Frogs with their snarling punk/folk were great in their day, Imagined Village a folk superband well worth checking out, Priddy Folk festival every night of the weekend in the Vic pub – you’ll hear some wicked sessions in there.
Old school material – Anne Briggs and June Tabor are brilliant female vocalists, Pentangle, Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span are great folk/rock acts and worked with three very fine guitarists who each had/have solo careers - Bert Jansch, Richard Thompson and Martin Carthy, Katherine Tickell – a Northumbrian Piper, Dick Gaughan from Scotland is also well worth a listen. I could go on and on and probably when I read back through this I’ll wish I had!
To end with I’d like to recommend two songs that have jumped into my head
Hollowpoint – Chris Wood (this version..)
and - John Barleycorn (Must Die) – (Stevie Winwood) Traffic