Around this time last month, John Smith dropped the first tune from off of a forthcoming, soon-to-be-officially-announced album. ‘Willy Moore’ is an old-time American folk classic of uncertain origins, likely to have been written sometime during the early 1900s. Smith gifts the tale of heartbreak new bones with his contemporary rendition, replete with no shortage of gorgeous, roots-laden instrumentation that never keeps its old-school origins too far from the shoreline. Ahead of the album release and a forthcoming UK tour, however, Smith was kind enough to provide For Folk’s Sake the privilege of taking part in our ongoing ‘FFS 5’ Q&A series…
1. Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get started in music? Any defining moments along the path to present day?
I was born in Essex, raised in Devon, then left home for Liverpool. Now I live in Somerset. I’ve been gigging since I was 14 and self-employed since 2005. I got paid for a show at a guitar festival and earned more money than I did in a week from my four part-time jobs, so I quit them and went full-time in music. Since then I’ve been on the road most of the time.
I got my break opening for John Martyn on tour, which gave me some weight to get booked for festivals, support tours and so on. I’ve self-released five albums and have another due this year. I’ve also played on other people’s records, which is a lot of fun.
I learned from Joe Henry, the American songwriter and producer, that every moment is definitive and ‘to the point’. My life could have gone a dozen different ways, but each day has led me here.
2. As an artist, how do you define success?
When people sing along to my songs, or tell me about how my songs have helped them out in some way, it’s the best feeling. I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve written fifty or so songs that feed my family and keep a roof over our heads.
I’m never going to have loads of money, but so far I’ve done everything on my own terms, and I haven’t compromised. I’d like to keep it going and play bigger shows, maybe one day headline the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool, where I once pulled pints and snuck in to see shows.
3. What do you find to be your greatest struggle when it comes to the music business?
It’s keeping up with the accounts, planning tour logistics, driving to shows and dealing with a business that often makes a loss before recouping several months down the line. The ‘business’ side of this job doesn’t leave much time for playing and writing music. So I struggle with making time for the thing I love most. Most of us in this line of work have it the same way.
4. If you could only play ONE of your songs for the rest of your career, which one would it be?
That’s a terrifying thought. I’d much sooner go back to working in a comic book shop.
5. Outside of music, what do you like to do that you feel contributes to the creativity that you tap into for your music?
Outside of touring and admin, I try to be present at home. I find inspiration in my friends and family. I think we all have to cultivate our relationships like a garden, so that they can yield surprising fruit.
For me, any kind of a hobby has to be pursued on a plane or in a hotel. Reading or watching movies, just like everyone else on the road. Every now and again between tours I’ll get into woodwork, but still I always come back to playing guitar. It’s my favourite way to spend time.
04 Oct Aberdeen The Lemon Tree
05 Oct Ullapool Guitar Festival
10 Oct Cork IE Coughlan’s
11 Oct Cork IE Coughlan’s
12 Oct Limerick IE Dolan’s
13 Oct Dublin IE Unitarian Church
14 Oct Bangor NI Studio Theatre
17 Oct Chipping Norton The Theatre
20 Oct Whitby Musicport Festival
21 Oct Liverpool St George’s Hall
22 Oct Gateshead Sage Gateshead
24 Oct Leeds The Wardrobe
25 Oct Sheffield Picture House Social
26 Oct Thames Ditton The Ram Club
30 Oct Newbury Arlington Arts Centre
01 Nov Bury The Met Arts Centre
02 Nov Scunthorpe Cafe Indiependent
03 Nov Halifax Square Chapel
04 Nov York The Crescent
07 Nov Middlesbrough Town Hall
09 Nov Bristol Rough Trade
10 Nov Plymouth Barbican Theatre
11 Nov Dartmouth The Flavel
12 Nov Exeter Phoenix
14 Nov Southampton The Brook
15 Nov London St Pancras NEW Church (Bloomsbury
16 Nov Brighton Unitarian Church
17 Nov Guildford St Mary’s Church
Photo: Rose Cousins