Emerging from London’s seemingly never-ending and ever-talented pool of wonderful folksy-types, Jamie Ley has been packing out a variety of the capital’s venues with people, all eager to hear his soulful and timeless tunes. Emma Barlow caught up with him to talk about the rise and rise of folk, his inspirations, and what the future holds.
FFS: Do you describe your music as folk? Or is it a label that has been somewhat thrust on you?
JL: I guess it is folk, but I don’t really think we are this or we are that. We usually get described as folk or nu-folk, it’s always got some folk in there somewhere. I don’t consider it anything I just consider it my songs played as best as we can play them!
London has become something of a haven for up-and-coming folk acts, who do you most admire?
Most admire…I dunno. I like what’s happening with folk and it’s exciting to be in anyway involved in it. I admire how massive and how mainstream Mumford & Sons are now. Like I still cant really believe it. Usually bands takes like 5 years to get that big. I’ve played with them in Cardiff and I know them. That gig in Cardiff – about 2 years ago, there were about 20 people in a room and now they’re headlining Reading or whatever. So I admire what they’ve done for folk – the fact that they’ve made people more aware and bought this kind of music to people’s attention. And they’re great musicians, really great.
I think that’s what people like because it’s less of the kind of manufactured pop music and more people on stage with cool instruments like the banjo and the mandolin making honest music and that’s what appeals, that’s what appealed to me about it forever and that’s what I think people are starting to see. And I’ve always admired Johnny Flynn, he was one of my favourite artists while I was at uni and now I’ve had the privilege to like play with him. Bands like that – I always thought they were cool are suddenly much cooler, which is good for me, so I’m a bit cooler now too!
So that’s you’re more recent influences what are some of your older ones?
Bloody hell! Well, obviously The Beatles, so boring! Have you heard of the band Love? Arthur Lee, he’s a bit of a legend, Bob Dylan. But my true greatest hero of all time is Johnny Cash. Yeah I love Johnny Cash. And also songwriters like him, I kind of aspire to be like Leonard Cohen. As a lyricist he’s incredible and his poetry… even the way he sings them…he sings them as the poems they are, which really appeals.
Okay, so what about the poets that inspire you?
Well I used to be into the Romantics, you know the Shelley’s of this world and the Dylan Thomas’s but I’ve recently kind of moved away from that, just because, you know, it’s healthy! I’m into a few German poets and writers – they have a theory about pure imagery and it’s less about words and more about telling things like straight to the point. It’s all about writing in a purist way rather than using fanciful words so yeah: I’m trying to do that with my songs.
Is songwriting something that comes easily to you then or is it really hard work?
Um…sometimes I can sit there for like a week and nothing will come out! Or even a month! And I’ll just be banging my head against the wall. But other times I can write three in a day so it just depends. It’s cliché but if you’re sitting there with your guitar and you just feel you’re in the zone, you’ve got your music mojo or whatever so it just comes out. That’s the time you’ve got to sit there and make yourself keep working at it because that’s the time that’s going to be the most fruitful.
Are you more at home with a band behind you on stage these days or do you miss going it alone?
Yeah at the moment we are doing kind of a mix. So we play three songs as a band and then I’ll do a few. Because there’s something really special and intimate when you’re on your own on stage with an audience. But personally I prefer having my pals around me on stage and I get more into it. Now I feel a bit naked when they leave!
And how did the current band line-up come to be?
I played some gigs in Steeles in North London because my friend Rodney Fisher, who is an amazing musician, he runs a folk night there. We used to have lock-ins and things and I got chatting with one of the barmen, Matt. We just got playing some stuff together and he ended up becoming my bass player and then he knows Jack our drummer from a former band. So we pinched Jack from his old band. Elena Tonra – we had played a lot of gigs together and got on well so she started singing and then we’ve got Bobby on piano, who is our newest sort of musical hero. So basically we just went pilfering from other people’s bands. But in a really charming way so no one seems to mind…yeah so, don’t tell anyone that!
So what can we expect from Jamie Ley, what are the big plans?
Well expect to see a release, quite soon. I’m doing my showcase on the 20th October at the Flowerpot. So getting a lot of people down, lots of people that haven’t seen me who want to see me um….and hopefully that will be a great night and we’ll push on from there with a tour and a release and everything that follows.
Interview: Emma Barlow