I’ve been a little quiet on here for the last few weeks as I’ve been working on the edits for the new book and a stack of other things. But the edits are now done, so I’ve got no excuses for not posting more frequently. And I’m here with what for some of us is remarkable news, even though it happened a couple of months ago and I’ve only recently learned about it.
I’ve written before about my enthusiasm for the music of Nic Jones. For those who haven’t come across the great Mr Jones, he’s arguably the most influential figure in the world of English folk music even though, until very recently, he hadn’t recorded or performed for some 30 years. During the 1970s, though, he was a well-known folk performer, with a distinctive voice, a pioneering guitar style and an extraordinary selection of largely traditional songs (I say largely traditional, but Jones also had a genius for adapting and rewriting traditional material to the point where he made it entirely his own). Sadly, in 1982, on his way back from performing at a folk club in Glossop, just a few miles from where I’m writing this, he was involved in a serious car accident. The resulting injuries effectively brought an end to his performing career, but, despite his physical absence from the folk scene (and the fact that, for unfathomable legal reasons, most of his 1970s recordings are unavailable), his influence has grown year by year. There seem to be very few young British folk guitarists or singers who don’t owe a debt to Nic Jones – and many have sought to repay the debt in part by recording their own versions of his most famous songs. The songwriter John Wesley Harding (who is also the novelist Wesley Stace) even produced a whole CD, ‘Trad Arr Jones’, as a tribute.
I was fortunate enough to see Nic Jones perform once – a short set at a charity concert in Cambridge in the early 1980s in which he performed largely contemporary songs (including one, ‘The jukebox as she turned’, which haunted me for years until Nic Jones finally released it on a CD of live recordings from the time) – but assumed I’d never get another chance. Then, last year, he made a short appearance at a concert organised in his honour at the Sidmouth Folk Festival. I wasn’t able to get to that, so thought I might have missed my chance. But now, as part of a sequence of events organised by the comedian Stewart Lee at the Royal Festival Hall in London, another version of that concert has been organised, with Nic Jones again making an appearance with members of his former band, Bandoggs. This time, I’ve made sure I’ve secured tickets. If you’d like to do the same, the details are here. And if you just want to know more about Nic Jones and his music, his own website is here.
But that’s not the most remarkable news. It appears that, unheralded, Nic Jones has also made a brief re-visit to the recording studio (Abbey Road, no less). In putting together the soundtrack for the recent documentary about autism, Wretches and Jabberers, the musician J Ralph apparently came to the UK and persuaded Nic Jones to record a track for him. You can hear the recording, with Jones singing and Ralph playing Jonesesque guitar on his own composition, here, and if you’re so minded you can purchase it from iTunes for a mere 79p. A bargain, I’d say. I’m just hoping that, with this recording and his forthcoming performance, Nic Jones gets a taste for performing a little more.
EDIT: Well, it just goes to show. After posting this, I had another look at Nic Jones’s website and realised that his Mollie Music had released a ‘new’ CD by the Halliard, The Last Goodnight, which turns out to be material drawn from a demo tape recorded by the band in the 1960s (and which, incidentally, is quite excellent). As well as that material, however, the CD also includes three newly recorded tracks, including one, ‘Rakish Young Fellow’, which features a splendid vocal from one Nic Jones. So it turns out he has sneaked back into the studio at least once before J Ralph lured him back (the previous Halliard CD release also contained some newly-recorded material, but, as far as I can judge, no new vocals from Nic – but I’d be happy to be proved wrong on that).
As an aside, the credits on the Halliard CDs (and in the accompanying songbook) reveal that the majority of the Halliard’s melodies were actually written by Dave Moran and Nic Jones, although many such as ‘Boys of Bedlam’, ‘Miles Weatherill’, ‘The Calico Printer’s Clerk’ and ‘Ladies Go A-Thieving’ seem now to be widely accepted as entirely traditional. For a band who released very little material in their prime (if one discounts their record company’s ill-judged idea for the band to emulate the Dubliners with an album of, um, Irish songs), they’ve had quite an impact on the English folk world.