Sunday, 4 August 2013

Moseley Folk. John Fell would like a 30 hour day, please. And no hangovers.

2013 Festival season #4: Three weeks out from Moseley Folk, with four hour Goodnight Lenin rehearsals, This is Tmrw work and solo gigs to juggle…

Courtesy Skakeypix
John Fell is ridiculously difficult to get to in mid-summer. It’s not his fault – this is the halfway point between the two Moseley festivals, and he has segued from Festival booking team chores to stage manager, senior bottle-washer and soother of fevered muso brows. He has – hopefully - helped clear up after Mostly Jazz, while setting up for Moseley Folk. His band Goodnight Lenin have a slot at the Festival, clearly set on delivering something special ahead of a much delayed album release. So that means lots of rehearsals as the band shifts to a more raucous, punchier approach. 

And on top of this, weeks before Moseley Folk, John also signed up for solo gigs supporting the redoubtable Patty Griffin. Then there’s the gig with This Is Tmrw. So it’s been a struggle to pin the boy down. But I bet lots of people say that.

Last week saw the support gig, opening for Griffin in Birmingham. He showed up with Katherine Priddy to sing harmony, and fellow Goodnight Lenin member John Joe McCreedy on fiddle and harmony. The three ambled onstage and launched straight into song, without even introducing themselves. John played a short and charming set of songs, which went down well with Griffin’s committed audience, setting off her raw and stirring songs rather nicely. 

So how was the gig at The Glee? You muttered on Facebook about being outside your comfort zone. I could think of easier support gigs to play. Were you nervous, really?
Wow, an audience on my own…In my head I had this idea of solo stuff, away from Goodnight Lenin, who can be quite ballsy. I really wanted to do something, and to test myself. But I wanted some more dynamics to it. I’m not the kind of person who can go onstage and wow an audience.
That’s a craft thing, isn’t it? Isn’t that simply about feeling comfortable on stage?
I think I am. But when I play a song, I hear a harmony in my head, and I’m thinking if I could do that it would be twice as good. So I might as well go ahead and get the person who can deliver that - someone like Katherine, why not?
I didn’t see you as wanting to step outside the band…
Thing is – I don’t. But some stuff I write is outside what Goodnight Lenin do.
OK – what about the album…? It’s been a long time. 
We’ve probably written three albums. Scrapped them each time. Three or four years work. But we hadn’t got the sounds we wanted. We’re really happy with it now. All the songs were recorded at John Mostyn’s (Highbury Studio) – about sixteen, seventeen tracks. Ten are on the album. And we’ve already got five or six new songs for the next album. 
Goodnight Lenin 'Old Cold Hands' at Moseley Folk 2012
So the album drops, and you’re going to have to be out there as Goodnight Lenin, cos the album is out there to promote your touring, not the other way around. With the work load you’ve got…
We’ll just rejig it. I may have to call in some favours, but I’ve got quite few to call in. If I’ve worked into the night so many times, maybe people won't mind me having a month off… 
Has the band changed – as a band - in that time?
Yeah. I think the pressure has gone out of it. We’re more relaxed. Our focus has been to have one album that we’re all proud of. That’s the goal. 
How is it going to be released?
There’s a few labels interested, nice labels. It’ll go through industry channels now. Someone good will pick it up. And to get ready, we’ve taken everything down. All our videos, demos, all that. 
Now, that I really don't don’t understand. You’ve done some lovely stuff.. Crook in the Creek, Wenceslas Square… and they're still up there, by the way.
Maybe the songs have outlived their relevance to me. We found ourselves getting a bit twee. And we’re not that kind of band. Working solo, I’m happy to be charming and gentle. Nice Fell. But it’s different with the band.
Well, the band’s ramping up a bit, judging by your live practise set at the Hare and Hounds. There’s always been a fine sense of structure and dynamics in my view. But part of your appeal is simply that the band, too, is charming. Knockabout fun, lots of laughs, audience banter...
You should see our practise sessions! But we’re doing this three times a week, four hours a time. If we didn’t have that element of fun, it’d probably do our heads in. If it was my thing alone, we wouldn’t say a word. I’d walk on stage and play the songs. But then Liam and Jon Joe throw things in, and it makes me laugh. The songs can be quite serious, and that sucks some of the seriousness out of it. So we can talk, chat and entertain. It’s a good balance. It’s a nice contrast to things that can be a bit darker. 
Let’s talk about Moseley Folk. I see a problem: there’s not a lot of big acts left that you can book. I can only think of one vintage name – Horslips – that you haven’t booked. 
Yeah. The Mostly Jazz and Funk festival is even worse for acts we can really go for. With Folk we can look to people like Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Richard Thompson, who could all fit. But where do you go after Chic
Nile Rogers at Mostly Jazz by Rich Shakespeare
Well, Nile Rodgers did kind of get red-hot at exactly the right time for you, didn’t he?
Crazy. We booked him early, before anyone else. He was on our list, we booked him; then the Daft Punk thing hit and he was huge, and he started doing shows everywhere. Obviously, we got a nice deal on him.
That’s partly how the festivals can exist, because we do do good deals. 

So it’s getting harder and harder to get big names?. I was kind of surprised to see you’d booked the Dubliners..... 

Note that the working title of the band these days is The Dublin Legends. The members retired the band in 2012 after 50 years, but many continue in the new band

 ...I mean, they were ancient when I was a kid, and I’m prehistoric. And they are headlining Sunday, which is the traditional night of the festival. So I’m curious. How is that working out?
Sales are triple what they were at this point last year.... I grew up with the Dubliners. I’m a catholic from South Birmingham. As soon as I put the news out on Facebook, everybody my age had the same reaction. The sound track to our youth! It's a massive massive Irish heritage thing in Birmingham. I'm delighted to have them. It’ll be a grand beer-swilling rabble rousing finale! 
So does that mean you’re expecting an older audience this year?
I don’t think so. Kate Rusby is on there too, and the Be Good Tanyas. Our new tactic is to put three headliners on on Sunday, because on some Sundays people don’t want to come out, and we suffered from that last year. So that’s our new tactic – which narrows down the choice even more!
The other thing is having Ocean Colour Scene on Friday, playing the whole of Moseley Shoals a few yards from where they recorded the album. But I do like that we can span all that, and provide a home for traditional stuff. 
And OCS talked the festival up in an earlier blog piece. OK, you know I'm going to ask about new and local.
Obviously Katherine Priddy. She’s still only 18. Taking it steady, writing songs, working on her material. She’s done some lovely supports – Scott Mathews, Jim Moray. It all adds up. Who else? The Cadbury Sisters. I don’t know them except by reputation. We’ve shared the same bills but never met. But I’ve never seen them. 
They’re great. Looking forward to seeing them on a big stage in the sunshine
And Boat To Row, Abie’s Miracle Tonic, Red Bird Sky, Dan Whitehouse…I know I'll forget someone here. Can I apologise now?
And there we left it; John had rehearsals to do, projects to tie up, noses to wipe, stuff to sort…

It’s always tricky to do a structured interview with someone like John Fell, because he’s such a likeable guy that you don't really want to throw him those sandbag questions, even though I did, a bit. And because he loves his music, the conversation rockets off in every direction. But that just makes it great fun. Three weeks or so from now, he’ll be running on empty again, working from seven in the morning to two the next morning. You can only do that so many times and survive. Lots of things help, though: loving what you do, for a start. Adrenalin's part of it too. 

And Jaffa Cakes. 

Some of the local acts at Mofo
Katherine Priddy

Dan Whitehouse Note that Dan is to be featured in September on this blog
Boat To Row
Red Bird Sky
Abie's Miracle Tonic
The Cadbury Sisters

Cannon Street
Dirty Old Folkers

...and there's more. Explore the Centre Court Stage for other local acts.

See also this post-festival article: Snapshots from Moseley 

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