Guest Post: Stephen Thomas of We Write Lists

This is the very first guest post for Red Said, which is incredibly exciting. In truth, though, I’m almost afraid to put this up–Stephen Thomas of We Write Lists wrote such a great guest blog that I don’t see why you’d ever read my gibberish again.

In all seriousness, We Write Lists is a wonderful source for all things folk. To use Stephen’s own description: “Our aim here at We Write Lists is simple enough–to write passionately about music, in a surprisingly organised manner. We want to bring a different side of music to the blogosphere, coming straight from the musicians and singers themselves in many cases. We’re proud to have featured acts as diverse as The Acorn and The Pipettes, and to have hosted the first ever online interview with Rumer. We also champion new, unsigned acts as well as host a fortnightly gig in North London, The Folkroom.” I’d encourage you all to check it out–especially if you like the emerging artists highlighted below (because there’s a lot more where these came from).

Stephen and I are going to do a bit of a trade. He’s highlighted some of the wonderful folk talent coming out of London, and I’ll be doing the same for California. Stay tuned for my half on WWL! Without further ado:

Traffic is tidal once the sun goes down. The slow and steady sonic rush before each car passes and the sound breaks, silent and golden until the next one comes in. I could lay awake for hours listening to London outside my window, beyond the glass. I came to the city a little over a year ago, out of the countryside and out of a job. I’d always loved London; I’d spent years passing through on the train to university and had created a soundtrack by which to watch the spires and the bridges and the river pass. But the soundtrack had always been a predominantly American one. Sufjan Steven’s Glassian BQE. The Dandy Warhols. The Hold Steady. The choices were grand and belonged to cities – but not London.

When I was lucky enough to start hosting a a fortnightly folk gig in the north of the city I took the opportunity to find myself a new soundtrack amongst the unsigned acts that passed through. Though the gigs are still small and very much a work in progress they’ve played a large part in introducing me to some of the most fantastic folk acts London is currently producing – and let me sit on and watch as a community of new musicians forms and collaborates and does all sorts of things that are scary and remarkable and a little bit breathtaking.

O. Chapman, “No Way Back Home”

Some of the acts are painfully young, like O. Chapman. Eighteen or so and fresh out of school Chapman twinkles about a guitar with the sort of ease Nick Drake once managed. It’s a similarity worth making, his music as poignant but fluid as Drake’s; the sort of gentle noise that takes you like a warm bath. Whenever I’ve caught him live he has stolen a bustling room’s voices – it’s unlike anything I’ve seen before. He holds a room like no-one else. You lose yourself to O. Chapman’s music and spend the journey home wondering if you were hypnotised and had really spent the evening acting like a chicken.

Worry Dolls, “Darling”

Similarly, when I first heard Worry Dolls earlier this year I spent most of their set catching the eyes of anyone sitting around me and grinning inanely as if to say “Isn’t this just the most wonderful thing ever?” I still think it just might be. Rosie Jones and Zoe Nichol flirt with each others boundaries, creating music that is at once light and breezy but held to the ground by their own rules. They want never to use the word ‘love’ in their music, but will happily sing about an obsession with a transvestite singer from a popular musical. “I have to confess/I do like your dress/So much more than your jeans” But their songs offer much more than light-hearted lust, and are often tinted by a beautiful longing – for shared experiences, original ideas and, on one song, the city of London itself.

Laura Hocking, “Loves of a Girl Wrestler” (my fave)

I was told once that theme apparent across gigs I’ve hosted is one of lyricism, and much as I have the ability to make you very aware of your own breathing (and make you forget how to inhale and exhale without intense concentration), I’ve been acutely aware of every lyric the Folkroom has seen since that time. Laura Hocking in particular comes out very well from this. A sort of literary folk, Hocking’s music is best enjoyed when the stories behind the songs are shared. ‘Strongmen and Acrobats’ is a song about her autistic brother who every years becomes obsessed for the weeks leading up to Guy Fawke’s Night (fireworks-wise, it’s our fourth of July – only we’re celebrating the centuries-old death of a Catholic), only to spend the night itself begging to be taken home. It’s a hard sell from that, maybe, but given her triple-threat standing (beautiful face, beautiful voice, beautiful lyrics) it shouldn’t be all that long before Hocking is making her name beyond the city of London.

Jessie Moncrieff, “Oh Pretty Night”

And of course, the cityscape of London was one coloured not just by the cars that move like waves, or the sirens that co-exist in any place where the old are mortal and the young think they are immortal. It’s more, also, than the music of born Londoners or folk like me who have been drawn in from the countryside. London is home to so many travellers from distant lands it’s sometimes difficult to call it part of England. There are, by my massively exaggerated count, more Australians in London than in Australia itself. Of all of these, my favourite is undoubtedly Jessie Moncrieff. A violinist who has played alongside the late Pavarotti, she now specialises in a string-leaden brand of folk that is indebted as much to Joni Mitchell and Ani DiFranco as it is to the classical background she was trained in. Her song ‘Georgie’ is dreamier than most anything I can think of, and will be my heavy eyes to the brink of tears on every listen. And I’m not the crying type*.

Camille Delean, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”

Another beloved import is Canada’s Camille Delean, who comes by way of Paris (geographically) and Nashville (spiritually). She’s an impossibly gorgeous vocalist who enchants with songs that belong to somewhere less grey and more enchanting than the south of London where she resides. But that’s kind of how this city works – the same way any major metropolis does, I guess. I think of London as a jigsaw puzzle from a second-hand store. Not all of the pieces belonged to the same puzzle at first, but with a little bit of coaxing they all kind of fit together in the end, and look a little more interesting for it.

Traffic is tidal when the sun goes down, and I’ll never trust a city without sirens. I’d never trust a city incapable of providing its own soundtrack, either, but most cities can. You’ve just got to look in the right places. London is flooded with great music – I didn’t even get a chance to mention Dave Gerard, Emily and the Woods, Josienne Clarke, Andrew Butler, Citizen Helene, Joe Innes. I guess my soundtrack is overflowing now. Hopefully someday you’ll hear it in full.

2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Stephen Thomas of We Write Lists

  1. Pingback: A Brief Guide To London Folk —

  2. Pingback: Folkdates « Red Said

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