We recently caught up with Folk Radio UK favourite Jason Steel who talked to us about some of the inspiration behind his music and his love for field recordings of old traditional ballad singers. Jason has just released his new single ‘I Lost My North‘ which is from his new album ‘The Weight of Care‘ due for release on Rif Mountain in February 2012.
My brother played the radio all night. There was a show called ‘The Late Night Love Affair‘ that played the best sentimental pop songs of the day-‘True Colours‘, ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat‘, ‘I just Can’t Stay Away From You‘- I was nine years old. I would lay in the dark listening & thinking about girls, getting lost in the songs. This continued for about three years until my dad destroyed the stereo in a fit of rage one morning with an axe. My brother had been consistantly destroying his sleep by playing it loudly.
My dad is a real character & an old club singer – I would sit next to him & he would sing ‘Sixteen Tons’ by Tenesse Ernie Ford. When it got to the bit where he says ‘One fist of iron, the other of steel…’ he would bare his teeth & make a boxer’s stance. I would hold up my tiny hand & place it over his fists, giddy & excited. I guess these events were my introduction to the transportive power of music.
Tennessee ernie Ford – 16 Tons:
When I got to fourteen I heard & saw pictures of Nirvana. My bedroom wall slowly became covered in pictures of Kurt Cobain. He seemed the antithesis of the northern ex-pit village I was growing up in, and I liked that. I got really into American underground rock, my first musical love- Sonic Youth, Sebadoh, etc. I dyed my hair & tore my jeans. I would buy any records these guys mentioned. I saw Cobain wearing a Leadbelly t-shirt, so picked an old LP up at a record fair.
It sounded absolutely alien & strange. My ears couldn’t get with it-it seemed to taste of something… Soil? Dirt? It was almost scary-haunted & ancient. Amazingly, my Dad knew the words to these songs. This added to the sense of eeriness. I kept going back. Once I broke past the aesthetics of it, the other-wordly crackle, I was just floored – it is music as unfathomable as space. This put the seed in my mind – a quality I started to seek in music – a kind of transcendental heaviness. This is what lead me to traditional & old time music. You hear it in Ann Briggs, Blind Willie Johnson, Skip James, Shirley Collins, Doc Boggs. This is the stuff I go back to, a thirsty man to water. I find a field recording of an old traditional ballad singer has a gravitas and weight you simply cannot place. I’ve always been a bit of a record geek-I became obsessed with tracking this stuff down. I also had an intense period of immersion in the world of John Fahey, which I often slip back into. I guess these were some of the formative influences in terms of playing & what I wanted to emote in the music. Also-girls ice skating, the full moon, sex & the Demon Drink (of course).
My remit was fairly simple when I started writing. Like-what would Leonard Cohen sound like if he played the way Mississippi John Hurt played? What if Skip James sang ‘Suzanne’? I’ve always loved sentimental music. In lots of old time & country, you are blessed with the finest of purely sentimental song. I guess with my writing I try to gild a certain sense of loss in song, using that ‘old time’ vernacular. I find prolonged late-night bouts of listening to The Shangri La’s ‘Past, Present And Future’ whilst making drunken phone calls to old girlfriends an endless source of lyrical inspiration.
I joined the Owl Service in 2009. Owl leader Steven Collins has always put his own stuff out-he envisaged a new label that was a co-op/collective of core artists; Rif Mountain. My first album was the label’s inaugural release. It’s a great thing to be a part of; The Owls, myself, the Straw Bear Band & Nancy Wallace alongside various guests-my recent favourites were the Alaisdar Roberts 7″ & the Rob Sunday e.p, which were both immense. We’ve just put out a label sampler ‘The Inner Octave’ which is a fine introduction. We also sporadically put on events & usually have a fairly strong presence at the Leigh Folk Festival (which Steven helps to organise)-My favourite UK festival, without doubt. And it’s free! This year’s line up has got some great names…
I Lost My North
I’ve got a single landing on the 19th of December-‘I Lost My North’. It’s a requiem of sorts. The brass is an attempt to invoke the colliery bands that played near my house in my youthful days. It’s taken from my second album ‘The Weight of Care’ due in February. I’ll be touring the record.
Friday 10/2 – London King’s Place
Monday 13/2 – Liskeard The Barley Sheaf
Tuesday 14/2 – Bristol TBA
Wednesday 15/2 – Cheltenham TBA
Thursday 16/2 – Brighton TBA
Friday 17/2 – Leigh on Sea Methodist Church
(w/Cath & Phil Tyler)
Saturday 18/2 – Ipswich, The Garden