Our Artists Of The Month Luke Daniels is rightly renowned as one of the foremost box players of his generation and as a result is much in demand. Many will have seen him as a regular in Cara Dillon’s band and regular tours along with other projects have kept Luke busy. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that it’s taken a while for the ambition of releasing an album of his own new songs to be realized. The resultant What’s Here What’s Gone, which we praised at the start of the month has, however, been well worth the wait. Simply but very well recorded, it’s a record of complex lyricism built around a simple premise of our common humanity, which is none the easier on the ear, boasting a keen melodic sensibility. Luke’s rich voice is bolstered by some outstanding playing, with his own guitar work proving something of a revelation.
Here Luke gives us some insight into the path that has led to the making of the record. Key it seems was the move to Glasgow and the new environment that has given him a little extra creative freedom. He also invokes the philosopher Hume and the information age, in giving us a glimpse into the considered ideology at the core of the songs that make up this excellent CD.
Can you tell me about your own musical development, what were the building blocks? Are you clearly able to pick out influences?
I grew up in a family of folk and traditional musicians, both my parents were players and singers. Winning the BBC Young tradition Award in 1992 was a definite turning point for me though and one at which I began to meet musicians like Eliza Carthy, Bros Lakeman and Ian Carr. I’ve worked for most of my musical career as a melodeon player with De Dannan, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, Riverdance and Cara Dillon, though playing guitar, piano and songwriting in my own time. It’s in the last year and following a move to Glasgow that I’ve begun sharing more widely this side to my music.
Who have you learnt with and what are the most important lessons that you’ve had as a musician?
The best music and musicians I have heard communicate from a position of unity rather that supremacy. Hero worship within the folk world is kept to a healthy minimum. It’s because of it’s lineage and basic function, which I see as partially under threat within the new very stylised modern day folk industry, although I am very much a protagonist and a part of that, or I would not be speaking to you now.
What prompted the move to Glasgow?
Glasgow is the best place for trad music right now, owing mainly to the RCS’s trad music and Gaelic courses. An abundance of top quality players invest in the scene and the level of arts investment available for traditional music and culture is proportionally higher than elsewhere in the UK. My late father’s family also hail from Renfrew and my children’s Godparents are based there too.
Tell me how the album came about and what the timelines were. When did you start writing the songs? When did the album take shape?
A couple of the songs date back almost a decade so it’s clear I had designs on the record fairly early on in my career. What kept me from taking the project forward was more a combination of the work required on my guitar playing, plus the need for a period of relative quite. I finally got that after arriving in Glasgow with the bonus of access to musicians like Matheu Watson and producer Paul Savage who worked closely with me on this record. The album was actually finished in Dec 2013 but not released until Oct this year so that we could effectively plan the marketing campaign around it, a record or even publishing deal for the album was not an option as companies will only invest in artists with a proven record of success, something which I currently do not have as a singer songwriter. I believe the current industry marker is 10,000 followers on twitter.
Please tell me a little about each of the players.
The album was recorded relatively cheaply for around £15,000 though we’ve spent as much again on marketing it. I was working with Matheu Watson on a New Music Biennial commission and an earlier album called Mother Glasgow and wanted to include him in What’s Here What’s Gone too. Drummer James Mackintosh plays with Transatlantic Sessions and Capercaillie, Bassist Rick Standley is from McFall’s Chamber Orchestra, Percussionist Signy Jacobsdottir plays with Emily Smith and fiddler Patsy Reid is well know in her own right. Dobro and Lap steel man CJ Hillman plays with Billy Bragg. In addition to Matheu Watson on guitars and myself these core players were joined by Madeleine Pritchard and Chris Judge of backing vocals and Ken Blackwood on French Horn.
There’s obviously a linking concept and theme to the album, how did this take shape? Is the motivation to write songs that fit your world view, or this simply something that happens anyway? I suppose I’m trying to ask how your personal and philosophical agenda and the creative process join together.
Folk music as a commercial industry does not easily cater for the kind of artists who want to reflect the political and social influences that drove it and gave it’s revival in the 1960s a wider appeal. I’ve tried to include my own limited progressive idealism and support for social movements that question the institutions that currently support us. Not because I’m an expert on these issues but as a core objective for anyone concerned with making ‘people’ music. However, my view that as a society, we’re actively encouraged to deny the existence of the most important part of ourselves, or side with a less tenable view of it via revealed religion, is something I feel passionately about, together with the right to express these views as much as anyone else.
You’ve talked about the new progressives, who are you following and what are the underlying elements of your philosophy?
I’m particularly interested in the ideas of the Brazilian political philosopher Roberto Unger who describes the low energy democracies that exist today as forms which “inhibit transformation, makes change depend on crisis and are simply designed to perpetuate the rule of the dead over the living.” Also David Hume, the 18th century Scottish philosopher, who didn’t live to see the various kinds of image and information management that Britain, although not the country most prone to, is still a part of our lives. We get, you know, a continual bombardment of product information, political suggestion that for Hume would have been seen as a genuine threat to our freedom, because it’s a threat to our ability to act in the absence of coercion and compulsion.
I like the idea that folk music is a sleeping giant, but do you think we can really change anything through song?
Songs cannot effect change. People effect change with the required level dissatisfaction and disengagement reflected as a precursor within popular culture. Creativity facilitates idealism as it releases us from cynicism and helps us engage with the one resource that’s scarcest yet most important; imagination.
I know you have also mentioned atheism and an agnostic or sceptical viewpoint, yet there does seem a curiously spiritual side to some of what you write, although that’s possibly a little simplistic. Am I right? Is there a conflict or a resolution there?
I’m a sceptic when it comes to claims that any one revealed body of truth has all the answers but I don’t relate this to lack of spirituality. Organised religion can be an obstacle to a true level of understanding of ourselves as individuals and our relationship to those around us.
How has the tour been going? What else are you working on and will your other work give room for more of ‘What’s Here And What’s Gone’?
The album and tour has been a great experience for everyone involved, I don’t see it’s over arching message as particularly radical though. Most people can agree that value springs from what we have in common rather than what we can acquire or achieve as individuals. Such a beautifully benign message will surely find room within any new songs I write in future.
Interview by: Simon Holland
From the album:
What’s Here What’s Gone is out now via Gael Music
05 – Prema Arts Centre – Gloucester
06 – Arttrix – Bromsgrove
07 – The Centre Fusion Art – Oswestry
08 – Halsway Manor – Somerset
09 – Phoenix – Exeter
10 – The Poly Falmouth
11 – The Acorn – Penzance
12 – Pound Arts – Corsham
For ticket links and full details visit www.lukedanielsmusic.com