Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting one of my favourite Midlands venues, The Musician in Leicester, to meet with The Will Pound Band who have just embarked on a tour entitled ‘New Tradition’.
Harmonica virtuoso Will, a nominee for ‘Musician of the Year’ in the 2015 BBC R2 Folk Awards (‘it was really nice to be nominated’ he humbly shrugs), assembled this all-star line-up around eighteen months ago consisting of beat-boxing, double-bass playing John Parker of Nizlopi fame, singer and guitarist Chris Sarjeant (Jackie Oates Band) and 2013 London Fiddle Champion Henry Webster.
Since then interest in the band has steadily grown as they’ve performed at numerous festivals while by their own admission ‘evolving and developing’ their sound.
Primarily an instrumental outfit, these chaps have clearly got talent in abundance, but what’s even more compelling is their on-stage chemistry which was clearly evident to the audience in The Musician. Their arrangements are fascinating with layered textures and interplaying melodies…and when these gents lock into a groove together on stage it really is something to behold!
Keen to get a sense of where the guys are at and where they’re headed, I caught up with them before the show for a chat. I promised not to ask Will ‘how many harmonicas have you got?’ which was one of the more cringe-worthy questions posed to him during his TV interview on BBC Breakfast! I figured I’d play safe and start off with a question about the tour…
FRUK: You’ve all just started a tour, how’s it going so far?
Will: Really well actually. The first, Celtic Connections, was brilliant. That was our first proper gig….
Henry: That was my first time playing at Celtic Connections as well.
John: It was in fact Henry’s first time in Glasgow…
Henry: It was! I love Glasgow…Glasgow’s bloody great! They’ve got a big street of loads of music shops…fantastic.
FRUK: The material that you’re performing on this tour, where’s it drawn from?
Will: All over the place I guess. Chris and Henry write quite a lot of things for the band and then we all arrange it together. It’s a bit of everything, ideas from different band members…
Henry: We’re still playing quite a lot of traditional numbers…but we’ve added sections and extrapolated them out to something a bit more interesting than just playing a melodic idea and an accompaniment….we want to take it beyond that really.
John: The idea was more like the Punch Brothers. More arranged…it’s more taking influences from the classical, the jazz…that kind of world rather…than just someone playing a tune and then someone thrashing chords and playing a little bit of bass behind it…
Chris: Although I do quite a lot of that!
John: You thrash chords in a very arranged way…an ‘arranged thrashing!’
FRUK: Are you finding as a band that as you play the arrangements more, that they’re developing themselves?
Will: They have done, yeah.
Chris: We’ve been doing this now for, I suppose, eighteen months…and these tunes are pretty unrecognisable from how they started off. Some things have been organic, some things we’ve sat down and tended to change this section or that section…found what we can do as four of us…write them for our specific talents, our voices.
John: Yeah, ‘cos I think in all honesty we felt like we had 45 minute to an hour of stuff that we really back…and then stuff that as we’re touring is evolving and developing…trying to find a way of making it ‘ours’. Put our stamp on it…
FRUK: How did the Will Pound Band come to be? Why you four guys?
Will: Basically I did a solo record a couple of years ago and I invited these guys to come and play on it. Then as a result of that, after the CD came out, we started a band. It’s great! At the start it felt more like a session band, but now…because we’ve played together for a long time…it’s definitely an equal partnership kind of thing. Four ways. That’s just how it’s happened…I guess organically… so everyone has a voice as to what happens.
FRUK: The way you wanted the band to sound…did the way it come together really quickly or did it take time to develop it and work it out?
Henry: For me it was Bromyard (folk festival) last year where something just clicked…suddenly we were like ‘Ah, we’re starting to get something like the sound that we’ve been trying to find’.
Will: It’s hard at first to find. Before recording we’d never played together before. At first it was quite fast…everyone had to learn arrangements off my CD really quickly…but after that we went ‘Right, let’s do something completely different’. Like Chris said earlier, the sound from eighteen months ago was totally different to what it is now.
Chris: The plan in the future once this tour’s finished…there will be festivals in the summer…then the idea is to go away and write an album that is ‘The Will Pound Band’ album. Where we are now is the beginnings of where we will go to. We’re not quite sure what that will sound like yet, but what we’re doing now is us working towards it…
Will: It’s quite exciting really because you don’t know what’s going to happen. Some bands have a plan and they know what they want, what sound they want. We have a plan…but we don’t know what the plan is!
FRUK: That’s deep! So when you’re arranging a piece of music together, how does that work? Do you always start from one instrument and then build it out from there? Or is it different for each track?
Henry: It varies. We’re split up a bit at the moment…John and Will are living in the Midlands and Chris and I are living in London…so we tend to have to try and get something that’s sort of through composed, or at least a significant part of an arrangement, between either group of us. And then we bring it together to arrange further.
Chris: If you’re asking whether we have some long, tortured rehearsals where we all get angry…Yes!
Will: We’ve never had a punch up…but I’m sure that will come at some point…
FRUK: Do you all have similar tastes in what music you listen to outside of the band?
All (in unison): NO!
John: There are points where we meet and we cross-over…we all like The Punch Brothers for example…some of us listen to classical music and bits of jazz…some people listen to Metallica a lot…
Chris: Well only one of us!
John: Only me…
Henry: On the way back from a gig some late night, John and Chris were listening to some, like, hideous ‘gansgta rap’…that’s one genre of music I just cannot get my head around at all…
John: It wasn’t exactly gangsta rap!
Chris: It was a Jurassic 5 record! Which as I’m sure you’re aware is pretty ancient…
FRUK: So based on your experience of this band and what you’ve been doing for the last eighteen months, what do you think is the most important ingredient for a band to work? It’s clearly not about having aligned musical tastes! Is it about all having the same idea of where you’re trying to get to? Is it just the fact that you get on…?
Chris: It’s the willingness to do things properly, from the bottom up….the willingness to pick things apart…the willingness to spend the time working on little details. We all have that. We all want to do that…and then the different influences come in and flavour it.
Will: For example John and Chris worked on this rhythm thing with Henry…they spent like two hours on it…I know that sounds mad but that two hours can really pay off…
Henry: It was more than two hours! My first love is really string quartets…and to try and get into that kind of depth with this sort of music is something which is really exciting…
FRUK: You gave me a little teaser about an album earlier…what’s the plan?
John: The plan is not to release anything until it’s good enough. What we’ve found in our career so far is that we’ve got bookings and then we’ve gone ‘Oh god, we haven’t got the material’. After the festival season we’re drawing a line under that phase of our career and then just concentrate on writing a record that we really back. Then go out there and just throw everything behind it…which is hard to do if you don’t back what you do. I think that comes across in a performance…if you don’t quite back the music, the audience isn’t sure whether to go with you or not. Who knows what this record will sound like…there are little tasters of it that you’ll hear tonight…there will be fiddle effects, there will be singing, there will be bits of beat-box and stuff like that…we just don’t know.
FRUK: You’re all full-time musicians, which is not the easiest of career choices. Why do you do it?
Henry: It is the easiest career choice! It’s the clichéd love of music of course.
Will: I don’t think I could do anything else, I don’t think I’d be qualified for anything else! I don’t know whether I’m qualified for this…but it’s a passion.
Chris: We’ve mentioned now probably too many times, but three of us went to see The Punch Brothers at Queen Elizabeth Hall the other day. You see that…you see what it must be like to be in that, in the middle of it. It’s something so inspiring. I’ve got a fourteen month year old son and many times in the last couple of years I’ve thought ‘there’s got to be an easier way than this…’. Then you have experiences like that and you think well actually I couldn’t do anything else.
Will: And at certain gigs as well. You come off after a gig and go…‘This is why I do it’. A lot of people don’t necessarily know what goes on behind the scenes of a gig or a band…but when you do a really good gig it does make a big difference. We’ve done a couple of gigs already where we’ve really enjoyed it…Celtic connections was one we came off and thought ‘This is great’…
FRUK: Has that been the band’s high point so far?
Chris: It’s the biggest profile thing we’ve done, and as far as we’re aware we went down really well.
Will: They were all very surprised that we weren’t Scottish!
Chris: …which in this context we had to take as a massive complement! And we had some good festivals over the summer. Since we adopted our shirt and tie uniform we’ve found that…pauses
FRUK: You get paid more?
Chris: We get paid less! They assume we’re doing better than we are!
Henry: We tried briefcases and that was just over the top…!
FRUK: What’s next?
Chris: We’ve got the rest of the tour, which will take us up to the end of February. John and I are then off doing other things for a month or so…Will is doing a few solo gigs…but all the way through that we’ll be writing bits and sharing them around.
Will: This is a big focus for all of us. We’re really excited about it.”
Interview by: Rob Bridge
You can catch The Will Pound Band on the remaining dates of their tour:
February 23 – The Fisherman’s Arms, Hartlepool
February 24 – Firth Court, Sheffield University
March 6 – Wigan Parish Church, Wigan
This is part of an ongoing new series of photo / interview features on Folk Radio UK from Rob Bridge, a photographer, writer and film-maker specialising in folk, acoustic and Americana music. You can contact him on twitter@redwoodphotos