I’d seen Sam Kelly and The Lost Boys at Gate to Southwell Festival last year and been very impressed with both performance and material. That had been one of the first gigs the Lost Boys band had played, Sam’s original trio (Sam, Jamie Francis and Evan Carson) plus 2 musicians that had joined them for the recording of the Lost Boys album, Ciaran Algar and Toby Shaer. The Lost Boys have now swelled to a 7 piece line-up with Graham Coe and Archie Churchill-Moss and have produced a second album, Pretty Peggy, that’s due for release on October 6th. Sam is justifiably excited and couldn’t wait to talk about it.
So, his starter for 10, what’s the mix of songs on Pretty Peggy, are they mainly traditional?
I think it’s about 80% traditional songs and then there’s a few covers and a couple of originals as well. There’s quite a lot of outside influence in it. One of the songs I learnt from Andy Irvine and one of the songs has a Chris Wood tune in it. He was very kind and helped us out with it. A lot of outside contributors but the bulk of it is the Lost Boys sound that we’ve got now. There’s no one arranger, everyone puts their bit in, then we collate the whole thing together. So quite a mixture on there, but it’s all tied together by this common thread of sound. Hopefully.
Is the traditional material things you particularly pick out yourself or is it a band, collective operation?
With the Pretty Peggy album, it is mainly mine and Jamie’s arrangements and choices of traditional songs. And that’s because as the band is still new, the only way we could do it was by people putting things on the table electronically. We couldn’t all sit in a room together, which would be the ideal way to do it and the way we’re going to do it going forward – all of us in the room, arranging. But, yes, with this album it’s mainly me and Jamie who have found the songs or written the songs. There are all sorts of ways the songs were found. Some I found looking through the library in Cecil Sharp House, some I’ve heard other singers sing, and some I just randomly come across online. So, it’s quite a mixture of threads leading to the traditional stuff.
You have a cello in the band played by Graham Coe. They’re getting more popular, but still not a common folk instrument. How did that come about?
We saw Graham playing a few years back. The trio, me Jamie and Evan, were on the same bill as Graham’s duo, his main project, with his girlfriend Emily. They’re an Americana acoustic duo called The Jellyman’s Daughter (reviewed here). His cello playing… I’d just not seen anything like it, this incredible rhythmic choppy bowing which, with a cello, is so powerful and his riff playing was just brilliant. After that, I just wanted to get Graham in the band and therefore the cello. Like with the other guys, it turns out he’s incredible on quite a few instruments, he’s an amazing piano player and guitarist as well. So, very often, it’s a case of trying to decide what instruments each are going to play on each song. And that’s really great because when you’re writing songs you can think, what instruments do we need on this? You’re not thinking, right, now we need a banjo part, now a cello part, you’re not having to force it to fit your lineup. It can be good, sometimes, to keep things consistent, but it’s nice to have the freedom to do other stuff as well.
You were saying that, initially, you have to cooperate electronically, at what point do you get together?
Honestly, it’s usually at times like this, where we’ve got a festival booking. We try to stay as long as we can at each of the festivals we play at. If you’ve got a day at a festival before your sound check, you can sit down and practise, run through some of the songs and inevitably it turns into… well someone will just start jamming. So, it turns into a big jam, which occasionally turns into a song. It’s quite an organic process at the moment, there’s no structured rehearsals or anything, so, usually when people add their bit to a song it’s in this kind of an environment, at a festival or before a gig.
It’s a nice environment in which to do it.
For sure, everyone’s thinking creatively and it’s definitely a good space to be in.
What about the actual recording? Does that still have to be done by individuals as and when they can?
Well, one of the reasons why we’re quite proud of this new album is because we did it in a different way to how we recorded before. This one we did in an amazing studio called Cube Recordings. I do some part-time work for them so we managed to get a good deal on credit, I’m like paying them monthly for the next 27 months, that sort of thing. It’ll probably turn out to be years, to be honest, but then the student loan will start coming out as well! One of the amazing things about that studio is they have accommodation. It’s in the middle of nowhere in Cornwall, near Truro, and they have a lovely cottage just next to the studio. So, we would record until 3, 4 o’clock in the morning, we’re all really productive late at night. It was all just very relaxed. We’d got to get the album finished by the end of 12 days, but, that was so much longer than we’ve ever had before. Our first EP, we recorded 3 tracks in 2 days, the second EP we had 5 days for 5 tracks. So, although this was 12 days for 12 tracks, it takes exponentially less time, because of the time it takes setting up, getting the mics set right. Once you’ve got all that setup you can record pretty quickly. It was just lovely this time to have everyone there. We could just say, Graham, why don’t you just come over and try doing this on the cello? Rather than emailing, or even just coming for 2 days and we’d only have Graham for those 2 days. So, there was a lot more experimenting going on which, I think, really helped the sound of the album develop.
How’s your Cornish coming along?
I’m making progress slowly. We’re doing this thing later this year at Looe Festival, The Big Cornish Sing, where we’re trying to get 4000 people on the beach to sing one of our songs in Cornish. We just did this tutorial video, you can find it online on the Looe Festival page. We managed to get loads of famous people to read out one line from the song. We’ve got Game of Thrones actors, Martin Clunes, in his Doc Martin guise starts it off, it’s really cool to be part of that. We’ll see how it goes, it’ll probably be just a cacophony of random vowels and syllables. But it’ll be good fun.
They have an amazing team there (at Looe Festival), they have to make it work because the festival is all in the town, really tiny little back streets, the main stage is on the beach. It’s a logistical wonder that they manage to get a festival on at all, but they do such a good job of it. It’s a great festival, they have a great variety of music, it’s not a folk festival. Four or five years ago they had The Darkness and I wish I’d seen them. The Darkness were my favourite band when I was growing up and were the reason I wanted to play the guitar. Before that, I played bodhráns and melodeons, my grandad’s instruments. When The Darkness album, Permission to Land, came out it had some fabulous guitar riffs in it and that’s what made me want to get a £20 guitar from Argos. That first guitar is so important, I’ve still got it, still play it.
What’s the status of The Changing Room now?
We’re having a little break from touring at the moment for various reasons but we’re definitely still working on recording stuff. There’s a couple of projects we’re working on. With The Changing Room, I was really full on for like a couple of years which resulted in 2 albums that we’re really proud of. But just for this year, I wanted to take a little bit of a back step with it. It’s definitely still going but there were a couple of other things I wanted to do. I produced an album earlier this year for a folk project called Company of Players, a supergroup of folk musicians, well young, up and coming folk musicians. They were writing songs inspired by Shakespeare’s work. And I’ve never done anything like that before. We recorded that at Cube as well. I’m really proud of that album, it’s coming out early next year. I’ve got to the stage where there are quite a few other things going on, so it’s a matter of trying to manage my time, so I can do each thing well and not burn out, I guess.
Are you still living in Cornwall?
I live in Looe, been there for the last 2 years. Me and Jamie, the banjo player from the band, live there. We’re the kind of people who’ve lived in about 6 different places since Uni. Living in Looe was because of The Changing Room, but we’re actually moving to Bristol next week. Moving on to the next place. It turns out that Cornwall’s not the best place for a touring musician to live. But I think you’ve got to move there to know that.
When you start to work on an album, the time scale is such, it must seem like a very distant goal.
Well, I’ve been working on the songs for this album since late 2015. So, from the very first demos on my computer to the actual finished song is about 2 years. It does feel to me like a very long process and when I think about it now, I’m sort of reliving those feelings of this being like a completely distant thing, we’d just got the first album out, and now, we’ve, effectively, got the second album out. And we’ve done 3 live sessions for Radio 2, a live session for Radio 3, and we’ve played on Radio 4 as well.
All that in 2 years, it’s called success.
Sam’s response to that comment wasn’t what I expected. The sound on the recording is sort of ‘mmmmm’. But it led him to think even further back in time before there was a ‘Sam Kelly, folk singer’
Especially for me, Jamie and Evan, we all went to Uni together. Me and Jamie sitting down in our crappy rooms together trying to write songs, with mouse poison down on the floor.
Where was this?
Sussex. We were all BIMM students, it’s now the British and Irish Institute of Modern Music but then it was the Brighton Institute of Modern Music. It’s since expanded to Bristol, Manchester (and London, Dublin, Berlin and Birmingham). It’s like a modern music college, but nobody there was at all into folk music. Me and Jamie had no choice but to play together because we were the only ones who were interested. Jamie wasn’t a banjo player back then and Evan wasn’t a bodhrán player. He was a prog metal drummer and Jamie was an amazing fingerstyle blues guitar player. I was in this duo with another guy from Uni. I met Jamie and saw him at a few open mics and said to the other guy in the duo, ‘we just gotta get this guy Jamie into the band, he’s an amazing guitar player, gotta get him in the band’. But we were both playing guitar already, we had two guitars. We met Jamie at the pub and he said, ‘Well I’ve just bought this crappy old banjo, I can try and learn it’. We had our first gig at the Bedford in London the next weekend and by then Jamie had become this amazing banjo player, he’d just learnt all the songs. It was ridiculous. After that, Jamie and I started doing our own stuff. Evan was playing in Jamie’s other band. So I thought, may as well get him in, make it easier logistically. The first time I went round there, I took my bodhrán and he had a go on it. I said totally learn it and check out this guy Cormac Byrne, who does Seth’s percussion. Again, Evan did the same thing as Jamie, went away and a few weeks later he was great on bodhrán, much better than I was. And it all just went on from there. Jamie started playing less and less guitar and more and more banjo until he now calls himself a banjo player, and not a guitarist, which seems mad to me. Yeah, it’s all good fun.
The conversation had to stop there. Sam had finished his tea and the digestive biscuit packet was empty.
Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys Tour
11-14/10 COSTA DEL FOLK, PORTUGAL
27/11 KINGSKERSWELL Parish Church
28/11 NORWICH Arts Centre
29/11 LONDON Cecil Sharp House
30/11 NEW MILTON Forest Arts Centre
01/12 STAMFORD Arts Centre
02/12 KINGS SOMBORNE Hall
05/12 SHOREHAM BY SEA Ropetackle Centre
06/12 BIDDULPH Up in Arms
07/12 SHEFFIELD The Greystones
Pretty Peggy is out on the 6th October and available to pre-order now – http://smarturl.it/8j4qah