The latest CHRIS WOOD release, So Much To Defend, sees the uncompromising songwriter taking further steps away from the folk tag of which we’ve become a little too familiar, and he’s becoming a little bored of hearing. Wood is a contemporary songwriter with a unique vision of his subject matter. He helps us understand the characters in his work by highlighting their circumstances through themes familiar to us all. Social injustice, the struggles of the everyday, love, light and our condition, and our place in it all.
Wood is a prolific teller of stories, and a gifted instrumentalist with a foot firmly in roots music and the history of gathered songs, and passed down tales and a keen eye on the times. Though a two-time winner of the BBC Radio 2 Folk award, and having his name for many years identified with the world of folk through his recording of many traditional songs during the earlier part of his career, his recent releases show a side that’s reveals him to be keen to slip away from the shackles of what he calls ‘the f-word’.
Chris, you have a great gift for talking about contemporary themes, but from a traditional folk storytelling position, and that’s really to the fore with this new record.
It’s funny isn’t it… I’ve met a few people lately whose entry point has been So Much To Defend and they’re saying ‘What’s all this folk thing?, Why have people got you down as a folkie?’ They haven’t heard the old stuff, they just say I’m writing songs, this is current songwriting, you know?
I guess it’s a difficult one… it’s the Brits. The Americans have totally got their head around the concept of the songwriter. They wouldn’t call Neil Young a folkie, whereas we probably would, because we haven’t yet got our heads round that songwriter slot. Look at Billy Bragg, it’s the same sort of thing. When he brought out that Mr Love & Justice album, that’s a real soulboy album – they’re soul songs – yet the British music public have still got him down as an old agit-punk and there’s nothing he can do about it.
You have a unique close sound on your recordings – there’s always a great live sound held in the voice and the guitar. It’s different somehow, to so many other singer-songwriters we see doing the rounds – its deeper, warmer and wider.
I work really hard with sound engineers to get the sound right. So many of them see an amp and just hang an SM57 over it and assume that’ll do. They see a bloke going up to sing so they just roll all the bottom end out of the voice because that’s just what they’ve always done. It’s their go-to position so often. But the thing is that, what I’m doing is just not like what everyone else is doing… everything I do is driven by the sound. The guitar I play and the way I play it, and the words I use are very often driven by their sound, it’s not just the meaning. When people write reviews of the albums, they completely fixate on the meaning of the lyrics, because they’re people of letters, they use words, but they don’t ever seem to pick up on the musicality of the words and the way there’s all sorts of internal rhythms, it’s not just their meaning, it’s their sound. It has to sound like me too, that’s the only way it’s going to work. I don’t want to sound like me pretending to be someone else.
You write often of truth, of justice and of injustice, and the current world malaise. This government and seven years of austerity must have given you plenty of scope for content.
Don’t mistake political governance for power. It’s bigger than governments. Political governments don’t have power. Governments don’t have control of anything. It’s all about the money. The money’s using algorithms to manipulate us, and they’re algorithms over which we are completely powerless. The money is the power.
Maybe there’s a change coming, a new energy maybe? We have a whole generation who are beginning to believe in that change. I see younger people in the crowd at your gigs these days. Do you think there’s a new energy coming forward?
Yeh, well for a while I was writing for older people, but I’m kind of switching slightly, I think. What I write about, stuff like truth and wisdom, I feel like I’m trying to impart that for a younger generation now. My kids are in their 20s, and I’ve been round the block a couple of times, so I’m trying to offload some of that knowledge, I guess. Things I’ve seen, found and heard. And I want to make all that available to them.
My daughters are of a similar age, I see that change, and I find that it’s that driven by their age, and the fact they’re more likely to listen, and to have those ‘bigger’ conversations. I think that’s coming through in this most recent album, and these new songs.
Yeh, I think they realise that the stuff that needs be talked about is stuff that’s actually going to affect them. I mean, Brexit is such a perfect example of that. It’s a massive generalisation but the stats are in. The old voted against the young. I know an old guy, up at the allotments who actually said ‘Who cares how it all turns out? I won’t be here anyway’. And you’re right, increasingly now, I am finding younger people in my audiences. And they need to know, it needs to be packaged for them, so that we let them see clearly what’s going on… the other reason they’ve got an interest is because in Jeremy Corbyn they can see something different, something that might just be worth getting behind and putting their faith in, in a way that until he came along, there really was nothing. Like we said, it’s the algorithms that are running the show. Say whatever you like about Jeremy, he’s not an algorithm… let’s hope. If only just for a change. Let’s hope that there is something there, and that he’s not a man of straw. Let’s just see how it turns out. Fucking hell, we’ve had our go round and we’ve made a piss poor job it, haven’t we really? If there’s anything I’ve learnt, I’m happy to pass it on, and I’ll pass it on through song because that’s how I do it most clearly, but the songs aren’t for me, they’re for kids who want something a bit more real than X Factor, something more substantial.
So Much To Defend is out now via RUF.
Chris Wood plays Philharmonic Music Room on 24th January 2018.