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Nic Jones

Nic Jones live
Photo: Ian Anderson
Nic Jones live
The morning after one of Nic Jones’s club appearances in North Hampshire this summer (a full house as usual) he was placed in front of a tape recorder and interrogated by Southern Rag’s probing investigative team of lan Anderson and Maggie Holland, well on the path to becoming Robin Days of the folk scene.

Despite Nic’s much publicised new year resolution of 1979 to give up being cynical, The Wild Man Of Folk (as he has been aptly dubbed by Melody Maker’s impish Colin Irwin) was well on form. His diffidence to the awe in which his music is held by mere mortals is also notorious – “All I’ve got is 4 0-levels, what else can I do?”, he had remarked the previous night. Who would believe from his throw-away description that The Halliard were a widely known and popular folk club group of the 1960s, or that The Noah’s Ark Trap is rated by many as one of the folk LPs of the ’70s?

Right now Nic is mulling over a number of tempting recording offers, so has nothing on the way in that line. However, at least his first four LPs (the latest being From The Devil To A Stranger) are available again now that most of Bill Leader’s records are re-issued through the new deal with Highway.

Probably the next opportunity to see him ‘live’ will be at Shackleford on November 5th when he appears with his good friend Tony Hall. On with the interview…

S.R. I remember reading somewhere that you started out like roughly 90% of the folk scene by becoming interested in guitar playing through the pop groups of the day.

NJ. Yeah, I used to have all the Shadows’ singles; I’d stick them on the record player, tune up to it and play Apache, Frightened City, Perfidia. Who did Perfidia?

S.R. The Ventures. Did you ever play in a schoolboy pop group?

NJ. Yeah, there was a group called The Talons.

S.R. When was that?

NJ. Jesus Christ, that was years ago! We played in one church youth club and we had a drummer who had a tom tom drum and one cymbal, about the size of a hubcap, a meccano stand, and then we had about one amplifier between three guitars and one pickup between three guitars, one solid guitar which was basically an acoustic guitar filled with concrete.

S.R. What guitar did you play in those days?

NJ. What did I have? I had a Selmer. I think it was one of those f-hole things, jazz-style guitar, really. When we first got together the only chords I knew were the chords to Perfidia, which were A minor, G, F and E. I had been playing a guitar for two years before I even knew about chords. Listening to the Shadows and things I’d learned solo notes, the tunes as notes, it had never occurred to me that there were actually chords. The existence of chords completely eluded me until I’d been playing for two years.

S.R. This is a shot in the dark, but does that have any effect on the way you played guitar subsequently?

NJ. Yeah, because I’ve always learned things by tuning up to the record player! I still do it; I put on the Martin Carthy records and then play to them. (laughs) I’ve played with the Eagles, I’ve played with Charlie Byrd!

S.R. How did you get from there to folk clubs?

NJ. What happened was that I was working in an office and there was a bloke there who was interested in folk music and he heard Bert Jansch’s record and knew I was interested in playing the guitar. I had given up the idea of playing electric guitar, because I hadn’t got enough money to buy one. There was a crucial stage, really, when I nearly bought a good quality amplifier and a good quality electric guitar but it meant tying myself up with a load of HP, and at the time I chickened out and didn’t buy them. But had I actually had the guts to stick my neck out on that HP deal I would have probably gone into electric things. The fact that I didn’t buy that meant that I carried on with the acoustic guitar.

Round about the same time I heard something like Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright by Peter, Paul & Mary; I thought what a great guitar sound they got, this clawhammer thing. A bloke at school was doing elementary clawhammer and he showed me how to do it, and I spent eight bloody weeks trying to get that stupid thumb thing going, driving myself potty trying to get that. Then I heard the first Bert Jansch record when I took a job in London, after leaving school, and I thought it was really good, so I bought that and tried to learn all of those. And for about a year and a half was just trying to be Bert Jansch, sitting on a chair with my legs crossed, looking down and trying to look moody and playing all the chords.

S.R. Had you actually started going to folk clubs by then?

NJ. Well, only when I saw he was on at Chelmsford Folk Club. That was what first took me to a folk club actually, to go and see him. And then John Renbourn was there as well, he was booked another week, so I went along, and then I thought I’d go along some of the other nights when there were different people. Hedy West was on and I went there and listened for about two songs and I was really embarrassed. I felt myself blushing because she was singing fol-de-riddle-i-do choruses, and I felt this was so stupid. I felt my face going all red and I had to get out of the room – I was feeling really awful, as though I was going to pass out with embarrassment standing listening to all this, so I got out of there and I only went when people like Paul Simon and John Renbourn were on.

From Southern Rag No.2 (the original title of fRoots), October 1979


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