Gigwise meets the new-folk pin-up...
Linda Aust

11:12 25th May 2010

Johnny Flynn might be new folk’s corduroy-clad posterboy, but he is by no means style over substance. With an emotion and tremor in his voice that could move even the most lethargic of hearts, Johnny is the antithesis of the boisterous rock star.

Meeting a humble and extremely well spoken artist, Gigwise gets the impression that Johnny is wise beyond his years. Choosing to conduct the interview in the picturesque surroundings of Bristol harbour, Johnny, who is a self-proclaimed ‘nature’s boy’, thrives on his surroundings and when quizzed about what inspires him, he wistfully replies that he “tries to stay open to things to the point where anything becomes inspiring, working to stay responsive and present enough so that everything can be stimulating”. 

This variety of inspiration is adequately translated to second album ‘Been Listening’, which discusses topics ranging from nature, betrayal, sail boats, the change of seasons, religion and hope. Now this might all sound a bit hippy-dippy, but don’t get the wrong idea, Johnny has his head screwed on the right way. 
He knows that fame is fleeting, but he also “worked hard to get to his privileged position”, which hasn’t always been an easy ride. Having been snubbed for being an ex-Winchester College posh boy by certain new musical publications, Johnny says  “he doesn’t mind being criticised for his music or his skills on the guitar” but what really bothers him is if “people attack [his] upbringing, cause that doesn’t have anything do to with anything.”

Moving on swiftly to a more pleasant topic, Gigwise ask Johnny about what he has been listening to recently and soon enough his eyes light up and a fountain of words gushes out. He currently loves “tonight’s supporting band Dry the River “. He’s also into “singer Anna Calvi, who is just great”. Moreover, he says adores “music from Peru and old jazz recordings”. He says that his “favourite song is Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come”.

Johnny then goes off into a lovingly elaborate 20-minute tangent about how all this music is amazing and how he recently got hold of this field recording of Kenyan village girls, who found this ’78 Kenny Rogers recording and who couldn’t believe that these sounds were made by a human-being and thought it’s a centaur. Johnny plainly loves stories about the power of music, because they simply reflect what it’s all about for him, too.    

Being an actor and painter on the side, Johnny Flynn states that he finds “drawing cathartic and meditative”. Being a multi-talented artist, he then goes on to say that his biggest musical weakness is that he “cannot discipline himself to practise enough and to master improvising on the trumpet”. Gigwise modestly suggests that he’s already mastered playing the guitar, violin and banjo, but that’s simply not good enough for Johnny. Always ready to excel, he finds that he “plays a lot of instruments but that his skills are limited.” Giswise, however, believe that his skills are absolutely remarkable already. 

When Gigwise catch up with Johnny again later, we find him perched on the low stage of Bristol’s Thekla blasting the first few chords of next single ‘Barnacled Warship’. It’s a magical moment that sees Johnny put his all into his music. Traditional violin harmonies mix with Johnny’s soulful voice and explosive Americana-style drumming. Next, Johnny displays a tender and utterly convincing rendition of ‘Lost and Found’ from the new album, which he dedicates to his mum. See no rock start pretensions there.

It is exactly his unaffected and pure character that should make Johnny Flynn the icon of a new folk movement currently spearheaded by the likes of Laura Marling and Mumford and Sons. Immersing himself so completely in traditional American blues and English folk music on the first album, Flynn expands his horizon to more dissonant song structures on follow-up ‘Been Listening’, which is partly due to the fact that he now plays with the drummer of Jeffrey Lewis Band fame.  

Being a life-long fan of Jeffrey Lewis Band and a dedicated follower of Langhorne Slim’s guitar wizardry, Johnny states that he “is simply blown away by their talent” and that attending their gigs “was the happiest he has ever been".   

Well for some it’s Langhorne Slim, but tonight it certainly is all about Johnny Flynn’s magically engaging lyrics and his moving, almost celebratory vocal delivery. ‘Been Listening’ should really propel him into folk-fame heaven, but if music doesn’t work out, Johnny’s already got a plan B. He tells Gigwise that he fantasises about “owning a farm, doing loads of gardening and growing fig trees and plum trees to make jam.” Hippy? Maybe. Happy? Definitely.  

Grab your copy of the Gigwise print magazine here.