Interview with Dave Webber for Living Tradition
I have never really spent much time worrying about the preservation of the repertoire or the styles of our traditional music as all of that is now better recorded than ever before. But what has concerned me for some time is who will make the music live in performance. The folk music world was beginning to look like a bastion of grey voters worrying about how to interest and engage younger people. Over recent years I have realised that there was an emerging generation of highly talented young people who were every bit as impassioned and committed to the music as we ever were and some even more so.
I first saw Jim Causley performing at the National Folk Festival as part of an acapella trio, Devils Interval. I knew then that Jim with his fellow performers Lauren McCormack and Emily Portman were going to be substantial. They left me with a very warm sense of a generation who have already started to take up the baton and run.
D: What music was around at home in Devon when you were a child?
J: I come from quite a singy family not particularly musical but my Mum and Dad Sing quite a bit. they go to Folk Clubs a lot so I got introduced to singing that way and I sang a lot at school. I joined the village church choir when I was about seven and I sang in a gospel choir. Later on I sang in a local folk choir (co-ordinated by The Wren Trust) and so singing has always been an important thing.
My village has quite a strong tradition of wassailing and we always sang the wassail song every year. I never thought of that as folk music but now I know what folk music is, it is quite clear. So that would probably be the first thing I remember. After that I remember going to local folk clubs.
We live quite close to a few people that are good traditional singers who have learned their songs from their families. They are not well known people but they are good. There is a farmers wife that is a real traditional singer without a doubt. I dont think shes been recorded and theres a few more people like her. I still didnt think about it as folk though it was just singing. Music just became part of my life, all through school and then at college where I studied performing arts for two years. Then I went on to do a Jazz Course. But I was still quite into folk music at that time and, although I did like learning about Jazz, I never got into it that much. Some of the people on the course used to tease me about Folk Music but it didnt bother me. It was someone on that course that told me there was a Folk Music course up North, you should do that. That was how I wound up doing the, course in Newcastle.
The course is not as strictly about traditional music as people think. I suppose what I had been doing before was just singing English traditional songs but didnt really think about where they had come from. The course has made me more aware of where I have come from because when you are living somewhere you dont really see it until you move away. Coming to an area like the north east has been quite an education in itself, going to the folk clubs hearing all the dialect songs and there is such a strong sense of identity for the people in this region.
D There is a big currency in Celtic music these days and English music seems only a small part of what is out there out there. How do you feel about all that
J: I spend time with a lot of people who are only interested in Celtic music and sometimes I feel that I am in the minority. English music gets a raw deal and we have had to stand up for it. People are always surprised when they discover there is so much English music out there. Yet when I am at home and I hang around with the Dartmoor Pixie Band and local singers it is all certainly English and I dont think anything about it.
D: So do you think thats it for you, the life of a professional musician from here on?
J: I used to think that singing was something there was no chance of doing for a living. But after this nomination and the course I think there is a slight chance I might make it work. Not sure how yet, but yes. I really like the clubs, you get the occasional bad one but I love it when you can have a good banter with the audience. Or you have a chorus song and you get a whole wave of harmony and sound coming back at you. I love that. I am also working as part of Devil's Interval a threepart harmony acapella group and we are starting to do quite well at the moment for festival bookings. We really want to make a go of it as well as working on our own. Last year Lauren (McCormack), Emily (Portman) and I were very lucky that Waterson:Carthy asked us to join them on stage in their Frost and Fire tour. That has resulted in us touring with them again in 2005. Our lecturers are a bit worried that it will interfere with our course work but you can't turn that offer down can you?
- Well its the only thing Im any good at, singing and playing. I am not particularly academic or anything like that. Its either that or go back to being a waiter again
D: Is the future scary?
J: Oh yes scary and exciting.
D: So, there it was an evening spent in the company of a man with years on his side and a fire in his heart about the music, and talent to do something about it. Without doubt Jim has a good future ahead of him both as a solo artist and also with Lauren and Emily in Devil's Interval and I think in may other lineups yet to come.
And, the real icing on the cake? He loves English Music.