Folk Life: Jonathan Day – Vagabond from the Blue Sky
by ALEX GALLACHER, FolkRadio
I’ve been a fan of Jonathan Day’s music since he sent his album ‘Carved in Bone’. He’s a very keen traveller and always seems to be off on some journey, so much so that I find it impossible to seperate his travels from his music as they feed each other. After hearing a recording he did for BBC Radio 4′s Listening Project (included below) on which he talked about travelling with his daughter Niimi I thought an article for our ‘Folk Life’ series would be perfect and he very kindly obliged. So here he is, in his own words. I’ve included some recent photos from his American Tour & Eastern travels…
Travelling with Music
There’s something magical about travelling with music. Perhaps because music is itself the closest thing we have to magic – I don’t mean sleight of hand or techno-marvels but a real approach to transcendance and communion. I know music can also be trite, twisted, propagandist – even banal, but sometimes I see a certain look in someone’s eye and I know we are really communicating. All those necessary barriers we put up to protect ourselves are down for as long as the music lasts. Real communion – being to being, deep, important, amazing. We pass the songs through the fire to renew them: in that space we can renew oursleves, our connection, our humanity. Even just travelling with my guitar changes the way people respond – they open up somehow, let you into their lives with a nervous smile.
The road for me is a place of blood harmony – travelling is written onto my bones. I was conceived in a derelict church, on land left wild after its ruination by Roman iron mines. My mother was 18 with no intention of making me. My grandmother, in turn, bore her at 17, fathered by a half-Irish sailor who died near Trinidad when my mother was three. My great grandmother was the daughter of a displaced Welsh coal-miner who married my great grandfather, a horse trainer in a circus, after he fed sandwiches to her starving children. My childhood amongst these people set the context for my work.
I learned early on that the Business of music was not the road for me. Years ago I played a festival in a forest in Armagh. We headlined the Friday night to an audience who were just about visible behind crash barriers and security. It was enjoyable and they were kind and appreciative. After the gig, in the early hours I sat on a forest picnic table across from Ian Archer, a lovely songwriter. We swopped songs in the darkness, with the first blue hint of dawn in the sky. The following evening I played music with three people I’d just met, in a camper van. The profoundity of those songs is still with me – rare and beautiful moments and so much more precious, in a way, than trying to reach out across that dark gulf to the people whose faces are only hinted at from the high stage.
Strung out on the salt flats – Bonneville, Utah
So I took a narrow way, inspired a lot by Woody Guthrie – his rambling life seemed to me a better way to live. Critic Catherine van Ruhland (Greenbelt Festival) described my music at the time, accurately, as “Long nights with sages, poets and painters and long journeys wandering around Europe playing its streets and cafes are here held in song. His work takes its heart from time, silence and the mad, mundane and quietly beautiful vision of those who share the road.”
After many years travelling I guess I listened to Jack Kerouac, when he said “One day we have to get somewhere and do something”. I washed up in Shropshire. I like the quiet, the animals and the trees. There’s something important in the curve of a bird’s wing as it cuts the wind and the jumbled stones which break the earth on a round hill’s top. There are intuitions which shimmer and call in the buzzard’s mewl or the fox’s flash.
Living in a variety of semi-derelict barns and forest lodges I wrote songs and literally played them into the bright forest mornings. It was blissful. A couple of wonderful musicians – Joe Broughton and Kevin Dempsey – encouraged me to record some of the songs. That became Carved in Bone – they were instrumental in bringing that album to life and I’m deeply thankful to them.
Carved in Bone brought new opportunities and I felt really interested again to head out onto the road. Shropshire – and wilderness in general – remains a very necessary foil to the hectic, brilliantly coloured roads I travel.
Bear wearing Converse, Old Watermill, North Carolina