The Lost Folk Tapes interview Part 2

In Part one of this interview for The Lost Folk Tapes, Nigel Spencer interviewed Andy Roberts about his early days and the Cornish Folk scene.

Part 2 Continues….

Nigel Spencer asked:

– Were you primarily doing your own material? Were you influenced at all by traditional song or by any particular songwriters?

Andy Roberts replies:

I was writing some of my own material right from the start and I knew I had one or two good songs, but at first it always seemed like the latest song was supposed to be that much better than everything that went before, so I was ditching them as fast as I was writing them, which wasn’t all that fast anyway! I don’t think I’d ever write anything that sounds recognisably like Loudon Wainwright, although I admire the songwriting tremendously and learned dozens of those songs as covers. Roy Harper on the other hand, not being American and coming out of the earlier UK contemporary folk tradition, has a style that I relate to easily and there have been times when I worried the influence might be just a bit too strong in some of my own songs. It’s hard for me to know what my own style sounds like in my own ears, which are just too close to hear properly, I suspect. So I rely on my peers to let me know whether or not there is any such thing.

It’s interesting that that back in those days there was a very clear line between traditional and contemporary folk music. If you introduced a song by saying “This is a traditional song that I wrote” it would get a laugh because that was a contradiction in terms, almost a fraud. You could make your own interpretation of a folk song, alter the lyrics and the tune a bit, but it was supposed to be something that had been handed down through the oral tradition. This has all changed now, with people like Kate Rusby and many others writing completely new and original songs that are very much in the traditional style. I see this as a good thing, and I wrote a few traditional sounding folk songs myself in the last couple of years – The Rowan Tree, The Wreckers Prayer and The Last Nail perhaps.

– Did you have any involvement with the scene around COB, the Famous Jug Band etc at the start of the 70s?

Not directly, by the time the “New Folk Cottage” had moved from Mitchell to the back of the Swan Inn in Truro, few of them were still around. Whispering Mick was a regular character, and John The Fish kept us up to date with what Wizz Jones was up to, occasionally luring Pete Berryman or Ralph McTell to do a surprise guest spot

– Did you mainly play in Cornwall before your Parisian busking days or did you get around a bit?

Yes, mainly Cornwall. I hitch hiked with a student friend and played at Keele University and did a little bit of busking in Plymouth and Cardiff. That’s what gave me the confidence to head off to Europe with no other means of support at such a young age.

– What took you to Paris? What was that scene like?

Well, I had been in Amsterdam for a few weeks, busking in a shopping arcade there. It was hard going because I kept being interrupted by Hare Krishna, by the Children of God, by some guy with a very loud barrel organ and all sorts of crazy things taking place in the street there. Then another musician came up to me and asked if I’d been moved on by the cops at all. I hadn’t, apparently I’d been lucky. A second opinion verified that the Amsterdam police had powers to confiscate your guitar, and they used it. The advice was to go to Paris and play in the Metro, where the police might move you on more often, but you always get to keep your guitar and the money. So after an overnight stop in Rotterdam and a very slow hitchhiking day I caught a train for the last hundred kilometres and arrived in Paris. I loved it. On arriving I set up in the first busy Metro tunnel I came across and made enough in a couple of hours to get a hotel room for the night. Much more comfortable than Vondel Park! So here, instead of consuming my meagre savings, I was accumulating, so I stayed right where I was, not having ventured very far from the Gare du Nord. For that reason, I led a strange solitary busking life for several months before linking up with the other English speaking buskers who gravitated around the Cafe des Arts in the Latin Quarter, and then later the famous Cafe le Mazet.