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Jim Ghedi: Hymns For Ancient Lands

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Photo by Scott Hukins

Jim Ghedi's music speaks of a continuum that began before we were born and that will continue long after we're gone. It's a theme summarised by the title of his breakthrough second album, A Hymn For Ancient Land, released earlier this year following his 2015 debut, Home Is Where I Exist, Now To Live And Die.

Sheffield songwriter Ghedi takes traditional folk forms and deconstructs them, combining elements of drone from the DIY scene with the open tunings of his 12-string guitar.

I caught up with him by phone to talk about his full band tour, his new collaborative album and how a sense of place is essential to his otherworldly music.

There was a big expansion of the number of sounds on the recent album. What made you decide to introduce your own voice into the mix?

The main thing that did it was coming across an old poem. One of the albums, there's a song on it called 'Phoenix Works'. Someone in the village I grew up in gave me a little poem, which was done by a scythe worker who use to work in the works. It was a weird realisation that I'd probably be the only one who would do the song. It was out of my hands. It was just like, 'I have to make this a song, and in order for me to make this a song, I have to sing.' That was the turning point. I had to give respect to the words.

But before that, it was a gradual incorporation within sets, live performances that I was doing, of traditional folks songs into the instrumental guitar stuff.

What approach do you take to adapting those traditional songs into your own work? They seem to go through quite a process to make them yours.

I still don't class myself as a traditional folk singer or player, because it's a very different world to what I've come from and what I do. I've listened to traditional music for years, but I come from a very DIY, experimental background, and kind of stumbled upon a lot of traditional music through my family. It was through that I really started to indulge in traditional folk songs.

One of my good friends sums it up perfectly. He says you've got the folk ideas, but done through a much more modern, progressive, alternative way.

What were some of those early influences that were around when you were growing up?

My family was Irish, so there was a lot of traditional Irish tunes, and more commercial ones like The Dubliners as well. They always used to have get-togethers and record singing in the lounge, so there were a lot of songs I was listening to that were old tapes. Some of it is just hilarious, hearing all these old boys. There was a lot of material which put you on to other versions of songs.

There was The Watersons. They were a family from Hull. Incredible folk singers of the revivalist period, the strongest North of England group to bring a lot of these songs to revival. From then, Pentangle, and all these groups. You find little branches.

You mentioned that your sound comes from a more experimental background, with a drone-like use of strings. How do you approach arranging songs for the band?

The droniness is a huge thing, and I think that has come from my DIY background, growing up in the Audacious and playing with loads of different people. In terms of the arrangements, I had ideas of strings, I had specific ideas of melodies. The 'Phoenix Works' one particularly, there was this very specific melody that I had. I don't read or write music, so I'd record over the demos. But then you go into a studio with a band, with great musicians, so I always leave an open approach, to see what people can actually just do on the spot.

A friend of mine noticed a similarity to Indian raga music in the most recent album. Is that something you're conscious of?

That's come up a few times at gigs, and we had a review that we were just cracking up laughing about when we heard it. Something about the intro being a sitar. There's no sitar at all on the album.

I suppose subconsciously it's there because of the style of a lot of those guitar songs in open tunings. People like Jack Rose and various other people, who were just doing really beautiful guitar raga pieces. I grew up listening to Ravi Shankar and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, those Indian and sufi players, which again have that more raga style. But it was never a conscious thing. A lot of these songs came out of this idea of a place, and that goes into other genres.

I was going to ask about the sense of place in your music. All the track names on the new album have got a place name in them somewhere.

I came out by touring, I suppose. We were on a huge tour, me and a friend, up and down the British Isles. If you could give us a gig, we did it. So we ended up going absolutely everywhere. We got to see some amazing countryside and landscapes, and it just sparked off this idea of creating music that was inspired by landscapes.

The Welsh tune on there, 'Cwn Elan', was based around one of my best friend's family cottage. There are ones based around my area, that I grew up in. 'Sloade Lane' [is about] a blacksmith who was a really close friend to me and my family, and had loads of history, and obviously 'Home For Moss Valley' was about walking around Moss Valley. It was all linked by places that were given to me by friends and family.

What have you got coming up, in terms of recording or playing live?

I've got my last show of the solo album next Thursday in London, then me and a guitarist called Toby Hay are releasing a duo record together, and we're going to be doing 30 dates in October and November. Just two guitars, instrumental.

I've been trying to write the next record and I think I'm nearly there, aiming at recording it in January or February next year. It's taken a bit longer than expected but I think maybe that's a good thing. It's a very different angle. It's predominantly singing on the next record, so it's kind of done a flip-reverse. It's less pastoral and more into the gritty realities of what's been influencing me in the last year and a bit.

It's a question that all musicians get asked, but is that to do with the current political climate being a source of inspiration?

You can't ignore being affected by social and political change. I'm not one of these people who say, 'It's not a musician's job to be a voice of that.'

One of the first ideas was caused by social and political effects on me, so it was the start of a thread. I wanted to go into stories which were based on what was happening to common-day people, the turmoil and the problems which everyone's going through.

Learn more

Jim Ghedi will play the below gigs in the Sheffield area in the coming weeks. His collaborative album with Toby Hay, The Hawksworth Grove Sessions: Duets For 6 & 12 String Guitar, is out on 12 October.

14 October 2018 - Old House Museum, Bakewell
23 October 2018 - The Hubs, Sheffield (supporting Lankum)
23 November 2018 - Regather, Sheffield
24 November 2018 - Great Longstone Village Hall
28 November 2018 - Spinning Discs, Sheffield (in-store)

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