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Ted Barnes - Interview

  by Anthony Strutt

published: 16 / 1 / 2003

Ted Barnes - Interview


Ted Barnes has played upon and worked as a co-writer on all three albums of Beth Orton's albums. At the launch party to promote his own new album 'Short Scenes', he talks to Anthony Strutt

Ted Barnes is Beth Orton’s regular guitarist. He has played guitar upon and worked as a co-writer on all her three albums, ‘Trailer Park’ (1996), ‘Central Reservation’ (1999) and ‘Daybreaker’ (2002). Ted has just put out his first solo album ‘Short Scenes’ on Narwhal Records. It is largely instrumental and Ted doesn’t sing at all, but it features guest vocals on two tracks by former Sunhouse vocalist Gavin Clarke. Beth also puts in an appearance on ‘Ted’s Waltz’, a different version of a song which also appeared on ‘Daybreaker’. We caught up with Ted at the rammed launch party for ‘Short Scenes’ at the Bush Hall in London in early December of last year. PB : The first time that I became aware of you was when I first saw Beth Orton in 1996 around about the time of her first single, the one sided 'Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine'. I saw you then playing support slots to Mark Eitzel at the Bloomsbury Theatre and Tindersticks at Her Majesty's Theatre. They were for all the acts on the bill stunning shows. Had you been working with Beth for long at that time ? TB : No, those were some of the first live shows that we did. Before that we had just recorded the album, but it hadn’t come out yet. Al (Ali Friend, who is Beth’s double bassist , and who until recently was a member of the now disbanded Red Snapper-Ed), me and Beth wrote the first album together. PB: Which was 'Trailer Park'? TB : Yeah. We made our first steps to playing live with those huge Tindersticks shows which were a bit daunting. PB: ‘Trailer Park’ originally had a different title, but it got changed, didn’t it ? TB : It was 'Winnebago'. Beth wanted to call it 'Winnebago' but she had a copyright problem and they wouldn't let her do it ,so she changed it to 'Trailer Park'. PB: Up until to that stage, Beth had done a few guest slots and had recorded with William Orbit . What about you ? Had you been involved with music before that because even then you were a good guitar player? TB: I was a bouzouki (mandolin type stringed instrument) player for years. I also started playing guitar when I was a kid, but but not in a serious way at all and then I discovered Irish music when I was 17 and I dived into that. I had my own band up and running which was called Junction which did Irish cross over stuff . We had limited success but it was good. We put 4 albums out, off our own back, but it was never my career. When I came to London, 12 or 13 years ago, I came as an instrument maker , so I learnt how to build guitars for 4 years. It was during that time that I started playing on the Irish circuit. I met Al from Red Snapper and we became friends. One thing lead to another. I sort of met Beth through Ally really, and we started playing together, and then she told me that she had an album deal, and asked if I wanted to play on it and write on it There is a famous story that I was drunk in a bar once . She was trying to get Bert Jansch to play guitar , but I drunkenly told her "Why do you want him? I can play the guitar” , which was a bit egotistical of me. I just bluffed it though. PB: I think you have done pretty well . You are the only member of Beth's original band that I still recognise. TB : No, the band that is touring this album 'Daybreaker ' is actually the band from ‘Trailer Park’. There has never been a time when we could tour together though until now because Al has always had Red Snapper commitments. I have been the one there throughout. PB: How would you describe your solo album ' Short Scenes’, as it doesn't fit in with anything else really ? TB: I don't know. I just call it Stupid Sad Clown Music. I have a bit of an obsession with clowns. It's very bittersweet. It’s also very cinematic. A friend of mine said recently that it bridged the gap between chill out dance music and classical music which he felt was great because at last he has this record to put on, last thing at night, which is a chill out record that isn't classical driven. It's the middle ground. PB: Why did you take so long to do a solo album ? Had you built up a pile of material over a period of time? TB : It's just been really hard because Beth's been a full time commitment for me, so making this album had to be squeezed in. When I started to think about first doing the record, it was at the end of ‘Central Reservation’. I wanted to do something that was me on my own. I met Oisin Lunny who is the son of my hero, Donald Lunny (Famous Irish folk musician-Ed). It was was the first time that I rang someone up and was able to say "I have got this and I have got this”. We sat down and wrote this piece of music together. I was really happy with it and I thought then that maybe I could do some more solo material Nigel at Narwhal, who put the record out, then heard 3 songs and said that if I wanted to do an album, then he would release it PB: The album is very Lo Fi and also very folk. Is that a bag you want it stuck in? TB : Yeah, I don't mind. I love folk music. Folk music gets a hard time. It is definitely Lo Fi as well. I recorded it on an 8 track in a room. It was one of the reasons I stalled putting it out at first because I thought it sounded too rough. The hilarious thing was that Rough Trade Records heard it and told me that it was a very polished record, which completely threw me. PB: Were you friends with Beth for a long time before the record deal? TB : No, not really. I was more friends with Ali . She was doing a demo and Red Snapper were playing on that and Ali told her that he was mates with a mandolin player. He got me down to the studio and I played on it. We got on well, but I didn't see  her for a year It was then that we saw each other at the Snapper gig and she told me that she had just got signed and asked me to come and write with her. Everything sort of went from there. PB: Has 'Daybreaker' got good reviews? TB I think it has got mixed reviews. I think ¾ of them were really good. ¼ didn't get it, as ever. PB: I got it instantly and I got 'Trailer Park instantly. The only one I had a problem with was 'Central Reservation' but after a few plays I got it. TB : I can understand that. 'Central Reservation' felt musically safer, but the song writing was also stronger, so there was more of a push and shove element to it. Beth thinks that these 3 albums are like a trilogy, so ,if it is, then 'Daybreaker' feels like the coming together of both of those worlds. PB When you sit down with Beth now to work, is it the same as it always has been ? Do you sit down and just throw ideas at one another ? TB : It’s evolved on a lot from the first album. She came to us with the songs, which were all based around the acoustic guitar. Beth plays the guitar in a very simple way. They were all 3 chord songs. We just added more music to it and did what she describes as adding more internal colours . She can handle all that now, and she now hands songs to us finished. There are songs that I have written chords to, and for which she will come in and add the top line. There are ones too where we will sit in a room and bash out ideas together, so it varies. It is all very healthy at the moment. It is great. We were on tour and we had a day off in Birmingham recently and so we sat in our hotel room and wrote 3 songs on the spot. PB: How did Lincoln, Redsnapper and Sunhouse get involved in ‘Short Scenes’ ? Are they all friends? TB: Ally has been a friend for ages. Dave, Lincoln’s guitarist, has been a long time friend of mine as well. I just wanted a brass section on it and Lincoln are one of my favourite bands, so I asked them and they came down and played on it. In the case of the Sunhouse thing I just love Gavin’s voice. I love ‘Something for the Weekend’, their album. PB: I don't know Sunhouse. TB : They came out at the same time as ‘Trailer Park’ , but split up quickly. I tried to track Gavin down for years actually. I'm just a frustrated songwriter. I had written 'Glass Harmonica' for this album and I could hear a vocal line ,but I didn't want to sing it myself. PB: How many tracks on the album have you sang on ? There is not many. TB : I didn’t sing on any of the tracks. Two are are Gavin’s and one is Beth’s. I finally managed to track Gavin down and sent him a tape and he loved it and so he came down and sang it. PB: Would you like to sing? TB : Not hugely. I think it is a good thing to come to terms with what you can do and can't do. I struggle with lyric writing. If I could string along a lyric, I would give it a go. I haven't got it in me though and I love working with people who I respect and who do. PB: 'Daydreamer' features Ryan Adams and Johnny Marr as well. TB : They are both on it. PB: How did that work out ? TB : On both those occasions, I wasn't around. Ryan came in very late on in the making of the album. I didn't even meet him. Johnny was the opposite. He happened very early on at the end of 'Central Reservation'. We met in L.A. at a gig we were doing and he and Beth started knocking out some songs . When Beth came back to England ,she went up to Johnny's house up North and they started writing together, and then for one reason and another things didn’t work out, and so she came back and used the original band. PB: To go back to what you said earlier about the folk and cinematic background of “Short Stories’, do you think there is now a bigger audience for non pop music ? Do you think tastes are changing ? TB : I guess so. I think the problem is finding something to hang it on to. Everyone wants something to hang it on to. The great thing is having something like that ‘Amelie’ soundtrack and then suddenly Yann Tiersen can play to bigger audiences because of the success of that film. It is a struggle to get heard though. The dance world has made it a bit more healthy because there a lot of people in that world and the chill out scene, but I don't know if the audience is really any bigger. PB: Are the three songs on ‘Short Scenes’ songs you wanted to exorcise? Did you want them out of your system? TB : I wanted something to break up the album. I wanted some vocals. I wanted Beth to sing on it. PB: Is ‘Ted’s Waltz’, her song on it, the same version as the one that appears on ‘Daybreaker’ ? TB : No, it is completely different. The cover of 'So Far Away', (The original version was recorded by the Hollies-Ed) which Gavin does, I really wanted to do it. I went to see ‘The Virgin Suicides' and it was in the background of one the scenes and I thought it was an amazing song. The whole album’s been a case of pulling at straws and seeing what happens. PB : Beth's been described as the come down queen for years, and I would imagine she is probably pretty sick of it by now. How do you think you might be described by the critics ? TB : God. I don’t know. PB: The clown king? TB : The come down prince ? Melancholic bastard ? I don't know. PB: As 'Trailer Park', 'Central Reservation' and 'Daybreaker' are a trilogy, are there any other areas that you want to explore or move into to? TB : No, everything is moving nicely in the right direction anyway. The songwriting with Beth is carrying on as is the playing. PB: And the venues are getting bigger with 3 nights at Shepherds Bush Empire? TB : Yeah. Exactly. PB: My only criticism of Beth recently is she has been rushing the set too much, mainly in the vocals front. I just feel she isn't as much as singing but shouting the words at times and it has suffered because of it. TB : Funny, you should say that. We have just done a tour of the States for two weeks as a 4 piece and she really enjoyed that because of the amount of space she had. It was just cello and guitar and Beth was raving because she could really sing and was able to really go for it again. That’s my Beth world. Gavin, Ali and I also continue to write and have formed a band, so that's another departure. PB: Have you got a name yet? TB : No, but we are toying with Coldstone . We are doing recording next week. It is much more rhythm based and more full on than my solo stuff. I'm looking forward to doing more of my stuff again as well, silly quirky stuff. I would love to do a soundtrack. That is part of the aim of this record is to get some soundtrack work. PB: Anything else you would like to add? TB: I don't think so, mate. PB: Thank you TB : Thank you also.

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