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Jo Bartlett - Interview

  by Owen Peters

published: 8 / 12 / 2014

Jo Bartlett - Interview


Owen Peters chats to acclaimed Reading-based singer-songwriter and folk/electronic artist Jo Bartlett about '9 by 7', her first album in four years which she has entirely self-financed

I arrange to meet Jo Bartlett in a Reading coffee shop. We haven’t met before, although I have a guide to her appearance from various music magazine pictures. A woman across the room, in direct eye contact with me putting out an occasional smile, could be Jo. I smile at her, she at me. Of course, that’s Jo. Stupid me, sat here for ten minutes playing eye footsie. Then in walks the real Jo Bartlett, not the one I’ve conjured up five tables away. Oops! Jo arrives from a snap rain shower, and takes her jacket off. We grab a drink, but no food as we only have an hour. I pull out her new album, ‘9 by7’, which takes its title from the fact that it features nine songs recorded by seven musicians. '9 by 7' will be released January 12th 2015 on Strike Back Records, and is preceded by the single 'Dying Kiss' which came out on November 24th 2014. There has been a gap of some four years between ‘9 by7’ and her last solo album 'Upheaval' in 2010. The reason? Very simple. She explains, “It’s not easy to put an album together when it’s self financed. It would be nice to get a hard copy out to all the major press outlets, but reality is what it is”. I am not sure if I should be but the answer surprises me. “So, what is the plan?” I ask. “We have a couple of gigs lined up early in the new year in Bethnal Green and Reading, with more to follow but that's where we’ll start. Our idea is ideally to play gigs initially in the local area, to get a fan base and have it develop from there”. “We are going to put out a video with the single, 'Dying Kiss',” she says with a hefty chunk of enthusiasm, trying to restrain a satisfied grin. “It will be me driving at night with a camera capturing my journey and surrounding areas. Hopefully it is simple but effective." Jo has a radio slot once a week with Totally Radio called 'Fringe on Top'. Her playlists are diverse and very entertaining. I liken her style to Giles Peterson, he of BBC 6 Music fame these days. She thinks about my comment. "That’s very kind,” she says but I don’t think she’s fully convinced with the comparison. It’s this diversity and depth, however, which is captured on '9 by 7'. Back between 2000 and 2005, she and her partner Danny Hagan released four albums as It’s Jo and Danny, who were part of the folktronic movement. This in turn went on to spawn Four Tet and the Beta Band. She is reknown for the founding of the Green Man Festival in Wales 2003, and previously forming the psychedelic instrumental quartet, the Yellow Moon Band. “We worked hard to set up the Green Man, which gave many artists an opportunity to perform in front of sizable crowds, such as Ben Howard, for example. It had its time and then we moved on.” She doesn’t strike me as someone who can be without a project for very long. In more recent times 'Upheaval', her 2010 album, was one day in the making, featuring Jo and an acoustic guitar. The new album ‘9 x 7’ is studio-based. bringing together many ideas and concepts to the listener. When talking about the construction of certain songs, she has an endearing habit of playing air guitar chords across the table, to accentuate a certain point. I take this vision with me as the album begins... The single, 'Dying Kiss', is a strong solid track to kick off the album. It has a slow, celestial melodic flow that builds around am organ and subtle use of synthesizers. As we reach the chorus line with its added choral backing of “I’m not afraid of this and you can’t save me,” it is apparent that the dying kiss is indeed a kiss goodbye. Her voice has a vulnerability, it wobbles, it trembles, it’s persuasively different. 'Measure of the Storm' highlights the quality of production throughout this album. Violin and Hammond organ don’t vie for space. They simply collide with musical respect, each one taking the lead as required. Fans and first listeners may not agree, but I have issues, positive issues with 'Olympic'. It is three minutes 55 seconds long, when in fact another ten minutes should have been added. Some would say it’s a brave decision to add an instrumental track. They might also perhaps say it is a wasted opportunity, space filler, the lazy option, but that is not the case here. Think of Laura Marling on guitar supported by a 'Tubular Bells' background. I hope when performed live this track gets some extended space in the set. This is simply a teaser of what could be a very memorable arrangement. Does she agree it can be deemed a brave decision to release an instrumental? “Mmm, I can see some people would think so,” she ponders. "But I write all types of pieces. I have arrangements in various stages of completion. I have no immediate plans to do so, but an EP of instrumentals at some stage is an option.” The final track of the album is 'Suitable Drama', which begins with a gentle guitar and a violin solo which creep into earshot as if trying not to wake a sleeping child. The introduction and excellent use of tambourine increases the tempo. Violin and organ again provide a wonderful collaboration, before electric guitar and percussion drive out the beat to its conclusion. She tells me the album is a mix of songs which were written years ago, such as 'Rising to the Bait', and others hot off the press. '9 x 7' is an album which asks, then makes you listen. This isn’t background fodder. As she articulates, this is where the luck or not begins. The album won’t be be nicely wrapped landing on radio stations polished tables asking to be heard. There isn’t the budget for mass publicity. It will scrap for attention along with other releases. This is a well thought-out album, with some very strong tracks plus deft touches on the arrangement side of the house. I wish the album well on its journey, but Jo Bartlett knows better than most that success doesn't come easy. If work ethic can be an indicator to success, '9 x 7' is on its way. Jo Bartlett plays the Redchurch Brewery, Bethnal Green, London on January 12th, 2015, and the Milk Bar, Reading, on January 22nd, 2015.

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