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Gren Bartley - Interview

  by Owen Peters

published: 21 / 5 / 2015

Gren Bartley - Interview


Gren Bartley takes time out with Owen Peters before going on stage to chat about his plans on his musical direction and performing at larger venues

If miles travelled and gigs performed were an indication of success, Gren Bartley would be in the Folk Hall of Fame. Dorset, Holland, London, Belgium, Washington (not D.C.), Germany, that’s just road and air miles during March to April of this year. “I just enjoy playing. It’s always nice to play in front of a large audience, but it’s not a problem if if only a few punters turn up,” he tells me as we chat before he takes the stage at Bracknell Folk Club in Surrey. “My passion is writing, striving for the song which works. Don’t get me wrong. I write plenty of crap, then throw it away. But to get the words down on paper and then match it with a tune which, is in my head at least, makes sense. There’s no better feeling.” The Folk Club is actually a large room set in a rather fine village pub, The Sun, situated amongst the leafy hamlet of Windlesham. Circa 2005/06 onwards, Bartley had been ploughing his trade with fiddle player Tom Kitching. The partnership had a shelf life. Come 2011, they decided to go their own way. Bartley’s debut studio album 'Songs to Sythe Back the Overgrown' of 2012 was his solo launch into the world of Folk Music. Other than 'The Last Time I Saw Richard,' all the tracks are self penned. ”The album was extremely personal as I’d been building and writing songs with no outlet over some years. When the opportunity of an album arose, I let out all those pent up emotions and feelings into my lyrics for the album,” he explains. A year on, he released 'Winter Fires'. “This was a bigger sound, more strings, percussion, harmonies which I liked.” He expands. “I knew the direction I wanted the next album to take. So whilst still writing, I took my time and went out and found the right musicians which would bring the ideas and concepts I had mulling around together. The musical jigsaw was complete as 'Magnificent Creatures' was released once again on Fellside Records in March 2015. In business “speak” the album provides a problem or an opportunity. Basically it waves goodbye to any semblance of traditional folk. It opens the way to explore many diverse and challenging genres. Was that his intention, to change direction? “The album came together partly as I’m ten years older with different experiences, different things to say," he ruefully recalls.”The album's string sections are particularly strong and I like the way we mixed it up: acoustic, a capella, cello solos, songs over six minutes, scattering of harmonies, I was really pleased with the end product, but yes, it’s different. Hopefully it will open up a different audience. Remember the Folk Scene is relatively small. If the budgets can be made available, I would like to play larger venues. I’m sure in turn this would stimulate interest from non folk press and radio stations. I guess I’d like to be given the opportunity to get my music out to a wider audience.” He mentions “we” a couple of times when discussing the new album. A new pair of eyes and hands were driving production in the way of Gavin Monaghan. Robert Plant, Ocean Colour Seeds and Ryan Adams are a few notable names on Monaghan’s CV. So no surprise his arrangement skills are more than apparent in the makeup of 'Magnificent Creatures.' Bartley has gigs lined up at The Green Note and Servant Jazz Quarters in London. His intention is to play more cosmopolitan venues with his band. He explains, “To play as a four piece allow the songs to be heard as we set them up on the albums. To some degree, that’s important as it takes away the concept of a gig being me and my guitar. In a band environment I can be expressive with my music” That’s for the future. For the here and now it’s Bracknell Folk Club... His audience for the evening are settled, he knows what they want, they know what they want. He opens with 'Sweet Traveller' from the 'Scythe' album, which has a traditional tempo and warmth at it’s core. He soon demonstrates his openness when introducing 'A Decent', explaining how he thought madness was knocking at his door. Accompanied by guitar and harmonica he ponders, “If he’s been spending too much time alone?” Bartley delves into his new album for 'Fair Share' which works really well with his back to basics rendition of a wife in birth who is told she is terminally ill. The subject matter is handled with compassion and respect. Applause seeming as though it’s an intrusion into other peoples' life and pain. Most of the songs are set up with an explanation of their origins, history and people involved. He introduces his songs with some seriousness. 'Home Soon' parent telling his son to be back from war, soon. Or humour, 'Tall Wooden Walls' or keep chatting while I fix this broken string, or melancholy when strumming a composition to mark his daughter's birth. There’s no doubt Bartley can pull together tight, expressive lyrics with clear expression and emotion. None more so than 'Waters Run Dry', a tale of the relationship with his brother. His musicianship is both entertaining and enthralling. Moving from slide guitar, banjo and acoustic guitar, he’s plucking, picking and strumming with consumate ease. He mixes up his set with a couple of traditional folk tunes, a scattering of covers and a range of his own songs. Opening track from the new album 'Tall Wooden Walls' is his last of the evening. A multi tiered tune rising and diving with long guitar runs, allowing time for a join in chorus from a toe tapping audience. Wrong. It’s not the last one, an appreciative audience clearly indicate! This time he finishes/encores with 'Nightingale' again from 'Magnificent Creatures.' On the album, the arrangement is outstanding. Stops and starts, interlinking violin and cello strings, finger picking with percussion and cymbal breaks. Here we have Bartley with acoustic guitar. He doesn’t short change anyone who has heard the album version. Strong vocals told in ditty style, “I am no sparrow, I’m a nightingale." The guitar becomes lead and rhythm all on six strings. Bartley gives a blistering two minute guitar solo, building and building with speed and chord dexterity, crashing to a wonderful close, like a stone has been dropped into the room. Another gig closes out another satisfied audience. It will be more than interesting to see which direction he takes with his music. From what I’ve heard live and on his studio albums, he has untapped potential waiting to find a more diverse audience. Maybe Bartley's next album will be titled 'Crossroads' ‘cause that’s where he is at present.

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Gren Bartley - Interview

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live reviews

Servant Jazz Quarters, London, 1/10/2015
Gren Bartley - Servant Jazz Quarters, London, 1/10/2015
Owen Peters reviews Gren Bartley's excellent opening gig of his 'Magnificent Creatures' tour at the Servants Jazz Quarters in London

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