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Rodney Branigan - Interview

  by Shirley Procter

published: 6 / 8 / 2019

Rodney Branigan - Interview


Shirley Procter talks to Texan singer-songwriter Rodney Branigan at this year's Glastonbury Festival about how he once replaced Paloma Faith at it as a headline act at the last minute and his regular tours of India.

Several years ago, I was dragged by my friend Ged Carter to a tiny stage on the edge of Glastonbury Festival called Toad Hall, to see someone he told me was incredible. It was a Texan bloke called Rodney Branigan. From that moment on I was hooked! I've seen Rodney play at every Glastonbury festival since, and love his music, the lyrics to his songs, and am in awe of his musical ability. He doesn't play one guitar; he plays two guitars at a time, or a guitar and drums, or a guitar and another stringed instrument. The sound he produces is wonderful. The first time I interviewed him, I asked how he did it - did he have one guitar tuned to a chord, and the other tuned normally? I was right! This year, I couldn't find him at his normal venues - as well as playing the smaller venues around Glasto, he and a group of other musicians spend a chunk of time in the Kids Field, teaching children to play. I was surprised and excited to find he was playing in the Acoustic Stage, and contacted his manager beforehand. She arranged time to interview him backstage after his set. As well as being an incredibly talented bloke, he's also very, very lovely, as is his manager. Here's our conversation: PB: It’s so good to see you, and so good to see you on a stage in the Acoustic Field! How did that happen? RB: Well, I had this strange opportunity last year where I was asked to play a gig at Pilton Working Men’s Club for a do they had going on – they had an artist cancel for some reason, so it was a last minute thing, and Michael Eavis just happened to be there. He came and sat on the front row, and afterwards told me how much he enjoyed the set. The following day was the Glastonbury Extravaganza at Glastonbury Abbey. Paloma Faith ended up cancelling, so Michael Eavis called me (I was in Norwich at the time) and asked me if I could be there on time to walk on stage instead of Paloma Faith, it turned out I could, so I drove across the country, walked on stage and played in front of 15,000 people! PB: Wow, that’s a brilliant story! Is that why you thanked Paloma Faith at the start of your set? RB: Yes, that’s why I thanked Paloma Faith and why I thanked laryngitis, because the reason she had to cancel was because she had laryngitis. PB: That’s brilliant! So, what was that like, last minute, no warning, no time to prep? RB: Yeah, I was … fortunately I was rehearsing with my band in Norwich. That’s what I was there for, so I was already warmed up. I got there, pulled up in my car, they grabbed my guitars out of the car, took them onto the stage, I walked straight onto the stage after driving for four and a half hours. Fortunately, I didn’t really have time to think about it and they really didn’t warn me how many people, how big a crowd it was going to be; I expected to play for maybe a thousand people, and walked out and just did my thing, and, yeah, they liked it! PB: What did it feel like being in front of such a big crowd? RB: It’s a bit surreal. There’s kind of a disconnect compared to playing in front of a smaller crowd obviously, so it was, I guess, a surprise. I guess it doesn’t feel any different physically, but mentally … fortunately, I didn’t have time to prepare myself thinking ,“Oh, there’s going to be 15,000 people,” so it was amazing, a bit of a rush. I was buzzing for the following two weeks. PB: And then, on the back of that you got the gig today? RB: Yeah, Michael Eavis asked me to play the Acoustic Stage back in September of last year, so I’ve been holding back that information since then! PB: Keeping it well secret! The first I knew was when we were looking for you on the programme, “Where is Rodney”, so we could stalk you, like we normally do, and then we realised that you were actually on Acoustic Stage, which is fantastic! A very different feel from my perspective, because there was nobody saying, “Play the President’s song”, (laughter from Rodney), and there weren’t the shouting out of “Play this, play this!”, and it was much more a traditional set. RB: It was, it was, I quite honestly miss those sets on the other side, because I find them to be quite fun in a small tent at Glastonbury, because everybody has a good time. You end up getting a crowd that is really ready to go for it. I personally feed off that, I love the interaction with the crowd. I like it when people heckle me, because there’s the opportunity to heckle back, and make absurd jokes. So, yeah, from the standpoint that this big stage doesn’t really have that kind of back and forth, I do kind of miss that, but I can’t really complain. PB: Well, it’s a bigger opportunity, isn’t it, to reach more people? So, next year, the Pyramid? RB: Hopefully! I’ve not been asked yet, so hopefully that happens after the end of the festival. That would be my dream come true. PB: From my perspective, following you, that would be amazing! A massive progression for you, to get that sort of exposure would be wonderful; not just at the festival, but then across the nation on TV. That would be fantastic! What’s next for you? RB: Well, I just carry on doing what I do. I’ve got a few festivals this summer; I’ve got the Frome Festival next week, where I live. That’s quite easy. I just walk out of the house and go to the gig. It’s not a difficult one! Then, I’ve got a few folk festivals in Kent and Sussex. I’m not sure actually where all of them are. Then I go on tour to South Africa in October, then on to the States in the beginning of December. Then we’re off to India next February, then I play South By South West (www.sxsw.com). PB: I know you’ve a massive following in India. You’ve done an awful lot of teaching there as well. Tell me about that! RB: I started touring in India in 2008. Initially I was going over and playing just your regular music venues. I ended up signing with an agency who was one of the biggest festival promoters in India, which was fortunate. This agency booked my first few tours, so I was on their radar when they finally got an influx of money for festivals, so the last few times I’ve gone I’ve been on the bill for a festival called Sulafest (www.sulafest.com), India Bike Week, festivals that have between 5 – 7,000 people there, which for India is quite a lot of people. Even though it’s a smaller crowd, it’s still fulfilling to play there, especially in a foreign country, where they’re so appreciative. We used to do a project in India, where we were teaching music. That hasn’t happened in the last five to six years because of difficulties with the funding. It’s one of the reasons we go to India. I also do collaborations with artists, so when I go back, collaborating with Sufi musicians and an Indian dance producer, making new music in a foreign county. PB: Indian dance music is very different to your music. RB: It is, yeah. One of the things I like to do when I’m touring is to take in the local, what’s going on, so when I’m in places like Bulgaria, Eastern Europe, I like to listen to folk music, to get a feel for it, and figure out what I can incorporate into mine. I’ve been doing that with Indian music for the last twelve years. I use a lot of the things I’ve learnt from there, from the ways they teach music and their spiritual connection to music as well fascinates me. I feel I have that kind of spiritual connection, but it’s not something that exists in the West. Meditation has become my job as well now. PB: Thank you. Main photo by Neil Templar http://neiltemplar.co.uk/

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Rodney Branigan - Interview

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