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Davey Woodward - Interview

  by Dixie Ernill

published: 22 / 12 / 2020

Davey Woodward - Interview


The Brilliant Corners and the Experimental Pop Band's Davey Woodward talks to Dixie Ernill about 'Love and Optimism', his second album under the moniker of Davey Woodward and The Winter Orphans.

Despite having first emerged into the public consciousness back in the early 1980s as the singer/songwriter of indie band The Brilliant Corners, Davey Woodward continues to make music and perform live (lockdown aside) to this day. Whilst the elusive ‘breakthrough’ has yet to materialise, the quality of his songwriting has, if anything, remained on an upward curve. Indeed, his second album under the moniker of Davey Woodward and The Winter Orphans, ‘Love and Optimism’, came out in early October and by a strange twist of fate seems to soundtrack the bizarre times we are living in, despite having been recorded last summer. PB: 2020 has been a pretty strange year or far, but things started so well for you with the afternoon show at St Georges in Bristol back in February when you discussed your life in music and performed songs from throughout your career. Obviously you are no stranger to playing live, but how did you find interview/discussion side of things? DAVEY WOODWARD: Having someone (Richard Jones) who knew my work well interviewing me helped. He's done things like this before. He was really calm and this settled any nerves I had about it. When questions were opened up to the audience I thought it might get tricky but no one wanted to know any of my deepest darkest secrets so it was okay! It felt very conversational and natural. PB: It is becoming quite popular and I have seen Robert Forster (The Go Betweens, an influence of yours) doing something similar a couple of times to great effect. Is it something you would like to do more of – there must be hundreds of interesting anecdotes from your forty odd years of making and playing music? DW: I would be happy to do it again. As you say there are lots of things I could talk about. I think it works if whoever interviews you is generally interested in your work. Opening it up to the audience is the wildcard bit, which is fine. That could be really interesting depending on where the questions go. I think with there being less opportunities for people to read about fringe artists like me it's a good way for older or newer fans to see the wider context to the music. I also think standing up on your own with a guitar is a really demanding thing to do. There's nowhere to hide if you mess up, One really has to work to keep people engaged. It also feels very personal too, so yapping about one’s work makes it even more personal - guess that makes for a special kind of show. I'm not sure I could do what Robert (Forster) does, tour like that, I don't think I would have enough interested people. Maybe London and Manchester, Berlin, Paris or Tokyo! If anyone wants to set that up I'm available. PB: Was it good to revisit songs from the past? DW: I'm comfortable with playing older songs that work well solo - the trick is identifying which songs they are. It was exciting looking at the Experimental Pop Band songs. So many of the recordings had layers of sounds and samples that at first it felt daunting to attempt them. Once I remembered I wrote them on guitar or piano, so they should work solo, I got my head into the zone and enjoyed reworking them. Similar with The Brilliant Corners songs, I chose ones which sounded good acoustically/solo - ones that I could improvise a bit, or alter the arrangement slightly. PB: At the start of March you also celebrated your 60th Birthday with a special gig where you played short sets with each of your two current bands (The Winter Orphans and Karen) as well as playing a few Brilliant Corners numbers solo and briefly reforming The Experimental Pop band for the first time since December 2013. Having been lucky enough to attend, I can confirm it was a real treat. It must have been great to do, but a challenge to be able to switch from one band to another and remember all the songs? DW: Complete indulgence from me, but most enjoyable! I'm glad you liked it. The night was also about friends coming together, people who had not been in each other's company for a long time catching up. I hoped Bob (Morris -drummer with The Brilliant Corners) could have joined me but he had an actual gig he could not wriggle out of. The Experimental Pop Band did not even rehearse before playing -, I just told everyone to refresh their memories by listening to the songs and to follow me on the night. Amazingly it worked. Karen never rehearse, but we had recorded some songs recently so played them. I was kept busy so didn't get drunk and barely spoke to anyone! Think that was the last coming together for a lot of people before lockdown happened. PB: I have always thought The Experimental Pop Band never got the recognition they deserved, despite consistently producing quality albums – the final two being, in my opinion as good as anything that went before. Was there a fair degree of disappointment that a breakthrough was never achieved with that band? DW: I think some members were more disappointed than others; somehow feeling I had not done enough to make us successful. We were signed to City Slang records, a very cool label that should have meant us 'making it ' Unfortunately they got bought out by Virgin and the policy of nurturing bands like us went with that. We had not attained the big sales and got the heave ho. Interestingly, my favourite album is 'Tarmac & Flames' and that was the album we released after we left the label. Also I was doing everything myself. It was a huge amount of work. Anyone who runs a label or manages a band will tell you the volume of hours that takes - let alone write songs too. I don't think the guys fully understood that and the pressure that put on me. I also had a young family too. There was no one else to share that work and it became overwhelming, so we kind of fizzled out. Real shame as live we had really got tight and we continued to release good albums right to the end with 'Vertigo'. PB: And so to the present. It must be a great relief in view of everything going on to know that your new Winter Orphans album, ‘Love and Optimism’, was finally released in early October? DW: Very exciting as I always think I might never write another album or get one released, so actually coming up with all the songs, the process of recording them, the label loving them and putting it out is great. Vinyl album too, so pretty special!. Just sad that it looks like we won't get to play any gigs this year - I hope we can do some live shows next year. PB: I note it is coming out on A Turntable Friend, following your previous label Tapete’s decision not to release it as the follow up to the debut album that came out in 2018. How did the label switch come about? DW: Ulrich who runs Turntable Friend heard the debut Winter Orphans album and wanted to put it out, Tapete also heard the debut album and wanted to put it out. So I had a difficult choice to make. Logic dictated that I should go for the bigger label, the one that had Robert Forster on. Turned out it was the wrong decision! Didn't sell enough copies. Tapete did not think the new album was for them and were happy for me to look elsewhere. I immediately thought of Ulrich. Lucky for me he thinks the album is amazing and it will be his first million seller. PB: Whilst I would suggest that the debut album clocked in a solid 7 out of 10, having listened to ‘Love and Optimism’half a dozen times over the last week, I am going to stick my neck out and suggest it may just be the high point of your career so far. Do you think that because the songs have been developed over a good couple of years and road-tested live numerous times the album has benefited? DW: I think the fact the songs were gig fit really helps but the single most important factor that makes this album, as you say, a high point, is the approach to the recording of it. I have got bored of layering tracks, which is the usual way to do a modern recording. It means you can lose any mistakes, focus on specific sounds and get a professional shiny recording. In recent times I have been more interested in how to capture the feel and emotion of a song, that I think sometimes gets lost in the quest for a precision recording. Feel equals band playing together, emotion means me losing myself in a song, like at a gig. So we rehearsed the songs well, played live in the studio and selected the best take. The sound of the record is very human, warm and spontaneous. That's a big part of it. Also maybe I got lucky that this collection of songs just works. It fits the times we are in. PB: I would probably describe the new album as melancholic and reflective with a thin seam of hope running through it. Do you think this is a fair assessment? DW: I think that's not far off! I would not want to define it, leave it up to the listener really, but if you are getting that, then it's damn close. Everyone has their own interpretation - I asked the band the other day who they thought the album sounded like. You will not believe how many different answers I got. So we all hear different things but as a whole the album should have its own unique sound. I think we have captured that with this record - the production, playing, it's all great. PB: One of the highlights is ‘Occupy This Space’, which despite having been knocking around for a good couple of years seems to really fit the times. I am guessing just coincidence rather than prophetic? DW: You mean it evoking the mood of the lockdown? The album was recorded summer 2019 so way before the pandemic, so yes coincidence. PB: Similar to The Beatles with Liverpool and The Smiths with Manchester, there are numerous references to places in Bristol in the songs (and I know there have been references in your earlier work too). I think it adds to the realism of the songs. Do you consciously try to include them? DW: I've lived in Bristol a long time so it's kind of in my DNA. It just feels completely natural to add names and places from the city in songs. It's not consciously done at all. Maybe on this album the backdrop of the city is more prevalent. When I wrote ' Northern Slopes' no one went there and it was more or less a place I would walk through and look at the city on my own. Since lockdown everyone's trying to grab a bit of green space and it's really popular now. I’m trying to think what other places I have mentioned on the album - Ashton Gate, Totterdown… There's probably a lot more. Lyrics are included on the on the CD and album! PB: One of the songs, ‘Clara’s Ghos’.” makes reference to the Kansas City ship that sank en route to Bristol over a hundred years ago. What was the inspiration to write this song? Was it really on the instruction of a ghost? DW: Well I really did see the ghost of Clara Butt ( look the name up) in Totterdown and she did tell me to sing about the ship and the ‘slave trade’ in Bristol. Again, coincidence, before Black Lives Matter not as a response to it. PB: Any update on your other band, Karen? Are we likely to see a new release from them in the near future? DW: You mean the laziest band in the UK? That's unfair really, Tom and Hugo are busy with their musical projects and I'm busy with the Winter Orphans. We did, however, find time to record an album last year. It's driving stuff, I play lots of guitar solos, don't let that put you off!. There's a song ' Carrier Bag' and video on my Bandcamp site ( daveywoodward@bandcamp.com) which gives a pretty good idea of the album sound. Hope someone will put it out next year. PB: Rumour has it that you have put down your guitar and turned to writing during the lockdown. Is it fiction or an autobiography? DW: Indeed I have - 70,000 words so far. It's fiction - family saga, coming of age, it has lots of music references in it from the 70s and 80s. Set in Bristol. If anyone knows a literary agent, send them my way! PB: Thank you.

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Davey Woodward - Interview

Davey Woodward - Interview

Davey Woodward - Interview

Davey Woodward - Interview

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live reviews

Thunderbolt, Bristol, 7/5/2010
Davey Woodward - Thunderbolt, Bristol, 7/5/2010
At an intimate show at the Thunderbolt in Bristol, Dixie Ernill finds Brilliant Corners and Experimental Pop Band front man Davey Woodward on powerful form at a gig to promote his forthcoming solo album, '6 Miles East of Here 5 Miles North of Nowhere'
Martyr's Club, Chicago, 23/4/2010


6 Miles East of Here 5 Miles North of Nowhere (2010)
Finely observed and detailed debut solo album from undervalued Brilliant Corners and Experimental Pop Band front man, Davey Woodward

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