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Rupert Wates - Interview

  by Julie Cruickshank

published: 21 / 6 / 2022

Rupert Wates - Interview

Rupert Wates is a UK-born singer/guitarist/songwriter now based in New York City who has released ten acclaimed albums during a thirty-year career. His latest CD, 'For the People' combines atmospheric evocations of old English folk tales with exquisitely-played acoustic guitar. Pennyblackmusic caught up with Rupert to discuss his roots in the UK, folk music in the US and Lowden guitars. PB: Your new album ‘For the People’ is a lovely combination of storytelling and some beautiful guitar playing. There is an underlying sense of yearning for your native country of England - did your re-working of these old folk tales evoke a sense of home for you, and do you miss living in the UK? RW: Thank you for the compliment. There are certainly some things that I miss about the UK. It is after all my native land and whether I like it or not, my roots there are very deep. For some time, I’d been feeling that it might benefit my songwriting to explore these roots a little more fully, and it seemed to me that to research some old folk tales might be one good way of doing so – following the obvious example of Fairport Convention among many others who have already mined this particular field. In the event, I found the writing of the album very quick, easy and fluid, suggesting to me that it was indeed a natural path for me to follow, and I should cherish my English heritage. PB: What are the things, if any, you miss about living in the UK? RW: More than anything I miss the relative civility of public and political conversation – as exemplified by a debate in the House of Commons. Here in the US, politics and public life are increasingly marred on all sides by a corrosive hatred, which I find very painful and which makes a genuine debate on any subject almost impossible. George Orwell, who is a writer I admire as much for his life as for his work, said that he valued the gentleness of the English. DH Lawrence said the same, and I think that by comparison with some other countries, even now, we do as a rule handle each other with a little more care. I also miss the health service! PB: Tell us a little about the folk music scene in the US. RW: In the US there is a wide audience for any kind of music. Folk comes under the general category of acoustic music, which also includes Americana, Singer-songwriter, country and some blues. I suppose the definition really refers to music that works best in smaller venues as opposed to arenas and stadiums, and there are plenty of small venues in America. But for me, as I said in my notes for my CD, Folk may be defined as music of the people, by the people, for the people – which is a pretty broad umbrella! PB: Which are your guitars of choice for recording and performing live? Have you always used the same makes or have your preferences evolved over the years? RW: I always use Lowden guitars and have done so for fifteen years. These are hand made by George Lowden And Co., which is a company that is (or at least was) based in Belfast, Ireland. They’re just the best made and most reliable guitars I’ve ever played, and most suitable for my style of playing, which is largely fingerstyle. They’re very much top of the market – they usually go new for about $7,000 – but if you play as much as I do the price is worth it. I always have three onstage, in different tunings. PB: You lived in Paris, France for a while in the early 2000s. How did that experience impact upon your journey as a musician? RW: When I left London in 2000, I felt that my career in music was over. To that point I’d been writing for other artists, rather than performing, and though I had a publishing deal (with Eaton Music, now Wise Music) nothing really worked for me. Above all, I was persuaded by others that I should not consider myself a performer, or at least certainly not a singer. I went to Paris (as I thought) largely to pursue a career as a writer of prose (I had several short stories published, and some journalism). I’ve always loved Paris and the French are kinder generally to artists in all fields. I think the experience of living alone in a foreign city was good for my development as a human being. But I missed music, and without any great expectation of success, I started playing live in small clubs, first solo and then with a small band. The reaction I got was good and it was the French, above all, who persuaded me that I could after all succeed as a performer. For this I will always be grateful to them. But there is a limited future in performing English songs for French audiences. I, however, didn’t want to return to England. America had the advantage of being English-speaking, and it was where the biggest audiences were. Added to which I’d just become engaged to a lovely American lady! So it made sense (at least retrospectively) to come to America, which I did in 2006 – like so many others throughout history, in search of opportunity and a new life. PB: Which bands/artistes do you admire, and what were your earliest musical influences growing up in England? RW: Mostly the usual suspects. Growing up I listened to The Beatles, The Kinks, Bob Dylan, and I was obsessed by the Rolling Stones. Once I started playing guitar, which I did at age sixteen, I became interested in solo guitar music, and I listened to albums by Leo Kottke, Stephan Grossman and other acoustic players. I also listened to quite a lot of classical music – Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel - and a very little jazz. These days, I would say I admire anyone who (so far as I can tell) puts creativity and real artistic integrity above commercial success. In this category, in my field I would put Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Richard Thompson, John Martyn, and many of my own contemporaries. PB: You play over 120 live shows a year, mainly in the US, Canada and Europe. Do you expect to be performing in the UK in the near future? It would be great to see you here. RW: I’m coming to the UK in December and January on a family visit – and I’m in process of trying to arrange a gig or two. If any of them go ahead, it will be the first time I’ve played in the UK for fifteen years. Dates will be posted at www.rupertwatesmusic.com/calendar. PB: Thank you.

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Rupert Wates - Interview

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US-based but London-born folk artist tkes to Julie Cruikshank about his new solo album, 'For the People'.

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For The People (2022)
Enchanting album of original folk songs from US-based London guitarist and singer Rupert Wates.

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