Hummingbird or Firebird: ‘Russell Joslin’ in 2011…

The life of an artist can be characterised by a constant struggle/impulse to define, and if necessary, re-define oneself – If only for the reason that things become very confused if this isn’t done; subsequently the art suffers.  This  doesn’t mean that the artist has to change, but it goes without saying that he/she must hold on to a clear idea of what he/she is doing or the conviction that one can work so hard to achieve can be lost.

This self-definition can and should take time to happen for the first time; a period of happy experimentation and care-free creativity is something no artist (or person, for that matter) should deny themselves, but once defined in some way, the artist can choose to accept the fact that he/she has become something more, and step up to that plate.

The self-definition can, and should also waver, to remind of its fragility and importance and so that the artist might become accustomed to pulling themselves firmly back onto their own path.

The artistic life, if it is chosen, could be allegorised as walking alone up a very narrow staircase, where each step you leave behind crumbles away into the void. You have two choices, always: to move forward and upwards or step off the staircase, there is no option of returning to where you came from. Thus past works become those special pictures taken from along the route of an artists journey, seldom re-made or re-done.

At the beginning of my summer 2010 solo tour I decided that for this series of gigs I needed to define what it was I was doing in some way, or the disjointed circuit round the UK I had planned would have been a lot less enjoyable to complete, and plenty less focussed.  So I decided to try and be a Storyteller – far from a novel idea, but as soon as I said this to myself I had a steadfast companion for the whole tour, it didn’t matter if the journey was long and irritating or the gig was empty, I would explain the meaning of every song I played and sing every line clearly so a complete tale or idea went across to whoever chose to listen. I felt, and still feel that this element is sorely missing from the majority of modern popular music.

The idea of ‘Folk’ music – the principle storytelling genre has been diluted for the masses in recent years by a wave of acoustic music labelled ‘Folk’, many listeners now understandably but wrongly regard any acoustic guitar or banjo wielding performer as a folk musician. It is an important genre, Folk, and a Folk musician can be one or many of a long list of things, amongst others; a revivalist, a skilled traditional instrumentalist, a champion of forgotten music. If any one of the Folk music pre-requisites are present (especially the storytelling aspect), then the method of sound projection is secondary; Folk music can just as much be played by a 5 piece metal band as by a troubadour. It is Folk if it is Folk, whether he/she plays a Hummingbird or Firebird, the presence of an acoustic guitar and/or banjo shouldn’t garner for the performer this revered classification.

It is certainly too heavy a crown for me to place on my own head, I could be a Storyteller of some sort, but I have never really felt part of the Folk community. Above all genres though, I have the utmost respect for true Folk musicians, and especially the honourable quest of theirs to keep alive music which would otherwise certainly drift into obscurity.

Back to my previous tirade…

The events of the last few months and the forming of my band could constitute a change in direction to some onlookers – and also the classic and hackneyed graduation from ‘solo artist’ to ‘solo artist with band’. This has played on my mind, if not in a particularly unpleasant way, for a while. How does this development relate to my ongoing Summer 2010 job of ‘Storyteller’, and what do I have to admit to the few listeners who will wonder about how the sound of my music changed on the surface from ‘acoustic’ to ‘electric’.

I will deal with the ‘admissions’ presently, the first one being that I am a noisy little arsehole at heart – I didn’t listen to Bob Dylan until I was 23, having absorbed a lot of classical music by the age of 13, I grew up on rather heavy guitar music quite frankly. I then moved on to Hip Hop with a spattering Drum + Bass. Folk and storytelling are fairly new to me. I want a band, I have done for a while, and I have my elderly years to sit on a stool with my acoustic guitar, let’s make some fucking noise.

Flippancy aside, it’s such a natural, organic impulse and development. I have found two of the most inspired and driven musicians I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and luckily they are up for working with me. They have made me realise and come to terms with the fact that I play two instruments; not one with backing. I feel lucky; for this, the time is definitely now.

And as for my job as a Storyteller, for this year of 2011, I will do everything I can to keep this position. The songs we are working on as a band are as dependant on narrative and bile as any of my solo acoustic outputs. The patchwork of sounds we weave around the words will serve to release sonically, the pent up feelings present in the belly of the songs. And in the live setting I will put the stories across, even if I have less time for song introductions. As I said before: Hummingbird or Firebird.

However, the fact is that I have managed to assemble a very musically dynamic band which will thrive on the tighter song structure present in some, but not all of the songs. For this reason I will be making a solo album this year, alongside the beautiful cacophony we are planning as a band, as a home for some of the more rambling pieces which are very dear to me, document very special times and trains of thought in my recent life, and fully deserve attention. The album, unless plans change, will be called ‘Harlequins’ and there will be more news on that soon….

If you got this far, thanks for reading…

RJ

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