THE NORTH COUNTRY PRIMER #4: NICK JONAH DAVIS, NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND
Originally published at North Country Primitive in April 2015
The fourth edition of the North Country Primer takes us closer to home to interview a man who lives a mere 70 miles away, in Nottingham, England. Nick Jonah Davis is the first, but hopefully not the last, British guitarist to feature at North Country Primitive. Tompkins Square included him on the fourth volume of their excellent Imaginational Anthem series, and liked his music so much they released his album, Of Time and Tides . His new album, House of Dragons, has just been released in a limited vinyl edition by Shropshire’s top shed-based record label, the wonderful and ever-eclectic Lancashire and Somerset - and to these humble ears, is his best offering yet.
Tell us a bit about yourself and the musical journey that took you to a place where you concluded that playing an acoustic guitar on your own was a good idea… Well… I was a guitarist from the age of fifteen and the first solo acoustic stuff I heard was on Led Zeppelin records. That led me to Bert Jansch and Davy Graham, and from there I found that playing acoustic guitar in DADGAD was a very compelling thing to do. I did this in the background of other musical endeavours for a long time, maybe fifteen years. What I was really focused on was trying to do electronic music, with mixed-to-poor results. Then I stopped completely. Following a failed attempt to carry out CPR on a woman in a car park in 2006, I impulsively bought an acoustic I’d spotted in a junk shop to cheer myself up. Around this time, my brother gave me a Fahey album and I saw Jack Rose play: I realised that there might be a context for my acoustic playing that wasn’t just doing it for myself at home. I decided to record a few pieces in 2007, and put them on the internet to try and get some local gigs. Josh at Tompkins Square was into it and got in touch, which was absolutely improbable to me. If you’d told me when I was checking out the first Imaginational Anthem compilations that I’d have a tune on the fourth volume and be putting out an LP with Tompkins Square and playing the New York Guitar Festival, I really would not have believed you. The positive reception for the Of Time and Tides album was really pleasing. What has influenced your music and why? The most direct ‘famous guitarist’ type influences are John Fahey and Bert Jansch: to me, they represent two really important streams of excellent guitar music which will always be bubbling away. Really, though, the best influences come from the people that playing has brought me into personal contact with. C Joynes and Steve Malley aka the Horse Loom have had a huge influence on both the music I’ve made and the course I’ve taken with it. I’ve been lucky to play gigs with players that I really admire and that’s a direct influence that’s hard to quantify - just watching them up close and then also being able to say ‘How did you do x or y back there?’ Ultimately, when you set off on a particular route with the guitar, such as in this case ‘I’ll use weird tunings, play solo and try to get inside people’s heads,’ the possibilities and limitations of that approach become your core influence. I know a really disparate range of musicians who are all deeply into their thing and it’s a constant inspiration to have these people around me. What are your thoughts about being a UK based musician steeped in what could be argued is a largely American form? I suppose what draws me to the American Primitive approach to guitar is that it lets you explore ideas from a variety of musical cultures at the same time, using techniques drawn from a folk style as the basic platform. Despite the intensity of focus on American players who have done this, I don’t really perceive this as wildly different to what people like Davy Graham and Bert Jansch were doing. A lot of what I dig on guitar has an American accent, a lot has a British accent, but there are a whole host of cultural reference points that weave in and out of my playing. I don’t find it straightforward to play entirely within the constraints of any one tradition. What have you been up to recently? As ever, I’m always trying to get deeper into my playing - that’s ongoing. We’ve just put out my new LP, House of Dragons, on Lancashire and Somerset Records, a lovely little label operating out of a shed in Shropshire. I’m extremely pleased with the gorgeous package they’ve put together - they are great people to deal with. I’m now halfway through the sessions for the next record. I’ve also been collaborating with my friend, the violinist Jo Cormack, on some semi-improvised electric guitar and violin music as Fains. I like her playing a lot, she can really kick an idea around without needing to be too precious about things, dropping things or picking them up according to the moment, which really works for me. What are you listening to right now, old or new? Any recommendations you’d like to share with us? Here’s some random people I really like that other people may be unaware of and are all worth investigating: Ellen Mary McGee, Raul Garcia Zarate, Kogumaza, Dead Rat Orchestra, Suzuki Junzo, Antigoni Goni, Lungfish, Cath and Phil Tyler, Alasdair Roberts, Zia Mohiuddin Dagar andForever Sound. In the fingerstyle world, two young British players who are worth checking out are Toby Hay and Jim Ghedi. The guitar nerd bit: what guitars do you play and what do you like about them? Is there anything out there you’re coveting? My main acoustic is a custom Fylde Falstaff, which I picked up recently. It’s a dream instrument and has all but replaced my Martin. I play an Ermanno Pasqualato Style 3 Weissenborn guitar for lap steel, it’s a sweet sounding and responsive beast. On the electric side, I have a much customised mid-90s telecaster. It sounds great - it’s got a lot of attitude. For electric lap steel I have a 1948 Selmer, which is a historic and utterly beautiful instrument. C Joynes presented me with it as a surprise gift last year, and I’m still surprised. I have a bunch of other guitars and a little collection of other instruments. Coveting: I’d really like a Brook Hurdy Gurdy. There’s basically an endless list though - ask my wife about it… Banjos: yes or no? Absolutely yes. I have one that I like to fiddle around with from time to time. Anyone who says they don’t like banjos needs to listen to records by Shirley Collins, Nathan Bowles, Paul Metzger and Phil Tyler to ensure that they have an informed perspective on the situation. What are you planning to do next? I’m planning to finish my next solo guitar album. Jo and I are talking about doing a Fains record. C Joynes and I have a split electric LP that’s at the mastering stage. Other collaborations are possibly bubbling up. I’ll just keep playing, see what happens. I keep a fairly open mind - it seems to help… What should we have asked you and didn’t? If you find out, let me know.
You can download Nick’s music from his Bandcamp page, here.