Spiritual grit
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Date: 20 April, 2006

Gareth Davies-Jones


 

'I’m motivated to do what I do by my Christian faith.'

 

 

In the run up to Christian Aid Week, which takes place on May 14-20, surefish meets singer-songwriter Gareth Davies-Jones.

Gareth Davies-Jones is an Acoustic Folk/Roots singer-songwriter ‘with a protest edge and spiritual grit’. Even though his name is Welsh, he was born and bred in Northern Ireland and still has the accent and musical heritage to prove it!

Gareth is a keen supporter of Christian Aid and gives up time at his concerts to raise awareness of its projects. He lives in Tyne Valley, Northumberland.

When did you first know you wanted to be a musician?
I’m not sure when exactly. I think I grew into it from an early age. Music has always been such a large part of my life and playing and performing is something I’ve done since I was quite young.

I suppose whether you’re playing it or listening to it there is always a powerful communication going on. I mean, how many of us signpost our lives and link history to a musical soundtrack, use music to express things that often we find impossible to say? I guess I was always keen to be part of that, to be at the centre of that exchange of ideas, concepts and emotions.

What do you play now and what did you learn to play as a child? Do you have any good or bad memories from learning how to play instruments?
I play guitar, violin, a wee bit of mandolin and piano (well the white notes anyway!). I started on the violin when I was a child and picked up the guitar when I was 16. It’s funny to look back and think how amazed I used to be when anyone picked up a guitar and played simple chords on it.

At the time I thought it would be impossible to learn but now here I am and it’s one of the tools of my trade. In terms of memories of learning, apart from driving my poor family demented with the rough and dissonant years of early practice,

I remember one of my first violin teachers in particular. She used to ‘help’ her pupils to learn scales by hitting our fingers sharply with a baton if we played a wrong note. I hope methods have progressed since then!

When did you decide to make music your full time career?
About five years ago my wife Nicki and I started dreaming up all sorts of ways to take my music further than just interested friends and relations. I’d been in part time bands since I was 17 and by now there was plenty to say and plenty of evidence from some established artists who’d heard my material that I had enough basic talent to have a chance at succeeding.

We ended up starting Heading West Music (my wee record label) to service my activities and by the end of 2003 I was ready to give it a go full time. So here I am now on the cusp of a fourth recording (and second solo album) as an independent artist using music as a communication tool on a range of social justice issues.

It sounds simple but it was a huge step and a big risk to give up what had been a successful business career with a major communications company in favour of a musician’s life.

We’ve had plenty of ups and downs and it’s largely an unpredictable business – there certainly aren’t any guarantees. Having said that, with all it’s foibles I’ve found it to be tremendously fulfilling and so far it’s proved to have been the right thing to do.

You go around the country on tour, what is the message you hope people will take away with them?
Do something! I think that’s the bottom line. Yes, I want people to be entertained and to have had a great night out, but more than that I hope to provoke some thought and action. I’m motivated to do what I do by my Christian faith and I support a few like-minded organisations – Christian Aid being one.

I’d be delighted if everyone started supporting these in particular. However I’m much more concerned after a concert or event, that people, whether sympathetic to my particular motivation or not, make a start on making a difference.

There are so many needs and desperate situations requiring our attention in this world - extreme poverty, injustice, pandemics, persecution, starvation - that we could be forgiven for be being a bit overwhelmed. However what is not forgivable is to let that paralyze us into inaction on all fronts.

So get going, start with the campaign postcard, the letter to the MP, the e-mail to the local supermarket, buying fair trade, stop avoiding the homeless, walk to the shops, pray. It takes minutes of our time and cumulatively these things make a huge difference. We can’t change everything but we can all do something!

What sort of music did you listen to as a child, growing up and now?
A pretty eclectic mix. I grew up in Northern Ireland and listened to a lot of traditional Irish stuff alongside big band jazz, singer-songwriters, punk, new wave, pop, heavy metal at times (it was my early electric guitar phase) right through to classical. These days I listen more to folk and roots music than most other genres, though I’m really starting to get into world roots music as well.

Who are your Christian and secular music heroes and why?
I’m not sure I could divide them up into those categories that easily. Quite a few people straddle the boundaries for me and even in the following list there’s many that would be in more than one category.

In terms of style of play and sheer professionalism I’m a great admirer of people like James Taylor, Martin Simpson, Richard Thompson, Pierce Pettis, Van Morrison, Mike Scott and Liam O’Maonlaí.

As for songwriting and the ability to capture ideas and concepts in ways that make you sit up, listen, and act then it would be musicians like Derek Webb, Bob Dylan, Rich Mullins, Karine Polwart, Martyn Joseph, Buddy Miller, Andrew Peterson.

For sheer musical brilliance I’d have to say folks like the Bo Kaspers Orkestra, The Hothouse Flowers, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Stefan Grapelli, John Williams, Brahams (can’t get enough of Johannes Brahams – check out symphony No. 1 – just mesmerising!) and Mozart.

It’s a bit of a mix I know but there you have it. That’s the beauty of music really, it’s a wonderfully subjective world where creatively the likes of Billy Bragg can be as highly regarded as Beethoven or vice versa depending on your musical genes!

What happens at your live gigs and how can people get in touch with you to book concerts?
I usually encourage venues to think about laying things out in a café style – round tables, tea lights etc - it relaxes people and helps create a more intimate atmosphere for everyone.

If possible then laying on a Fairtrade café and inviting some organisations like Christian Aid to do a stall on the night helps folks to explore some practical steps to making a difference.

The performance itself is a mix of songs, chat and stories on a range of subjects. I usually work in a few more familiar songs as well to keep people with me.

In terms of setting something up then I’m delighted to hear from people. Email: headingwestmusic@btinternet.com or go to my website here which has more about what I do, samples of the music and links to all sorts of resources to help you get going.