Poetic folk
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Date: August, 2006


One of Greenbelt’s more surreal moments happened on Sunday evening, when poet and author Alistair McIntosh performed on Mainstage alongside the folk hip hop duo Nizlopi – the band behind one of this year’s surprise chart-toppers, the JCB song.

George Luke put some questions to singer/guitarist Luke Concannon and double bassist/human beatboxer John Parker.

How did you end up collaborating with Alistair McIntosh?

Luke: I read his book, Soil and Soul, after George Monbiot recommended it. It’s a really, really incredible book, touching on poetry, activism, cultural psychotherapy and change. Then I wrote to him and said, ‘Could I come for a cup of tea?’ and he said yes. I went round and we had a good chat for three hours.

We were playing in Glasgow in January. I asked Alistair if he felt moved to get up onstage and rave with us to the Glaswegian masses. He said yes and came back with a five-point response saying which issues he’d like to speak on, and where he wanted guitar breaks and singing to come in.

That went really well. Everybody was moved by the music and the poetry – and so we decided to record it on the new mini-album. Then about three months ago, I received an email from Alistair saying that he’d recommended us to the organisers of Greenbelt, and that it was a scene that we should check out.

Unfortunately, in true ‘us’ fashion, we’ve been too busy to get here until an hour or two before the gig! I got here and saw the atmosphere and read a lot on the speakers; there are some really incredible people speaking on some important subjects. I hope I get to hear more of those talks next year.

With the JCB song, how did it feel when such a personal song of yours suddenly became public property?

Luke: Well, it was great to suddenly have a number One song. Everything’s changed quite a lot since this time last year. There were some wonderful things about where we were this time last year, playing to 200-capacity audiences and it was a very intimate thing; a very underground thing.

But then it’s really great to be able to be addressing the masses now; to be getting ‘folk hip hop’ which is really on the fringes, into the mainstream. So it’s good. It often seems like it’s the most personal songs that are the ones that often break through and touch the most people.

You’re one of a number of acts including Gnarls Barkley, the Arctic Monkeys and Sandi Thom, whose success has come largely via the internet. What are the pros and cons of using the internet to get your music out to the public?

Luke: Twenty years ago, people wouldn’t have been doing music independently. There wasn’t the means to produce your own CDs, records or tapes at that time.

So in this time that we’re in, there are a lot more people who’ve been inspired to take things into their own hands, so they don’t feel pressured to change their art or their ethics or what they want to do because they’re employed by a record company.

It’s amazing to be able to have the democracy of getting things out on the internet. And that’s how we’ve had the success we’ve had – by being able to spread word about ourselves via the Internet. I can’t think of any problems.

John: I usually can. (Laughs) In my opinion, the ability for artists like ourselves to open up to a whole new world of distribution allows us to take into our own hands what decisions are made on what we write or play. We’re a classic representation of that, in the way our success has rocketed via our website.

I suppose the only downside is that because Myspace has been bought by Rupert Murdoch, that shows that people have realised there’s a power there to be harnessed. That could be a problem. Will it remain independent? Or will it turn into the monster it’s trying hard not to be?

Luke: I think that’s really important, because we find, being an independent label, that we start with a lot of ideals in our heads – ethics and dreams and stuff. And then when you get into the market, you really start getting challenged. How do you do these small righteous things and not end up turning into the machine?

When you look back at the early days of your career, which experiences do you laugh at now that made you cringe back then?

John: We had such brilliant times at the weddings we played at in our early days. I was telling someone about this St Patrick’s Day gig we played at in a folk club once.

Midway through the gig, a lady got up onstage and said ‘I’m really sorry about this – this band’s terrible. I’ll give you all your money back.’ Coming up from these smaller places and having both bad gig and amazing ones – it’s just helps you grow.

Luke: Part of the fun of being in a band is going through the really naff pub stage and building yourselves up.

What’s going to surprise people about the mini-album in comparison to the previous album?

John: It’s better. (Laughs) It’s more about what we do live, really. It’s simpler; it’s just the two of us, whereas the other album had lots of other musicians…with that one, we had lots of sounds in our heads. We wanted horn sections, strings and all those other things.

It’s just more current. JCB was written four or five years ago, and we’ve been living off that. So we felt like we did some more work and live off that for another five years. It’s quite hard work – isn’t it really?

Where do you see yourselves in the next six months?

John: We’ll just be coming back from a break by then – so we’ll be rested, well-practised and ready to release the second full album. It’ll be good when we do get a break, to look back at this year.

I have a picture of Charles Mingus in my kitchen, and I attach all the wristbands from the different festivals and events I’ve been to on it, just so that I can remember all that we’ve done in the year. The time off would be a good time to look at it and go ‘Oh yeah, we did do that!’

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