John Smith

He’s a ris­ing star in the fir­ma­ment of folk, but how will he fare with the 10 ques­tions we ask ev­ery­one?

Guitarist - - Opinion -

What was your first gui­tar and when did you get it? “It was a Squier Stra­to­caster, given to me by my dad when I was 11 years old. It was red and I think it was a Mex­i­can build and just a re­ally ba­sic prac­tice gui­tar. It was per­fect for me at the time. I think when you’re that age and some­one hands you a Stra­to­caster, you feel like you’ve been handed the key to a big shiny door and ev­ery­thing is on the other side. I was ob­sessed with Led Zep­pelin, Clap­ton and Delta blues and Chicago blues – I was lis­ten­ing to a lot of Muddy Wa­ters.” Sup­pose the build­ing was burn­ing down, what one gui­tar would you save? “Which­ever one was hang­ing on the wall near­est the door! If I knew the sprin­klers were go­ing to kick in and I had a minute to spare, I think I’d grab my spruce top Fylde Fal­staff. That’s the gui­tar I play the most. It fea­tures most heav­ily on the new record [Hum­ming­bird] and in all my shows. It’s the only gui­tar I’ve ever picked up, played and bought on the spot within five min­utes.” What’s the old­est gui­tar that you have in your col­lec­tion? “I’ve got a 1936 [Gib­son] Master­tone Spe­cial that I bought in Run­corn for a cou­ple of hun­dred quid in Frail­ers gui­tar shop. It’s set up for slide, so at some point it has been un-fret­ted and it has a mas­sively high ac­tion. I use it for lap slide and it sounds great – re­ally mel­low and res­o­nant.” When did you last prac­tise and what did you play? “I’ve just been away for the week­end without my gui­tar and so it must have been Fri­day. I think I picked up my SG and just played bot­tle­neck slide for an hour. I’m re­ally into slide gui­tar lately and I’ve been work­ing on an ar­range­ment of The Late Show by Jack­son Browne, but just for slide gui­tar. And it’s quite dif­fi­cult. I’ve just bought this Stry­mon Flint pedal with tremolo and re­verb and I think I went into spaceytremolo world.” When was the last time you changed your strings? “I change them as lit­tle as pos­si­ble, to be hon­est. I like the sound of old, dead strings and I use Elixirs, which never break no mat­ter how much I beat them up. I think I changed a set re­cently just be­fore a flight – you al­ways have to de­tune and re­tune them – and it’s an ideal time to put some new strings on. But I would say, on my main gui­tars I change the strings three times a year.” If you could change one thing about a record­ing you’ve been on, what would it be and why? “You take songs you’ve recorded in the stu­dio, then you play them live and they find their voice. You go back and lis­ten to the al­bum and re­alise you recorded it too slow or too fast, or what­ever. There have been times when I’ve wanted to go back and re­visit the Great Lakes ses­sion and speed some­thing up or change the sound be­cause it turned out so dif­fer­ent live.” What’s the worst thing that’s hap­pened to you on stage? “I had a gig with Lisa Han­ni­gan and it was in a very hot room in Bos­ton. Some­how the banjo that she was play­ing and the gui­tar I was play­ing ended up a semi­tone apart. She did the first verse and it sounded great and at the cho­rus I came in with a lovely gui­tar lick, but it was a semi­tone flat. The whole room went, ‘Uhhh…’ and she looked round at me and went, ‘What?’ and I was look­ing at the gui­tar go­ing, ‘I don’t know!’ And the gui­tar tech looked up and went, ‘Sorry…’ It was ter­ri­ble. It all hap­pened in slow mo­tion and I just wanted the ground to pull me in.” What song would you play around a camp­fire? “Nor­mally Beeswing by Richard Thomp­son. It never goes wrong; it’s al­ways a song that peo­ple re­spond to and I re­ally en­joy play­ing it. I never cover it in gigs be­cause it doesn’t need to be cov­ered, but if ever I’m around a camp­fire, I have a re­ally good time singing that one.” What as­pect of play­ing gui­tar would you like to be bet­ter at? “I’d like the time to study the­ory like I used to. The trou­ble with tour­ing and then be­ing at home and be­ing with your fam­ily, is mak­ing time for prac­tice. At some point I’m hop­ing just to hide my­self away for a month and get back up to speed on the­ory, be­cause as soon as I started learn­ing mu­sic the­ory and you learn that there are thou­sands of ways to play a ma­jor 7 chord, then sud­denly the fret­board opens up and it be­comes a road map, rather than just a sin­gle track.” Is there a myth about you or your gui­tar play­ing that you’d like to set the record straight on? “I don’t know… is there?” John Smith’s al­bum, is out now on Com­moner Records www.john­smithjohn­smith.com

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