JON PALMER talks to Folking

Jon Palmer

The Jon Palmer Acoustic Band is based in Otley. They have a loyal following across the region and four albums to their name, the most recent of which, The Silences In Between, was released earlier this year. Although based now in West Yorkshire the musical story of the man who gave the band their name began much earlier and further south.

“I was a drummer when I was in my teens but I had this thing about wanting to write songs so I taught myself guitar. By the time I was eighteen or nineteen I started to join bands with more established musicians and gravitated towards bringing my own songs along and picking up some of the vocals. By my early twenties I was fronting my own band down in Southend on a full-time hobby basis.

“It was a good time to be doing music in Southend. It would have been towards the late 70s so you had all the punk and new wave stuff and Dr Feelgood so it was a nice scene. You could pretty much do what you wanted. It was a pretty eclectic mix of stuff going on and lots of places to play.”

It’s a long way from Southend to West Yorkshire. “I moved north in about 1990, first to Newcastle and three years later to Yorkshire. I’ve been here since 1994 and I’m here to stay now, I love it here.” So where did the Jon Palmer Acoustic band appear from?

“I was in an electric band, sort of folky but more electric, playing pubs and that sort of gig but at the same time there was a bunch of us who would meet down the folk club and, on the spur of the moment, I put a bunch of mates together with a view to getting some really acoustic stuff going and doing a couple of nights down the folk club. It was just meant to be an occasional, part-time band but we did the folk club and we got booked for the folk festival and before we knew where we were it was a proper thing.

“This was about six or seven years ago and a few members have changed over the years but at least half the band were there on the very first day. There was no master plan but I realised that there was an audience for that sort of music and gave up everything else I was doing.”

That band was Big Fat Kill (not to be confused with the US band of the same name) and Jon released a solo album, Walk Into Your Dreams, while still with them. I’m distraught to say that I didn’t have a terribly high opinion of it back in 2010 although I’m comforted that I recognised the quality of his songwriting. When I first came across Jon’s Acoustic Band, I couldn’t help wondering about the Electric Band so why persist with a name that seems, in part, redundant?

“At the start it was to distinguish us from Big Fat Kill because people knew that was me and my band. Even now there are some festivals that will book us just as The Jon Palmer Band, by their own choice. The way I justify it nowadays is to say that, if you stuck us in a room or even a small hall with just our acoustic instruments, we would do you an unplugged gig. We can still do it unplugged and sometimes we do. We played at Moorcock Acoustic the other week – that’s just a big room but everybody’s quiet and it’s nice to be able to do that kind of thing.”

Jon Palmer Acoustic Band

Jon and the band seem happy at the moment to be big fish in their own regional pond and play some festivals but do they have ambitions for greater things?

“There are practical considerations. I have a full-time job so music is a hobby and it always has been – but a serious hobby – so I don’t really want to be travelling all round the country at weekends but a couple of hours around where I live is quite acceptable. It does mean that we’re pretty much a north of England band but we’ve reached the point now that, if you’re into acoustic folk music in the north of England there’s an outside chance you’ll have heard of us.

“We try to do as many festivals as we can – we’re designed to be a festival band, really – and sometimes we do stopovers. I think we’re doing three or four this year but it all depends on what’s going on in our private lives. My twins are studying for A-levels and even with gigs I’ll be coming home just to be here.”

As he says, Jon has been a songwriter since his late teens and has written some quite angry songs – ‘Working For The Gangmaster’ and ‘Eton Mess’ spring to mind – that will get an audience on its feet but it strikes me that his writing has become increasingly nuanced.

“I can understand why you say that in relation to The Silences In Between. I don’t want to be known as a political songwriter. I want to be known as a songwriter who can write about anything he likes, as a songwriter who sometimes writes political songs. For this album, I could have forced one or two more political-type songs in but I just went with the one that we’ve been playing as a band and there are songs about all sorts of things on there.

“I’ve just been looking at a possible listing for the next album because most of that’s written and about half of that is quasi-political songs so it just depends on when the songs come along what album they go on. Maybe I am a bit more nuanced but that’s just development in songwriting because I’ve been writing for quite a long time and I think I’ve written a few decent ones in the last few years because I’ve concentrated a lot more on it. I’ve got a Brexit song, I’ve got a Donald Trump song and I’ve got songs about one or two other modern subjects and they’re starting to feature in the live set list but I’ve got songs about other subjects, too.”

I suppose that we’ll have to wait patiently for the next album as the ink has hardly dried on The Silences In Between. “Three-quarters of the songs I’m looking at are already rehearsed up to a certain extent and I think four of them alternate in and out of the live set, so we’re well on the way. I’m not in a mad rush but I’m already in discussions with somebody who has expressed an interest in producing it and we might start the process sometime quite soon – we could potentially start it at the back end of the year.”

And with that tantalising glimpse into the future we’ll leave Jon to get back to work. If you haven’t encountered The Jon Palmer Acoustic Band yet have a listen to the video below and check out their festival bookings for the summer. You won’t regret it.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://www.jonpalmeracousticband.com/

‘Where The Mountains Meet The Sea’ – live:

JON PALMER ACOUSTIC BAND – The Silences In Between (own label)

SilencesWill someone please explain why Otley’s finest folk-rock band are not huge stars. The Silences In Between is their third studio album – there’s also a rocking live set – and is as good as anything they’ve done.

There’s plenty to enjoy here. ‘I Don’t Know’ is about love as in “I don’t know much about love …but I’m gonna to find out” – there’s a Richard Thompson song that would follow it perfectly – and ‘Haul Away’ sounds like a rollicking old shanty. I love ‘Barleycorn Boy’ which is plainly not a folk song because “nobody dies and nobody drowns and no-one gets lost at the fair”, a typically witty Jon Palmer lyric adding a modern twist to an old idea. Two songs have appeared before on the live album: the title track and the traditional ‘Pay Me My Money Down’. The former is a love song with all the drive that the band can muster and could be a single if such things still mattered and the latter gets a more considered treatment than it does as a live show closer.

The line-up remains determinedly acoustic with guitars, double bass and Jon’s son Tom on cajon as the only percussion. Instrumental breaks come from Wendy Ross on fiddle and Matt Nelson’s mandolin, whistle and saxophone. My first impression was that there is more poetry than politics in The Silences In Between. The one obviously protest song is ‘There’s A Cold Wind Blowing (Over This Land)’ which sort of updates Billy Bragg’s ‘Between The Wars’ and that’s no bad thing since nothing much has changed since Bill wrote it.

There’s also a measure of unrequited love. ‘Hour Glass’, featuring the only guest appearance from singer Rachel Goodwin, is one such. Like several of Jon’s songs, it’s deceptively simple, but there is something oddly post-apocalyptic about it and the line “Burn the cathedrals” is the one that sticks in the mind. After one or two plays I think I understand why Jon didn’t include the lyrics with the record – the feel of a song is more important than detailed textual analysis – and there is little profit in trying to unpick his words.

The bottom line is that this is a superb album of 21st century folk-rock. Go out and buy it in thousands and make the Jon Palmer Acoustic Band rich and famous.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: http://www.jonpalmeracousticband.com/

‘The Silences In Between’ live:

JON PALMER ACOUSTIC BAND – Live At Otley Courthouse (own label)

Live At Otley CourthouseYou’ll be relieved to know that Jon Palmer and his chums weren’t in court for sentencing, although if protest ever becomes illegal it’s just a matter of time. Live At Otley Courthouse was originally recorded just to be sold to the faithful at gigs but the response was so positive that the band decided to let the rest of us buy it as well.

They kick off with two contrasting songs. ‘Brown Eyed Northern Girl’ is a song of contentment as the singer reflects on life with the woman of his dreams while ‘London Town’ – “where the streets are paved with credit cards” – is just the opposite. They follow that with ‘Joyful Noise’ just to remind us that music is supposed to be fun, too.

The Jon Palmer Acoustic Band have been compared to all manner of folk-rock bands from Levellers to The Waterboys but the word acoustic is important and they have resisted the temptation to crank up the volume. Matt Nelson’s mandolin and whistles and Wendy Ross’ violin are crucial ingredients of their sound. There is a solid core of politics at the heart of what they do and, if pressed, I’d liken them to their colleagues across the Pennines, Merry Hell. Songs like ‘Stuffed Their Mouths With Gold’, ‘Working For The Gangmaster’ and ‘Eton Mess’ have obvious messages but Jon shows his subtler side with ‘Where The Mountains Meet The Sea’, a song about forced Irish emigration. The set wraps up with three covers: a dirty rocking ‘Dirty Old Town’, ‘Meet On The Ledge’ shorn of the sentimentality Fairport now imbue it with and the traditional ‘Pay Me My Money Down’.

The sound is beautifully clear and although the audience is clearly present they don’t overwhelm the mix. There are guest appearance from female vocal trio, Yan Tan Tether, also from Otley and Rachel Goodwin, an emerging singer from Harrogate. If you haven’t the band yet (and why haven’t you?) this is a damn good starting point.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: http://www.jonpalmeracousticband.com/

Songs From The Show: