True North is a labour of love from acclaimed singer-songwriter Johnny Campbell, who has spent his career so far exploring the songs and stories of northern England. The release features collaborations with Liverpool virtuoso fiddle player, Mikey Kenney, and Northumbrian duo, The Brothers Gillespie. The album gathers together field recordings of traditional songs from the north, each recorded at the highest point of its given county. From Northumberland and Durham to Lancashire and Merseyside, Campbell has travelled the length and breadth of the north to collect these recordings on or close to the summit of each spot.
Each recording documents a moment in time, captured for posterity on a fell or desolate moor, with the album as a whole capturing a tapestry of the north. These recordings are not refined to perfection or studio-polished, but living and breathing songs, just as they’ve been passed down through the generations. Through these songs, Campbell explores the symbiotic connections between the land, the music, the stories and the history that has shaped northern identity – from Chartism and co-operatives to the Labour movement. The landscapes of the north are inextricably with our social history.
The hills and streams that powered the Industrial Revolution in turn played a key role in social hierarchy and even the transatlantic slave trade. The album is therefore a journey into the psychogeography of northern England, expressed through the medium of traditional song. Originally starting as a lockdown project on Patreon in mid-2020, the album is the final part of a trilogy of releases that explore our connection (and disconnection) to the land around us, including Winter Hill Trespass (2021) and A Right To Roam (2022). With 92% of England out of bounds, the album shines a light once again on the issue of land access. One of the recordings was even made on MOD land, which Campbell had to apply to walk on, further underlining the issue at hand. The search for ‘True North’, is also part of the concept of the album and refers to a personal and collective journey that has driven mankind for millennia.
From religious texts across all faiths, to the Holy Grail and the belief in a better place somewhere, mankind has always searched for truth, meaning and something more. Speaking about the release, Johnny Campbell says:
“This album is about living in the present, and feeling the connection between traditional songs and the world around us. Each track captures a moment in time, and these moments are fleeting and precious. For me, that’s what life is all about.”
Alongside his music-making, Campbell’s knowledge of radical histories, landscape and geography have earned him a freelance writing role with Britain’s most popular walking magazine, Country Walking, as well as praise from author Nick Hayes, a feature on BBC Radio 4 Open Country and an episode of the award-winning Folk on Foot podcast. True North will be released on 26th January 2024. The first single, ‘Here’s The Tender Coming’, is out on 1st December.
‘Here’s The Tender Coming’ – official video:
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