With his fourth solo album, Before I Knew What Had Begun I Had Already Lost, Jon Wilks takes a step away from the Birmingham songs that brought him recognition on his previous two collections and instead focuses on the songs that have moved him most over the last few, difficult years. Still heavily focused on lesser-known traditional songs, the acclaimed guitarist and singer includes three compositions of his own and brings together a collection of musicians that he has grown to love playing with.
“While I adore researching and arranging Midlands songs”, Wilks explains, “this album grew out of a different place. Just before I started recording it, I fell quite seriously ill and ended up spending three months at home. I spent a lot of time picking away at the guitar, trying different tunings, and then Martin Simpson showed up with a 5-string banjo and prescribed ‘banjo therapy’. Music and friends were a great help, and these songs and musicians kind of coalesced during that time.”
Aside from Martin Simpson’s banjo, the album sees Wilks renewing friendships young and old. He has worked for over a decade with keyboardist, Jon Nice, so it’s no surprise to find him here. The pair first worked with Lukas Drinkwater on their well-loved Nick Drake covers during lockdown, when Katherine Priddy joined them on vocals. Drinkwater makes a welcome return on this record.
“Those sessions formed a kind of sonic template for this album”, says Wilks. “I was keen to explore their organic simplicity further, and I think you can hear that on some of these recordings.”
The album also sees Wilks recording with Jackie Oates, with whom he has recently begun performing as a duo.
“We first met when I supported her in about 2018, and we hit it off straight away. I helped out on her recent album, Gracious Wings, and then we started playing together more often around the time our mutual friend, Paul Sartin, died. ‘Haymaking Song’, on this album, is a traditional song local to where Paul and I got to know each other, and we used to play it together whenever we had a chance. We never got around to recording together, though, so I hummed Paul’s fiddle parts – as best I remembered them – to Jackie, and that’s largely what she’s playing here. I hope we got it right.”
The album title comes from a line in Wilks’ own ‘Greek Street’. “That lyric, along with the rest of the song, fell out in a single sitting. It could be interpreted as quite a melancholy thing to say, but I think it comes from my tendency to throw myself wholeheartedly into things, whether that’s relationships, work, art or anything else. Take traditional music, for instance. Before I knew what had happened, I was in up to my chin!”
Jon Wilks is an acclaimed fingerpicking guitarist and singer of traditional folk songs and broadside ballads from the English repertoire. His background as a journalist (a former editor of Time Out magazine and contributor to Dazed & Confused, The Guardian and other publications) means that he has a great eye/ear for a story, and this shows in his live shows – an amusing mix of folk song performance and storytelling. He throws in weird and wonderful tidbits about the original singers and collectors that he has unearthed during his substantial writing and podcasting research on traditional folk music in the UK, and his performance is often described as both entertaining and informative.
As well as gigging whenever he can, Jon is the founder/editor of the tradfolk.co website, and the presenter of The Old Songs Podcast.
Before I Knew What Had Begun I Had Already Lost is out on May 5th, and will be available to order from https://jonwilks.bandcamp.com/music
Artist’s website: https://jonwilks.online/
‘Greek Street’ (and some chat) – live:
Album Launch Tour Dates
May 12th, Burton-On-Trent Folk Club
May 13th, West End Centre, Aldershot
May 15th, Kitchen Garden Cafe, Birmingham
May 16th, Temperance, Leamington Spa
May 17th, Green Note, Camden, London
May 18th, All Hallows, Whitchurch, Hampshire
May 19th, Downend Folk & Roots, Bristol
May 20th, Bridport Folk Society May 22nd, The Prince Albert, Stroud
May 25th, Cafe #9, Sheffield
May 27th, The Globe, Newcastle
May 28th, Hyde Park Folk Club, Leeds