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INTERVIEW: Johnny Lynch (The Pictish Trail)

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Johnny Lynch is a superman capable of accomplishing an impossible array of tasks within a single earthly year: from writing and recording his own work as The Pictish Trail to launching a new record label, organising another successful festival and touring. Now, it turns out, he’s also building a house on the distant Inner Hebridean Island of Eigg. And he has plans, lots of plans!

But when we got a chance to chat to him at Green Man, we also found out he’s one of the most enthusiastic, fiery and fun people you’re ever likely to meet. And here’s what he had to say about festivals, his new label and why ‘this fucking government’ is robbing us of culture.

 

So here we are at Green Man. You’ve recently mentioned in your blog that Green Man is your favourite festival, what makes it so great?

– I think music is always really great. Ben (Ben Coleman, Green Man festival booker) does a really good job at curating a great bill. It’s always the best, always includes my favourite acts from the year, which includes myself. (Laughs) And the vibe is really good. It’s a festival that’s quite contained. You don’t have to walk miles to get anywhere. It’s one of those where you can watch a little bit of everything. If there’s a little gig clash you can watch 15 mins of one and half an hour of another – that’s a real treat! And the 24 hour bar – THAT’s good! The late night stuff is so much better than any other festival I’ve ever been to. They really think about the late night stuff. Because there’s a lot of festivals that will have the hipster bands and everyone’s excited about seeing them, but everything ends at about midnight and you’re like, “Oh, I wanna keep dancing!” Green Man caters better than most, way better than most…and there’s so many areas to explore. It’s a beautiful site and an amazing location! It does feel like you’re removing yourself from the everyday.

So who are you hoping to see this year?

– Right, who am I going to see? I wanna see Francois and the Atlas Mountains. They’re the best live band in the world! Caribou. I wanna catch some of that. Really looking forward to seeing Luke Abbott, one of my favourite acts. Last year Ben booked two of my favourite acts, who played on the Saturday night. I don’t know how but he’s done it again! It almost feels like he’s curated it for me.(Laughs) Mac DeMarco. Bill Callahan. There’s so much good stuff! Oh, Mercury Rev!!!! That’s one of my favourite albums so I’m very excited about seeing them and… errr…being inebriated. (Laughs)

You live in the Hebrides now, why did you choose to move and did you find adapting difficult or easy?

– I’d been living in Fife for 14 years and in Anstruther for 10-11 years of that. It’s a quite a small community who are aware of the incomers, those not from that area… When I moved to Eigg, there was no sense of that. The entire community welcomed us with open arms. It was really beautiful. My girlfriend was a journalist in London and that’s how we met. She was born on Eigg. Her family just moved back there and her uncle was retiring from his farm. So she took over his farm and now she’s a sheep farmer, which is quite different from being a music journalist! (Laughs) We’d just started going out at that point and I went up there to visit her. And – oh my god – up there on the farm, it was just AMAZING!!! But then within a month of being there, I thought: “This is it – we need to have a festival!” The next month I announced the festival and our tickets went on sale. Sold out in 6 minutes and we held the festival in September. I did it ‘cos I just knew it was gonna work. The first one happened and it was the best thing I’d done in my entire life!

So you started off with the Away Day and this year was the debut of your new festival, Howlin’ Fling. How did your debut go?

– It was amazing! We’d done it twice before with Away Game but this time it was just way more slick. I delegated a lot more. I didn’t have to do as much work as I did the previous two times. Delegating jobs is something I’m not very good at. I always think: “Oh, I can do that myself. It’s fine. It’s too difficult to explain.” This year I had a whole team of people, a whole team of volunteers. And it’s just made the whole thing much easier. The vibe was amazing, the music was just bang on. It’s like the best thing I’ve ever put on. I do this thing where you can watch every single band that play: we have two stages but the next band won’t start playing until the first one finishes. It also gives the bands more time. I hate festivals where they give you 10 min to linecheck…arghhhh….so with us everyone gets a good hour or so. And everyone gives their best performance and the entire audience are there watching it. This year the weather was great!! There were dolphins swimming around… I think I’m quite aware with the festival on Eigg, part of the enjoyment is the experience of travelling and of removing yourself from your normal day-to-day life. And the journey up to Eigg is such a beautiful journey! It’s a long way to travel ‘cos even from Glasgow it’s a five and a half hour train ride, then you have ferry to go over on. Coming up from London it’s a full day and a half or more travelling. So that journey and the scenery that you see when you’re travelling up there and over there, that’s definitely part of the festival experience. I’m really lucky that I live in one of the most beautiful places in this country. It’s amazing!

I’ve seen your pictures and I’ve seen your video so I’m definitely hooked on that idea for sure. You’ve always had amazing line ups, with the Away Day you had British Sea Power and Jon Hopkins, and this year, of course, you had Beth Orton and Steve Mason. So how do you go about booking your acts?

– These tend to be people who I’d meet at festivals like Green Man. One of the benefits of playing in a band is that I get to go backstage when the band’s finished playing. So I get drunk with a lot of my heroes but I also know a lot of these people just as a fan, and as someone who’s actively involved in music… A lot of people have started finding out about the festival I run and there’s now a lot of bands who’re approaching us. There was a great band played this year called Adult Jazz. And I’d not really heard of them until they got in touch asking to play. I listened to their music and they were totally incredible so I was: “Yeah – come up!” There’s been a few acts like that who I’d not been aware of until the festival. The festival I run is also so small and we can’t afford to pay anyone crazy money, so the bands play there ‘cos they want to play there. When they arrive they go at it full pelt! British Sea Power really went for it!! They’re a proper rock’n’roll band – the real deal! Partying band! Steve Mason and his whole band did. They stayed for the whole weekend and made a big holiday out of it.

As a festival organiser, what are your thoughts on today’s festival market?

– It’s a funny one, isn’t it? Yeah, like this whole Jabberwocky thing… I think someone was telling me the other day about another festival that had a great bill but wasn’t quite sold out. It’s great about Green Man selling out! And that is well deserved after a lot of hard work. I think, you know, we’re now addicted to them and it’s part of the summer culture in the UK. And I think all the boutique festivals that happen, small festivals… they’re kind of the heart and soul now of what British summer is about. I think it’s a European summer now as well – so many festivals! People complain about over-saturation but then people wouldn’t go to them. There comes a point when certain festivals don’t manage to cut the mustard but other ones will. I think it’s all about having ideas. I think it’s about creating a really good environment and picking good music. Finding your audience, not just getting big names and going: “YEAH, we’ve got the biggest names, the coolest names, everyone’s gonna come to this!” As you’ve seen with that ATP thing (Jabberwocky), a classic example of why it just doesn’t work like that.

It’s been a really big year for you, with all sorts of new things – a new festival, signing to Moshi Moshi and starting your own new label Lost Map.

– Yeah, it was its birthday yesterday! It was the 14th August last year that Lost Map started. We debuted here at Green Man. We had a showcase in the cinema tent and it’s just been fantastic. So many people have been supportive of our collective and it will continue expanding. There’s some amazing acts, new records coming out over the next 6 months. Yeah, this year’s been a great year!

What about The Pictish Trail? You’re now signed to Moshi Moshi and re-releasing your first two albums. What else is in store for you?

– At the end of this month I’m gonna start working on my new album. I can’t tell you who I’m recording it with but I’m very excited about it. It’s really quite special. I’m touring a lot this year. There’s a band on my label called Tuff Love. I’m touring with them and then doing a tour with Sweet Baboo from Moshi Moshi as well. We’re touring together in November-December, so there’s a lot of collaboration happening with us this year. And I’m planning on spending a lot of the first half of next year on Eigg finishing my record and then a lot more travelling… I’m building a house on Eigg! At the beginning of next year the house will be done. So there is A LOT OF stuff I’m working on and a lot of stuff happening with Lost Map.

Amazing! And have you thought at all about resurrecting some of your comedy career?

– Have you seen any of my comedy?!! (Laughs) Well, I did a tour with Josie Long a few years ago. You know, her previous two shows we just put on audio tape and were going to release that. But only through independent shops. Comedy is a funny thing, right? I did it when I was at uni and we went to Edinburgh festival every single year. It’s funny, my friend Andrew Lawrence… We did a routine together called Ministers of Satan. He’s now a proper professional big stand up. He’s at the Edinbrugh fringe selling out every night. I just think I’m really, really glad I got out of that because with comedy you can’t drink. Any comedian you see who looks drunk, they’re just pretending. There are very few who can do it and keep their wits about them. It’s the hardest thing in the world remembering all the material and delivering it. But if I could do comedy I would: they’re paid a fortune but linecheck is just making sure that the microphone works. There’s no backline, nothing to check, nothing…just themselves. I wish I could be a comedian but I’ll just have to settle for being a drunk.(Laughs)

Josie has, of course, started Arts Emergency, a new charity that aims to create opportunities in the arts for people without privilege and fights the ideology of arts education as a luxury and culture as a preserve of the elite. Do you think it’s harder for people trying to enter creative industries nowadays?

– It is with this fucking Tory government! It’s ridiculously, ridiculously difficult…When I first became a musician, there was a Labour government and they had this thing called New Deal for Musicians. I signed on and they supported me, supported my career. Had it not been for that that, I’d struggle to be a full-time musician. I see my friends, like Francois (Francois Marry of Francois and the Atlas Mountains) and the French government supports the arts so much! His career has lifted because he’s had funding to travel and take his music abroad. And there’s benefits. There’s money that comes in for that. But you can’t put price on entertainment. You have to nurture that and look after that. What Josie is doing with Arts Emergency is absolutely vital. I think there’s not enough people making a fuss about it ‘cos this government came in and just completely slashed funding on anything that was to do with the arts or entertainment. It’s disgusting. It’s no surprise that Scotland wants to leave because it’s just miserable. No one wants to live in this austere souless state?! It’s horrendous! What she’s doing is really great. I think it’s easy to go: “There’s not a problem here… We’re living our lives as normal. We’re fine. Things are a little bit more expensive and we’re having to work a little bit harder ‘cos we’re not getting paid as much. But, you know, we can buy iPads and iPhones…” This culture still dictates everyone’s quite happy living their quite contained lives. But it needs voices! It needs people like Josie, it needs people like Billy Bragg to say: “Look, what’s happening right now is disgusting. We’re a rich nation. We’ve got plenty of cash and we’re cutting off all enjoyment and all appreciation of what live is.”

To stay tuned for more Pictish Trail adventures, tours and Lost Map artists annoucements – click here

Pictish Trail’s Secret Soundz Vol. 1 & 2 are out now on Moshi Moshi – buy here
And give some love to the Pictish Trail’s own blog.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.