ljm edit


Prepared, Laura J Martin’s first solo record since 2016, was made thanks to her return to her home city of Liverpool. Practicalities played their significant part; lured from London by the black and white want of sheer physical space to make a home studio was a strong pull. It gifted Laura the luxury of time to work as and when, cancelling out any budget concerns crippling ambitions in the planning, writing, composing, recording of this, her fourth solo album. The move back to Merseyside is also – and vitally, for the creation of Prepared – thanks to the not-to-be-missed opportunity of taking up an apprenticeship with renowned legend of the flute world, Willy Simmons. A chance to learn from the very best was something Martin could not refuse.
‘I knew I wanted to move back to Liverpool anyway. That just tipped me over the edge,’ Laura says of the apprenticeship. As a young man in 1960s, Willy Simmons became frustrated at the quality of repair to his own flute, so simply learned to do it himself – a valuable lesson on its own. Technical flute making and mending skills from Laura’s apprenticeship with Simmons left its determined mark on her own creative music making process. ‘Doing the apprenticeship rewired my brain a bit just because I was forced to sit still, which is something I have never been very good at. I guess that changed the music, essentially. Prepared is about the quiet intensity of getting things together.’
It is said elsewhere, and somewhat pretentiously, that no-one really actually owns a Willy Simmons flute, you adopt one at best. With down to earth realism, Laura laughs. ‘It depends if you’re minted or not! I still use the same flute I used since I was 16 years old!’‘ The press release for Prepared humorously stresses it is not an album about flute repairing. A concept album too far, we agree, as entertaining as the idea might be.

We talk a couple of days after Laura’s appearance at Focus Wales in Wrexham, North Wales. It was noticeable during her performance at the festival how animated she became when lifting her flute to her lips. On the video for her quite wonderful pop-bop Living On The Wall, the most meta single of the year so far, a song concerned with songwriting, she brandishes the instrument like a weapon. ’I feel more comfortable, fluent on the flute. I’ve always loved playing and writing on the piano, I guess it’s more sonically pleasing isn’t it, but at the same time my hands are very small so I’ve always felt I couldn’t go super far with the piano. The span of my hands doesn’t stretch. Pieces written on the piano are written for males but on the flute I’ve never felt limited. I can reach every note! I don’t want to sound too hippy here but with a piano especially an upright you can have your back to the audience but with a flute you can be free and open, Ian Anderson-style!’

The Focus Wales set was part of the Janice Long tribute strand, curated by BBC Introducing’s Adam Walton. The event weaved together past and present beautifully, emphasising and celebrating that sense of support and camaraderie the radio presenter and proud advocate of emerging independent artists, was well known for.  ‘I met Janice several times because she introduced me on stages Moseley Folk Festival but also the Albert Dock a few times. We just got chatting backstage. She was incredibly warm and very personable and encouraged me to send her my music and whenever I did she was always really interested. She had that buzz for new music, very genuine, and it was comforting to meet someone like that in the music industry.’

outside 2

As Laura, myself and photographer Bev wandered the grounds of St Giles Church in Wrexham on a determined hunt for good locations, Laura was keen to stress how the green foliage in the graveyard might over-emphasise the folk content on Prepared. The record carries folk elements, for sure, but is an intriguing combination of intelligent experimental alt-pop, electronic quirkiness and exploration. ‘I love folk music, but on this record it’s definitely crossed over into other genres. I think having a flute in my hand automatically categorizes it as folk for a lot of people. They think the flute is a classical or folk instrument. That doesn’t offend me, I’m happy to be in that category, but I do think this record breaks free from that.’

Every Laura J Martin record, she explains, has been a reaction of sorts to the one before. On The Never Never from 2016 was recorded in a ‘traditional’ manner, as she puts it. Albeit with members of Lambchop, Silver Jews and Jesus Lizard, in the somewhat glamorous location of Nashville, the songs rehearsed beforehand, recorded live, and quickly. ‘Traditional for me,’ she clarifies. Prepared ‘took the time it took’, pieced together and moulded more leisurely and intimately at home, with co-producer Iwan Morgan (Euros Childs, Cate Le Bon, Gruff Rhys, Georgia Ruth). ‘There were no real deadlines, and every song came from playing around with no pressure.  It was more “let’s see what this sounds like”. Each idea triggered another and little by little, we had a record.’

It was a playful approach they both took, she explains. The idea of rebellious instruments pushing and talking back, drum machines that wouldn’t stay in time, and a piano with a will of its own, appeals.‘I guess in honesty we couldn’t afford to tune the piano at the time so that was one reason for just going with the flow,’ she laughs. ‘Embracing things not having to sound perfect. Even though there’s a lot of synths on the record, it felt organic because we were using older things. Things weren’t doing as they were told.’  On ‘The Dails’, they used a Juno synth. It has, she reckons, its own personality. 
‘The Juno can be haphazard but for that track we were tapping into the warm side of it. It’s like having a nice warm bath. But sometimes a synth can make fart noises can’t it!’

The title song Prepared is the first on the record, it edges us in gradually. ‘It was a bit ballsy of me to have such a long instrumental introduction,’ she says. ‘Making people wait. You don’t hear the first vocal for quite some time in.  That requires the listener to be patient or maybe get into the zone. Then I wanted to break the windows after that track with ‘Counting Time’. Nosebleeds and breaking windows, that was the aim!’  The Prepared video features twitchers in Martin Mere nature reserve – the school trip destination for every north-west England-based child since formal education was a thing for the masses – patiently waiting to spy birds and taking note. ‘Going back to that quiet intensity of waiting, getting things together like in the apprenticeship. And having that confidence to wait as well, the belief. It seemed the perfect setting to what the song is about. The whole album is self-reflective. But I guess every musician says that.’

‘Living On The Wall‘ is the first of two duets with Morgan. ‘Sonically Iwan’s voice compliments mine well. I can be high and excitable, Iwan’s is calm and soothing. I kind of bullied Iwan into singing, I tricked him,’ she confesses. ‘”Oh I think I want this to be a duet, can you demo it” and go “see, see it IS good!” Iwan definitely didn’t see himself as a singer.’
Does he now?
‘He’s getting there. He’s jokes he’s Welsh and the history of him singing has been in the Eisteddfod as a kid, that was the last time. I think he’s getting more and more comfortable with it. He doesn’t quite feel like he’s Tom Jones yet!’

‘Magic Mornings’ came from waking up in New York early with jet lag. The field recording of traffic at the end, signals the 24-hour city’s start to the day, one of possibilities and promise.  ‘All I could hear was those sirens. I was dangling out of the hotel window with a microphone. My arm stuck out. Everyone else was asleep but New York was still bustling with police cars and things.’ At the end she sings of bells that ring out in morning…or is it mourning? Either works, in its own way.
‘Three Days’ is very sparse, noticeably so. Going back to lessons learned from the apprenticeship Laura had a hankering for space, after listening to Joanna Brouk‘s ‘Maggi’s Flute‘, where the flute played on its own. ‘It was completely different to the type of music that I had made.’ ‘Laura doesn’t listen to flute records much. It’s somewhat of an anomaly for her to do so.
‘I guess because a lot of flute is classical. I do like classical music but I’m someone who listens to pop and alternative music.  I think a lot of people think “oh you must have all the Jethro Tull albums”. I don’t! I think they’re great but what I took from Jethro Tull is ‘A Song For Jeffrey’, I ran with that.’ The jazz of Herbie Mann and Yousef Lateef seeped into her consumption in her musically formative years, but her people, as she puts it, were David Bowie and Serge Gainsbourg. ‘I tried playing flute along to them, as a teenager!’

‘Three Days‘ reflects on the life of a shift worker, the unsocial working hours clashing and infringing on social and private activities. How comparable it is in some ways, she reflects, to that of those who work in the creative industries. A sense of living parallel lives, if you like. ‘In a sense a musician sort of is, working strange hours. There is a crossover there. It’s difficult when you have friends who aren’t in that world, in more nine to five jobs who – if you can’t go to things because of work at the weekend sometimes it can be quite misunderstood. Not being able to attend someone’s wedding can be hurtful, but if you’ve got a gig or are part of a tour…’

On ‘Outside At Night‘, she focuses once again on the everyday, namely the number 86 bus she catches to get into the Liverpool. ‘It’s so frequent. I think pretty much everyone uses it. I guess you see a lot of characters and things on that route going into town.You can’t beat the north.’

Her return to her home city has proved literally fruitful, then. In more ways than one. The perfect setting, people, opportunities and circumstance and inspirations. Prepared would indeed have been a quite different record without it.

Prepared is out now, via Summer Critics.

Live dates:

18 May – Leeds, Jumbo Records (In store) 

7June – London, The Old Library

24/25 August – Future Now, Birkenhead

5 August – Chester Live Rooms w/ China Crisis

7 November – Runcorn, The Brindley Theatre w/ China Crisis

Photo credit: Beverley Craddock

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.