Following the release of his rapturously received new album ‘Headlong’, acclaimed singer and guitarist John Smith is out and around on an extensive tour and will be heading for a festival date in Leeds this month.
Produced by Sam Lakeman and featuring Cara Dillon on backing vocals, ‘Headlong’ comes dedicated to the memory of late friend John Renbourn (of Pentangle) and is the follow-up to ‘Great Lakes’, John’s widely-applauded and Radio 2-supported release of 2013.
It is the fifth album in a hard-working, under-the-radar career that has earned the Devon-born Smith a dedicated following and secured the respect and admiration of his peers.
The late Renbourn called him “the future of folk music” and Smith has opened shows for artists as diverse as Iron and Wine, John Martyn, Tinariwen and Gil Scott-Heron. He has also played on sessions for Joan Baez, Cara Dillon and Joe Henry among others, with Lianne La Havas and Lisa Hannigan both recruiting him to play lead guitar in their bands.
And so not by chance is it that John’s new record comes bearing a title implying impulsive, breakneck motion - written as it was, across various touring stints playing guitar for the likes of La Havas and Hannigan, who fittingly lends a co-write to ‘Headlong’, on ‘Coming Home’, across the US.
Having wound up his own successful two-year stint touring ‘Great Lakes’ round the UK and across Europe in early 2016 John was finally afforded a chance to come off the road and settle in one place for a while. An opportunity which, for better or worse, Smith elected to decline.
Says John; “When I finished touring ‘Great Lakes’ I felt like I had time on my hands and I thought rather than go home and try to write where it just didn’t feel natural, I wanted to keep on touring. It felt right.”
So, in stark contrast to the agonising 24 month period of writers block which frustrated the arrival of Great Lakes, the songs that would eventually become ‘Headlong’ came together at nimble pace, during woodshedding in the isolated lulls afforded to touring musicians.
Many of the songs are inspired by John’s wife and newborn baby while the album also bears the indelible loss of John’s close friend Renbourn. The death of the Pentangle legend took a particularly strong toll;
“His death really hit me hard” says Smith. “He was so much more to me than someone I’d played with and who had encouraged me. He was a friend as well, so I wanted to reference him on this album - that’s why I’ve dedicated it to his memory”.
While Smith has stood still just long enough to commit this new album to record, there’s yet little danger of moss gathering. With a huge UK and European tour throughout the autumn he is back on the road again and will be in Leeds for the High and Lonesome Festival he is co-heading with Josh Rouse. It takes place on Saturday, November 25 at the Brudenell Social Club.