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Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith

Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith: The 10th-anniversary interview

Jimmy & Sid, as they're affectionately known to their friends and fans, have turned 10. So, what do they really think of each other?

Simon & Garfunkel may have only managed a six-year recording career, but their tale of brotherly bickering and catastrophic fallouts is legendary. It doesn’t have to be the blueprint for all taller-man-and-shorter-man folk duos, however. Welcome to Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith: the love-in. 10 years together, and no obvious suggestions that either one wants to kill the other. Our Zoom interview is all about love, admiration and respect – a seemingly rare set of qualities in this troubled world, and a decidedly refreshing one at that.

I first met Jimmy & Sid at the Southbank Centre in 2017, when they were only half their current, venerable age, and I quickly learned that the quiet, humble veneer tells far less than the whole story. The duo may appear to be a bucolic mix of banjo, cittern and sweet, sweet harmony, but beware – the social conscious is strong with these two. Alongside Stick in the Wheel, it’s hard to think of many folk groups coming up in the last 10 years who wear their politics so readily on their sleeve. Whether they’re recording for the Landworkers Alliance or writing songs that highlight the plight of zero-hours contracts, there’s an activism to their work that harks to a bygone age. Ultimately, they’re about uniting people in song, something that I’d argue they’re unrivalled at, as I saw back in 2017 and recent attendees of the Fire in the Mountain festival can attest to.

In person, of course, they’re a delight. Sid Goldsmith is the bushy-haired hippy of the two, full of love and hugs for anyone else walking a similar path. Jimmy Aldridge, by contrast, seems a dapper gentleman – unfailingly polite, and just as keen to know about you, even though he’s the subject of the interview. We spent a fleeting half-hour recalling their first 10 years together – their first impressions, their devotion to the Bristol folk scene, their passion for traditional songs, their semi-legendary singarounds, admiring each other’s loveable quirks, and laughing over arguments about who gets to shy away from the spotlight. A nicer folk duo you couldn’t hope to meet.

Happy anniversary, Jimmy & Sid. Here’s to many, many more.

We never really intended to spend this much time together, but it’s gone very well.

Jimmy Aldridge

So, you’ve managed 10 years together. Congrats!

Sid Goldsmith: Thank you very much. Yeah. Who’d have thought it, eh?

Spotify seems to think that your first album came out in 1995. How old were you then?

Jimmy Aldridge: Does it? [Laughs] I would’ve been 11 and Sid would’ve been 14.

It’s quite an accomplished-sounding album for an 11-year-old. It was Let the Winds Blow High and Low, wasn’t it? Back at the height of Britpop.

JA: [Laughs] We were really on the zeitgeist, weren’t we?

SG: Yeah. How’d that happen? I think that should say 2014.

So, that first album came out two years after you started. When did you first meet?

JA: We met at a session in the Hillgrove pub in Bristol, which we used to go to a lot. They were very welcoming at a time when the Bristol folk scene was definitely alive, but I think there wasn’t as much music going on. There wasn’t a young folk scene. I think we met on St Patrick’s Day, didn’t we?

SG: I turned up with a bodhrán.

JA: I thought you were a bodhrán player.

SG: Yeah, so did I.

JA: [Laughs] But I think you did ‘The Pound a Week Rise’, and I was just like, “Oh, I’m quite into that.” We just played on each other’s songs in that session. Then we started playing ceilidhs around Bristol, and then just playing a bit of music on the side of doing that work. It sort of formed into a duo quite organically, just because we quite enjoyed it. We did some very amusing spots around some venues in Bristol, didn’t we? And then it went on from there.

So, it was love at first sight?

SG: Well, yeah, you could say that. There began to be lots of sessions in Bristol, and that was really exciting at the time. I think we just sort of gravitated so that we’d sit next to each other to play on each other’s songs. There wasn’t really the intention to make an act out of it until we got offered a couple of things on the basis of just singing and playing together in those sessions.

We played at the opening of a little tapas bar, Poco, in Bristol – a great place – and we ended up doing a whole set of country songs. Then we saw the Bath Folk Festival New Shoots competition, and we decided to enter that. So, we got three songs arranged for the first time and then we had a set, so we thought we might as well do gigs. We got through to the final, which meant we got six videos out of it, six arrangements, and then on the back of those videos managed to get the contract with Fellside Recordings, and then it was a thing. It just carried on.

JA: We never really intended to spend this much time together, but it’s gone very well, really.

What are your most endearing qualities, and your least endearing qualities?

JA: Wow! Do we have to answer that about each other? That’s a great question! I’ll go first. I think Sid is a super easy person to travel with. He’s an incredibly friendly, warm person who everyone is instantly drawn to. I couldn’t spend many hours – days, even – in a car driving along the motorways in Britain with many people, but I can with Sid. I think we’re very lucky that, over the years, our friendship has grown at the same time as our professional way of working together. I think we’ve found a real balance of doing that, where we have a great time but we’re also really clear on what it is that we want to get out of the music. So, I think it’s initially a sort of ease with each other.

And then there’s Sid’s approach to music. I love how Sid has really applied himself to growing his art over the last 10 years and that’s gone into multiple projects. But I think, probably for both of us, this duo is the core of what we do musically, and other stuff is sort of feeding into it in a really healthy way. All of those other instruments that have been learned, the many hours he has put into all of these different things, it’s all kind of coming back into this one project and it’s all the richer for it. I’ve certainly learned an awful lot from playing alongside Sid in the last 10 years and… I’m sort of welling up over here. Go on, now you say all the things you hate about me [laughs].

Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith embark on their 10th anniversary tour. The photo is taken in a garage with white-washed walls, and the duo are facing away from the camera, wearing winter coats.

SG: Blimey [laughs]. I really agree with all that, especially the time that you have to spend together, being part of such a close-knit outfit as we are. I really agree that there’s not many people I could do that with. Sharing car journeys and processing all those weird tour experiences that happen on the way around. Having someone to just sort of go ‘GAAAH!’ to in the morning is really great. I think there’s a lot of respect, and I think you’re very respectful with people’s time and just making sure everyone’s in a place that they need to be to do the thing they need to do. You’re very caring.

There’s one thing, though, that is your most and least enduring endearing quality: your optimism. It’s glorious! Jimmy will always think that we can fit another thing in before we do the main thing. Most of the time it pays off. I’m a very different character to that. I usually have a list and I want to do the list in my head. If someone adds something to the list at the last minute, I kind of go… [tilts his head and goes bug-eyed]. And that’s been really good for me, actually. We’ve had some really great experiences because of it -stopping off for a swim or a dosa masala on the way to somewhere when it’s really not on the way to somewhere [laughs].

I think the first thing I heard you do was your version of ‘Shallow Brown’. The harmonies and the combination of what you do together is really quite a special thing. Did that come together quite naturally for you?

SG: Yeah, I think that’s been our biggest strength, really. It just feels like we both have the same idea of where things want to go. We both have an automatic arranging style, I think. The harmonizing style is something we learned from the people that we’ve listened to. It’s kind of our amalgamation of it. I think we’ve both listened to a lot of the same stuff and the voices just happened to blend really well. We’re really lucky that the physicality of the voices does just seem to blend well in harmonizing. We both like our music quite simple, too. As soon as it gets too chordy… chords can be great, but as soon as they’re not telling the story, they’re gone. I’ll happily sit on one chord for the whole thing, if that’s what the story needs and it serves it. I think we share an ethos with all that stuff.

JA: Yeah. I think that style, the way we harmonize, the way we arrange songs together, has come from just singing loads and playing loads. It’s not been a studied thing. Neither of us has a history of really digging in and studying music at a deep level. Sid had a bit more training than me, but we’re basically winging it.

What’s your musical process, then? Do you find that the two of you have different roles that you tend to veer towards?

JA: I think those roles have sort of changed over time, haven’t they? It’s certainly not fixed, but I feel that, over the years, it’s become clearer that Sid is probably more of the MD [musical director] in the project. Your musical vocabulary, and the tools that you’ve got available, are more advanced than mine. You have a lot of good ideas for how to arrange stuff, while I’m probably more of, like, the songwriter and the singer in the project, and I need someone to push me in certain directions with the ideas that are bubbling up. Sid is incredibly good at doing that. Do you agree with that, Sid?

SG: Yeah, I’d agree with that. And I think, early on, you were very much the singer. I was sort of keen to only sing harmonies and I was really glad that you kind of pushed me to sing some songs. I am happier in that supporting role and I think you’re happier when you’re setting the bedrock of the rhythm and the music and communicating the song, and I really like decorating around that. But sometimes we swap, and that’s nice, too.

JA: You won’t believe it, but I think this was actually an argument that took place over many weeks: whether it was going to be Sid Goldsmith & Jimmy Aldridge, or Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith. I don’t know how we came to it, but I think we were both quite uncomfortable with being at the front of that. And the truth is, it’s a completely shared partnership. There’s no leader, and we both bring as much as the other to the duo. But sometimes it comes around the other way, doesn’t it? Sometimes we’re billed as Sid Goldsmith & Jimmy Aldridge. I think it depends on the programmer and who they like most [laughs].

Do you think you’re known better by your full names or just Jimmy & Sid?

SG: I think, to people that know us, it’s just Jimmy & Sid. But at Fire in the Mountain [music festival], it was Sid & Jimmy, and it was odd. It’s always been Sid & Jimmy at Fire in the Mountain. I don’t know what that’s about [laughs].

JA: I always felt that Jimmy & Sid sounded a little bit like a pair of 90s BBC children’s TV presenters, so we tried to steer it away from that a little bit when we tried to take ourselves seriously in the middle of the 10-year period. But now we’ve given up on that.

SG: Better than it sounding like a firm of solicitors.

When I’m into traditional songs I go down all the holes.

Sid Goldsmith

Obviously, given the name of this website, I’d like to ask you about traditional music. It’s a big part of what you do. Do you both go out hunting for songs, spending your time searching through books?

SG: Yeah, I have periods where I get very obsessed when I’m looking for them. I love going on those journeys – the Spotify rabbit holes, the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library rabbit holes – just finding keywords and going on a journey. I don’t think I care that much about dates and locations. I find it interesting to know the history of a song, but I don’t get too bogged down in wanting to sing this person’s version of a song, or whatever. I want to find the nucleus of a song and what I love about it, and often that can be the overarching story. Or perhaps it can be a line of poetry, and the rest is worth rewriting for that one line. So, yeah, when I’m into traditional songs I go down all the holes.

JA: I wouldn’t describe myself as a good student of traditional music in that the songs we select for projects have come from lots and lots of research. Some of them certainly have, but I think they’re more often songs that we’ve heard at singarounds with friends, or on old records. There are certain things within those songs that will jump out at us, and I love that. It’s kind of like we are learning from the oral tradition.

We run a singaround in Bristol. It’s a pretty young session. There are people digging out all sorts of different things, so we’ve kind of got this hive-mind of people going off and doing all of their own hoovering up of different songs, and then the songs come into our orbit. Then there are all of the singarounds that we’re part of as we travel around on tour. We’re always hearing great stuff, and I’d say that has probably been more of an influence on us than going and digging in libraries. We’ve definitely done that and really enjoyed that process, but there are certainly other acts who I think are much better students of the tradition than us.

Tell me about the Bristol singaround. It’s something I’ve been aware of but I’ve never managed to get along to, partly because of the pandemic. Is it up and running again?

JA: It’s up and running again, yeah, and it has taken on a life of its own. We drop in when we can but there are others who are helping to drive it forward. We’ve got a small group of people who are hosting it. It was us for the first couple of years – I think we were there every month, making it happen. It was just an amazing thing. There are a lot of wonderful musicians in Bristol who are part of the folk scene, and some who aren’t part of the folk scene, who absolutely love it. Some incredible singers.

It’s about the social commentary. It’s the politics within these songs that often draws people in.

Jimmy Aldridge

Is it focused on traditional music?

JA: What started off as a fairly fluid session that had all sorts of different music has mainly become an acapella, traditional song session. It’s just incredible to sit there surrounded by all of these young people who, I think, are mostly new to traditional song. They’re just digging out these gems and singing them like they’re their own, and they’re finding the emotion in there. I think, for a lot of people, certainly for me, it’s about the social commentary. It’s the politics within these songs that often draws people in, and I think the singaround that we put on definitely has an edge to it. People are saying something with the songs they choose. They love the music, they love the tradition, but I think the songs that they’re finding are the ones that speak to their experience today. I love that edge about it.

Where is it held?

SG: The Star Pub in Fishponds. It’s not on a regular day, annoyingly. But, yeah, all that Jimmy said about it is absolutely true. And there’s this wonderful thing where there might be 30 or 40 singers in this tiny little corner of the pub, and the rest of the pub dipping in and out of enjoying it. And pretty much every month there’ll be a couple of lurkers at the back of the circle and you can see that they’ve got a song. You prompt them and at the end of the night they’ll get it out and it will be like this wonderful sharing thing, and they might be someone who comes back and does it again. It’s so incredibly precious. We’ve got this WhatsApp group for it and there are about 130 people on it now because people are just constantly asking to be added.

Are there any well-known folk singers going along that people might know?

SG: Most of them aren’t names that you would know. When we started, The Longest Johns were involved a lot. They’re not there so much these days. Anna from The Norfolk Broads is often there, as is Nick Hart, as well as Kerry and Theo from Young Waters.

JA: We set it up with Ewan McLennan. He doesn’t come so much anymore, since he’s now with two little ones. But he was involved at the start. So, yeah, all sorts of people.

SG: I think you listened to Stand Up Now, the Land Workers Alliance album, right? There was The Egglab7 on there that did ‘Lark in the Morning’? Well, they came through that. They’re this lovely, very politically engaged, activist crew, and they just threw that together for the album. They’re incredibly talented musicians that have got their own scenes going on, the protest sites and things like that, and they all come out of the woodwork and you find them in these spheres.

Do you think folk is having a bit of a moment?

SG: I kind of think it’s always having a bit of a moment in certain ways, actually. I think, pre-pandemic, it was incredibly healthy. But I don’t know. At the moment, I’m a little bit out of touch, in honesty.

JA: My sense is that the amateur scene, the non-professional scene, is actually buzzing. Certainly in Bristol. There are more young people up for free stuff, for singarounds, for sessions, for ceilidhs, all of that. There are loads of people who are really on that, and I think it has sort of attached itself to an alternative scene in Bristol that is a bit protest-y. But I feel like the professional folk scene has been a bit clobbered, as all genres of music have been, and it’s still working out what the future looks like. So, folk is having a moment in that people are coming together, getting out of their houses again, forming community, and doing the more amateur side of things. But on the professional side, I think it’s a struggle at the moment. A lot of our friends and colleagues are having a really difficult time and I think we need to see how the next few months and years kind of pan out to see what that scene looks like.

Traditional song is the people’s history, isn’t it?

Jimmy Aldridge

You’ve mentioned the edgy, protest-y, political side of things a few times. As a duo, you’re quite political in the songs that you choose, aren’t you?

SG: Yeah. I think the whole reason for doing it is a desire to communicate something, and often that is the political stuff. That said, I think coming on par with that now are the celebration and love songs. I think we’re sort of getting a bit softer in our old age and we want to sing about nice things as well [laughs].

What have been the common themes over these 10 years?

SG: The underdog is always present.

JA: Resistance. Traditional song is the people’s history, isn’t it? And the people of Britain have mostly been subject to a lot of political forces that were way beyond their control, that they’ve been on the wrong end of. They’ve been on the wrong end of power for a very long time. So the people’s history is one of struggle and resistance. And I guess the stories where people are pushing back against that power and trying to find their own path through it, those are the ones that we find inspiring and tend to latch onto.

I find, in my own songwriting, that I’ll often end up writing about a particular issue. An example is a colliery in Shirebrook, in Derbyshire. Where that once stood is now Sports Direct warehouses, where people are working completely without any union representation, without any sort of collective bargaining, without any voice whatsoever, really, and working on zero-hours contracts. So, I wrote a song about that because it’s just such an incredible thing, being on exactly the same site where this colliery once stood. But I finished the song by saying that maybe we’re at a time now when people are going to come together and think about how we can push back against this. We try to find hope in these songs, whether they’re traditional or our own originals. It’s that kindling of resistance that I think we’re really interested in.

So, three albums so far…

SG: Plus Awake Arise [the album and project the duo worked on with Lady Maisery].

That’s not a bad return on 10 years. Is there more to come?

SG: I’d say definitely, yeah. There’s no timeline on it, though. We’re often playing together and we’re often arranging new material and things are coming through all the time. There’s a little packet of songs sat there, and at some point there will be an album’s worth. I don’t want to say that we’re going to do one within the next two years. I don’t want us to be tied to anything. I think we don’t feel like we need to do that anymore. When we started, we had all of these songs and we just wanted to get them out. I think we’re happy to just sort of sit back and do it when it’s right, now. Hopefully we’ve got enough of a presence that we can get away with that and we don’t have to be constantly putting things out.

JA: Yeah. Our first album was really a collection of the songs that we both knew and we brought together and it just sort of made sense. All those songs were there, whereas the next two duo albums and Awake Arise, that was about getting the album together. It was a bit more deliberate. I feel like the next album is going to be kind of like the first one. We’ll just keep playing together, we’ll gig stuff, get material out there, work out how to play it live and see how people respond to it. Hopefully, there’ll just be 10-or-so songs that make sense and we know they’re the ones we want to record, rather than doing it to order or doing it deliberately. But what that does mean is it might take a bit of time for it all to come together. That feels appropriate for where we’re at with other stuff in our lives, though, with other projects, with family and everything. I think this one will just bubble up a little bit more slowly.

Singing together to process the division that we’d all experienced was super powerful.

Jimmy Aldridge

What has been the highlight of the last 10 years for each of you?

SG: Gigs-wise, I’m going to say our four performances at Fire in the Mountain. That always feels like a bit of a homecoming. It’s our community and we’ve done it often. We often get the Sunday nights when everyone’s slightly tired and broken and fragile and yummy and cuddly, and we just all have a big cuddle puddle on the floor in the Traveling Barn, and we all sing and it’s glorious. We just had that last week and it’s been three years coming, so that really fills the cup when that comes round and you get to see people that, you know, really get what you’re saying and sing it back at you en masse. Those moments are my most precious memories.

JA: For me, too. One particular gig at Fire in the Mountain, which was probably in 2016 or 17, was really powerful. We’d just been through Brexit and everything that came from that. Singing together to process the division that we’d all experienced was super powerful. I agree with you on that one. There was also the tour that we did for Many a Thousand. We toured with the band then, which was wonderful. It felt like we really knew what we were doing by that time. As an act, we have learned on the job over the last 10 years. We didn’t come in as musicians who’ve had loads of other experience touring on this scene. We kind of built things up slowly and people have been incredibly supportive in putting us on and bringing us into different spaces and giving us lots of advice and putting us up overnight. By the time we got to that tour, it felt like people were coming out to see us and it was an amazing community we’d built up over a long time. It felt like a lot of the previous musical exploration had kind of come together for the album. I don’t know if it’s necessarily the album that I’m proud of, but I was really proud of what we were doing at that time.

For more info on Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith, head to jimmyandsidduo.com.

Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith: the 10th Anniversary Tour

Jimmy & Sid will be out on tour at the following places. Click on the links for tickets.