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Nick Hart talks 10 English Folk Songs (and loads more)

Ahead of the release of "Nick Hart Sings 10 English Folk Songs", fans of the traditional folk singer smother him with questions.

There’s a lot of love for Nick Hart and his albums of English folk songs, the first of which appeared quietly in 2018, having been left half-forgotten in a garage somewhere for half a year. By his own admission (you’ll see), he’s not known for his planning abilities, and so his first two albums charmed a modest number of listeners but fell short of reaching the kind of audience they deserved. Those who heard the albums – Nick Hart Sings Eight English Folk Songs, and Nick Hart Sings Nine English Folk Songs were uniformly bowled over. Folk musicians – Hart’s peers – talked in not-so-hushed-tones about the young man that seemed to be singing from centuries past, while simultaneously appearing to be the most exciting new arrival on the folk scene. “He’s a maverick”, one famous fan told me, and I can totally see her point.

I have a lifelong mission to prove that English folk music is odd.

Nick Hart

While his first two albums were absorbing but stripped-back affairs, his latest release – Nick Hart Sings 10 English Folk Songs, out on April 29th, but available for pre-order now – is a more adventurous affair. Don’t expect a vast production with all the bells and whistles; do expect layers of rare and wondorous stringed instruments, plus (quite literally) bells and whistles. Lockdown afforded Hart the time to explore his collection of aged instruments in some considerable depth, and he’s made something quite brilliant as a result. Look out for our album review, arriving in a couple of weeks’ time (and make sure you’ve booked tickets for his forthcoming Spring tour).

Having interviewed Hart a good number of times before, I thought it might be interesting to ask some of his “celebrity folk fans” whether there were any questions they were burning to ask. Within an hour, I had more than enough for the whole interview, which says something about the man’s reputation as a musician’s musician. Read on and you’ll find questions from Angeline Morrison, Sam Sweeney, Eliza Carthy, Jim Moray, John Spiers, and many more, none of whom the man himself was expecting.

Over the course of the interview, Hart touches on the process of recording his new album, the role of creativity in ballad singing, the difficulties inherent in making a tradfolk music video, methods for keeping an audience engaged, straying too far from the ether, the difference between songs and tunes, being kept awake at night by Roud numbers, egg clutching possibilities, singing 100-verse ballads, his hunt for “odd songs”, treading on other singers’ toes, junk shops, recurring dreams, and toothless source singers.

As you can probably tell, it’s a loooong one. You may want to prepare for several sittings. Nick Hart will see you now.

Nick Hart talks about 10 English folk songs

This album differs from the previous two albums, mainly because it’s far richer in its instrumentation. I believe you’re playing almost everything yourself. Having been a master of the stripped-back tradfolk form in the past, you’ve suddenly doing everything. You’ve become The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. What prompted that change?

It’s difficult to say, actually. I’ve certainly never been under the impression that my style of guitar playing was the only way to accompany things. And actually, it’s fair to say that a lot of the songs on the album still only feature one instrument.

But not the instrument that people are expecting, right?

Yeah, with the viola da gamba and the strange, restrung mandolin, among various other things. But in terms of doing things bigger, I think a big part of it was the pandemic. I started recording this pretty much as soon as we went into lockdown, the very first time, feeling like I had the space and the lack of pressure to experiment more with things.

I think the process of recording the first two albums was that I wanted to replicate what I do live. I wanted there to be a sense of consistency throughout those albums. I like the fact that it’s pretty much me and a guitar, sometimes with a bit of the viola, throughout those first two albums. I wanted to keep things focused and keep that as a constant. But the other thing to say is that, when I recorded both of those albums, those were songs that I’d already worked into my live repertoire. And also, I was paying for someone else’s time. So because Tom Moore recorded those two albums, the preparation had already been done. The decisions had already been made, as far as I ever make decisions when I’m performing, because what I do seems to be fairly free-form. So the idea was capturing live takes – doing the songs in generally no more than three takes, and then picking the best one.

This time I recorded it all myself, and I had all this time to muck about with all the hundreds of bonkers instruments I’ve got in my studio.

Who else is on the album?

Tom Moore plays viola on two tracks – ‘May Song’ and ‘Henry Martin’, but only for a very brief moment. The main instrument you can hear on ‘Henry Martin’ is the viola de gamba, which is played by me. That was recorded live. So that’s me singing and playing at the same time, with a little instrumental that Tom joins me on. Apart from that, it’s all me, other than some singers who join me on ‘May Song’.

We all went a bit mad in that first lockdown, didn’t we? Thinking outside my comfort zone seemed appropriate.

Nick Hart

So, largely it was practicality that led to this different sound?

Perhaps more of a sense of freedom and it being a very open-ended thing. It was amazing to have this all this time to work on it until it was done. I’d also just turned my back bedroom into a studio, so I had a dedicated space to work in, and I’d just bought loads of new kit to record stuff with just as lockdown happened, by pure coincidence. We all went a bit mad in that first lockdown, didn’t we? So, thinking outside my comfort zone seemed appropriate.

Were you just waking up every day and sticking something down, or did you have a bit more of a plan?

I had songs that I’d been wanting to record for years, and songs that I had picked up since the last album, and a few I was deliberately going out and trying to find. I hadn’t decided on all the songs before I started recording them. For lots of them it was, “OK, what should I sing next? Maybe a version of this… or this.” It was a lovely process. I was getting up, starting work at 10am and working until 10pm for about three months.

Nick Hart sits in a room full of ancient and ethnic instruments, where he recorded the song Dives and Lazarus

There were occasions where I’d think, “I really want to have this sound on it”, and I’d realise that I didn’t have the right instrument, or that the right instrument didn’t exist [laughs]. I wanted a kind of bowed banjo, a bit like something that sounds like a dilruba or esraj. Both are Indian instruments that are bowed, with sympathetic strings. I drove to Worcester to buy a tenor banjo off some bloke, and then spent a week messing around with it until I built a peg box. So it’s got 13 synthetic strings running on it. That was what was so lovely about there being no time constraints. I was like, “OK, well, I’ll just design and build this for a week and then record it on that one track”, which you basically can’t even hear now because we’ve got it so low in the mix [laughs].

Which track is it on, just in case anyone wants to try and listen out for it?

It’s on ‘Dives and Lazarus‘. It’s following the melody.

Nice to have been afforded the time, then.

Yeah. People talk about a sort of “flow state”, don’t they? That wonderful feeling of not being interrupted by anything, by other commitments, by other things that need to be done, or by other people’s time constraints. It’s a really liberating thing in terms of not being pulled out of that state of creativity.

My mom is obsessed with that word, “creativity”, and my mum is obsessed with the idea that I’m a very creative person, which I should say I don’t always feel like. Actually, a lot of my job is not particularly creative. Coming up with repertoire or approaches to performing traditional songs – this is not, in the truest sense, a creative process, I don’t think. But actually, with this album, I was broadening my horizons a lot more and trying things out. It really did feel like a very intense creative process. To be able to just be completely absorbed by that for months at a time without any distraction… it was a game-changer. I’ve never been able to experience that before.

If arranging traditional folk songs is not a creative process, what kind of process is it?

When I started doing this solo stuff about seven years ago, the process for the first two albums was that, essentially, I’d developed a guitar style. I mean, Chris Wood did most of the work [laughs], but there is a thing that I managed to learn to do at some point, which is to do with heterophony again – slightly separating your brain into two so that your hands and your voice are working together on roughly the same thing, but with a sense of independence. It’s very useful in that I can focus on the melody. I can put a song through that machine and it will come out sounding like a Nick Hart performance because it’s more like an instinct. It’s not very deliberate. It’s more instinctive, I suppose. So, I don’t tend to arrange things very heavily.

There is something inherently creative in that you are bringing it to life every time, but in terms of creativity, in terms of what we really mean when we talk about writing or composing, I wouldn’t say that sort of creative process was part of my approach. Whereas, when I write music for the theatre, that is an inherently creative process.

You and I have chatted so many times about music, I thought I’d try something different with some of this interview. I’ve asked a gang of traditional folk musicians if they had any questions prior to the release of Nick Hart Sings 10 English Folk Songs, and a bunch of them have sent some in.

The first question comes from Angeline Morrison, who asks, “Will you share the story of your inspiration for that brilliant ‘Dives and Lazarus’ video [see above]? And also, are you playing spoons on the track?”

That’s very nice. So, I wanted to make a music video for it, but I think the problem is that a lot of the time people feel that it’s something they have to do, at which point they have several difficult choices to make. You can either do a live performance video, which I think is a very good and legitimate thing, you can do a video where you mime along to the track, which is certainly the convention in popular music, but I think seems a little bit eggy for the folk world, or you could do something entirely different – and I don’t know if anyone’s really done that. I’ve not seen that in the folk world, unless I’ve been missing lots of things.

I wanted to try and do something different and tread a fine line, so I thought, “If I don’t go down the live performance route, what do I want to do? Do I want to do something with miming?” And then I thought, “Well, if we’re going to do that, let’s really lean into it”. So I’ve cast myself in this video as a club singer.

It’s like you’re in an old working man’s club.

Yeah, exactly. And I think I wanted to reflect some of the themes in the song: the feast, the concept of, I suppose, food waste [laughs]. Ironically, we had to throw away an awful lot of fucking food.

What I didn’t want to do was make it programmatic. So I thought the idea of something that touched on those things, related to them tangentially, was a good starting point. But I wanted it to have a life of its own. I think good pop music videos often have their own narrative. They exist on their own terms rather than just being something that supports the song. I think that’s a really great thing, and I think the music video is a brilliant art form when it’s allowed to exist on its own terms.

I’m very lucky to know George Moore, Tom Moore’s little brother, who is a brilliant cinematographer and director and has been doing lots of music videos for lots of people. So it was great chatting to him. We kind of thrashed out the original idea. The backing track idea was George’s: rather than it being a live band, it’s me with a tape machine, which I think was a much better idea and also an awful lot cheaper and easier to film.

What was amazing about it was that my friend, Richard Guard, who plays a sort of disgusting old man in the video, and is, funnily enough, one of the writers of the song ‘The River Don’t Run’ from my first album, and my dear friend, Jo Bowis, were brilliant and got the brief immediately. So I think we pulled it off, basically.

And, yes, I am playing spoons on it.

Right, OK. Sam Sweeney has a question. He asks: “As someone who struggles to listen to folk songs and singers of folk songs, you are someone who I’d be overjoyed to listen to for hours. What is the key to delivering a folk song in a world saturated by singers who just don’t draw me in, because you excel at it? I’d also be interested to know whether you draw a distinction between how you think about songs and tunes, because I’ve heard you playing tunes a few times before and I wonder whether those musicians who do both songs and tunes think of them in the same way, or whether they’re two different disciplines or ways of thinking.”

Wow. It’s very flattering, but it’s a very difficult question. It’s almost like, “Why are you so much better than everyone else?” How are you meant to answer that without sounding like a c*nt? [Laughs] I mean, I think engagement is a really important thing… [Pauses and rubs eyes for about 10 minutes while thinking.] You know, if someone pays you a compliment, it’s all the more special if it’s for something you value and prize yourself. Do you know what I mean?


If someone said, “wow, your guitar playing is really good. I love how complicated your guitar playing is,” that would be lovely, but less important to me because I’ve never sought to be complicated in my guitar playing. I don’t think it’s the thing I’m good at.

If I’m watching a performer and I see that they never close their eyes, then it’s fair to say that I’m not going to believe them.

Nick Hart

What I would say is this. I have a very lazy kind of shorthand, which is generally a useful metric as to whether I think someone is doing it – ballad singing as an art form – properly. If I’m watching a performer and I see that they never close their eyes, then it’s fair to say that I’m not going to believe them.

That’s very interesting.

Yeah. So I’m not saying that everyone has to keep their eyes closed the whole time, but for me, there are three parts involved in this process. There is the song, which exists up in the ether somewhere, there is the singer, and there is the audience. And I think, as the singer, you sit between those other two entities. If you are focusing too much on your relationship with the audience, you’re going to be neglecting your relationship with…

…the ether?

The ether [laughs]. Exactly. They’re going to stray too far away from the ether.

Again, I don’t really arrange songs. There are things I will probably do every time, but generally speaking, even if I end up doing them the same way every time, it’s not like I’ve chosen to do a particular thing at a particular point in the song in advance. So for me, it is absolutely about the process of bringing it into existence anew every time. I think it keeps it more alive. I think it keeps it sort of fizzy and up in the air somewhere rather than something which is kind of overrehearsed.

There are lots of different types of music that reward real precision and real practice, with really specific and precise arrangements. I think it’s a brilliant thing. I just don’t think that’s appropriate for ballad singing. With ballad singing, because it’s so much about narrative, I think focusing on that narrative and letting that inform your musical choices in the moment, that’s the thing. It makes for a more engaging performance. It’s not improvisation, but it is, to some extent, extemporisation. I think it’s impossible to put your finger on what exactly that quality is – what makes that different to something which is kind of rehearsed and trotted out – but it fucking works. And you can see it there. An audience can tell that it’s there. And I’m very happy that Sam seems to think so, too.

I want us to be inside the narrative of the song.

Nick Hart

I’ve been thinking for some time that I need to open my eyes more because I sing nearly every song completely blind.

Keep them closed! it’s fine [laughs]. Then again, what you and I do is make up for that by being very chatty and personable with the audience in between songs. All of it is about bringing the audience in. It’s not about showing off. It’s not about being impressive in any way. I don’t wish to be impressive. What I want to do is bring the audience in. I want us to be inside the narrative of the song. There are lots of little things I do deliberately that people maybe don’t realise are deliberate, which is about that – about bringing the audience into the world of the song. If you manage to achieve that, then you can afford to not fucking open your eyes for four minutes or eight minutes, or however long the song is.

Sam’s other question was about tunes. Do you draw a distinction between how you think about songs and tunes?

Well, musically, not really, because I think I see the melodies of songs and tunes as being kind of a framework to be departed from, which I think is probably Sam’s approach as well. There is a very small school of brilliant English tune players who take that approach – Sam Sweeney, Rob Harbron, John Dipper, and I suppose Chris Wood is kind of the founder of that school. There’s also Miranda Rutter and obviously Andy Cutting. The list does go on, but it doesn’t go much further. I did the EAC Summer School 12 years ago and that was a big eye-opener in terms of playing tunes and the extent to which you can depart from them.

To go back to the question, it is different because if I’m singing I’m also generally playing the same melody, so I’m kind of playing the tune twice. So that’s a bit of a splitting. But I think the other main difference is that when you’re singing songs there is a kind of sympathetic emotional response. Even if it’s a third-person song, you have to be invested in the emotional content of the narrative in a way that I don’t get so much from tunes.

The next question is from Henry Parker, so I guess it’s no surprise that it’s guitar-related. “Metallica played a version of ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ [Roud 533] on the 1998 album, Garage Inc. Which other traditional folk songs do you think could stand to take a bit of Metallica?”

Created by author and archivist, Steve Roud, the Roud Number Index was devised to catalogue folk songs, looking at variants in title and lyrics, as well as location.
To be perfectly honest with you, I would be so unlikely to listen to it, they can do whatever they like [laughs]. Even if they were to personally take up my suggestion, I would not go to the effort to listen to it even once. So I don’t know – let’s just start at the beginning. Let’s go for Roud 1. What’s that? ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsies’, or something? They can do that.

So you think they should just work their way up through the Roud Index?

[Laughs] Yeah, they can work their way up until they’re well into the two-thousands and I still won’t have listened to a single fucking one of them!

Brilliant. While we’re on the vague theme of different ways to approach traditional folk songs, you’ve said to me before you’ve been trying to work out the correct way of performing them.


I was wondering if you’ve worked it out yet? You mentioned earlier that you developed an almost machine-like way. I suppose, with this new album, you’ve broken that machine slightly.

Yeah. Again, there are similarities in the approach. I still have some basic instincts that I can’t shake off and I wouldn’t necessarily wish to. I think it’s absolutely not my place to say whether I’m successful at it, but what is really nice is that people generally react to my music and to my gigs in the way that I would like them to. Do you know what I mean? The nice things that people say about my music after a gig are specific enough for me to feel like I’ve managed to achieve what I want in terms of the kind of performances that I do. That’s gratifying. It’s nice to feel like you’re not barking up the wrong tree.

Am I trying to con people into believing that English folk songs are more exotic and nuanced than they really are? The morality of that keeps me up at night.

Nick Hart

More to the point, does the question regarding the right way to play traditional songs still keep you awake at night?

[Laughs] Yes, of course. Actually, it’s funny. I’ve been working on a version of ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsies’ recently…

Oh, you beat Metallica to it.

[Laughs] There’s this interesting thing where there’s a version recorded by Harry Cox, and a version recorded by Martin Carthy, and I think Martin’s version doesn’t have the third note in it.

And that’s what’s been keeping you awake?

It doesn’t have a third in it. [Exasperated] It doesn’t have a third in it! So, the Harry Cox version, the one I’m trying to learn, only has the third in it once. The fact that it misses out the third is so strange and so characteristic that I’m sort of thinking, “Well, if I do a version, is it OK to leave the third out completely?”

And what have you concluded? Is it OK?

[With sudden determination] I’m going to do it.

Is it allowed, Nick?

I’m going to do it. But, you know, I’ve done a lot of things in my life that I knew weren’t allowed [laughs].

Essentially what worries me is that it might be disingenuous to present this version as more odd than it actually is by removing the third. Am I trying to con people into believing that English folk songs are more exotic and nuanced than they really are? And that sort of thing – the morality of that – keeps me up at night [laughs].

[Tongue firmly in cheek] I think it’s fine to ignore it, but I think being the sort of person who asks those questions does give you greater integrity. [Becoming more serious] The fact that you worry about these things, even if you manage to overcome that worry and ignore it ultimately, I think the fact that one’s asking the questions is an important thing. I know you do as well, Jon – deciding what is appropriate and what is not appropriate – because if you just think everything’s fine, you can just do whatever the fuck you want, then what you end up with is something that is going to be not very considered a lot of the time.

I morally bankrupt myself several nights a week.

Nick Hart

Time for another celebrity folk question. This is from Alex Merry of Boss Morris, who asks, “If you had to live in one folk song, which would it be?”

Oh, that’s so good. My dear, wonderful friend, Alex. Oh, that’s really good. [Seems genuinely stumped.]

Take your time. I’m not going anywhere.

I mean, none of these worlds look great, do they? I think the reason that ‘The Yellow Handkerchief’ has become something of a signature song of mine – I always close the set on it – is because, although it’s specifically about bankrupting yourself financially by living the high life, for me, it feels more about morally bankrupting yourself.

Which you’re quite good at, right?

I morally bankrupt myself several nights a week. I suppose it’s a song about fallibility and making poor decisions. But that doesn’t answer the question. Which folk song would I choose to live in for the rest of my life? I don’t know. Maybe a rude one where they have it off and then it’s all fine at the end. I would like to live inside ‘The Cuckoo’s Nest’, because it’d be nice to live in a world where it was assumed that everyone still had all their pubes [laughs].

Nick Hart Sings Nine English Folk Songs
The cover to Nick’s previous album, Nick Hart Sings Nine English Folk Songs

Lovely stuff. OK, the next question is from my fellow Tradfolk writer, Rachel Wilkinson. She asks: “What’s the maximum number of eggs you can hold?”

Well, eggs come in various different sizes. I mean, if you’re talking a chicken’s egg, I managed 10, actually, on the previous album cover. But quail eggs are slightly smaller. I could probably get a few of those in. And who knows what great globules of frog spawn I could scoop up?

A good answer to a rather tough question. As you mentioned, it’s obviously referring to the covers of the last album and the album before it, on which you grasped and clutched things. Is this third album the end of the Nick Hart Sings X English Folk Songs trilogy?

I don’t know. In many ways, I don’t think the new one should have been called that because it doesn’t really match stylistically. It feels like a departure. The first two feel like a kind of diptych. This one feels like a very different thing and, actually, I sort of felt like it probably should have a different title, too, but I couldn’t come up with one and so I just called it Nick Hart Sings 10 English Folk Songs.

You once told me that you were working on a version of a Robin Hood ballad with 100 verses that would take up a whole album, thus making Nick Hart Sings ONE English Folk Song. When can we expect that?

That’s one of the ones on the back burner. My friend, Joseph Minden, is a wonderful poet. He’s doing the majority of the work, bringing the language up from the 15th century – making it a little bit up-to-date whilst keeping the original flavour of it. It’s something that we’re still planning to get funding to do. We’ve got 100 verses and, yeah, it’s something you want to get funding to do, because realistically, it’s not going to make us a lot of money for the amount of time that’s going to have to go into it.

A big part of it for me, as a ballad singer, is to push myself to remember 100 verses, and also see how you could keep it interesting over the course of what would be the best part of an hour. That would be a real fucking challenge. And it’d be a really interesting thing to do, more as a kind of experiment in seeing whether it could be done.

There are still loads of questions here. Let’s see. Here’s one from Jim Moray. “Do you have a secret teenage covers band past? And if so, what songs did you do?”

I do not have a secret teenage covers band past, but I did have a band as a teenager and I’m not going to say the name of it because, whilst it was really great and we had a lovely time, I don’t necessarily want everyone to hear that music.

Is it out there? Can it be found if we know the name?

Not readily. I mean, everyone else did a great job. Personally, I hadn’t done very much thinking yet.

What kind of music was it?

Mental. There were a lot of instrumentals. I was playing a lot of bagpipes and clarinet, guitars and saxophones. It was odd. It was very odd. Quite hard to define, really. There were some songs, although I really couldn’t sing at that point in my life. Did we do any covers? We did a couple of traditional songs. We did a version of ‘South Australia’, but that’s not a cover, is it? So the simple answer is no, Jim, I did not have a secret teenage covers band.

Going back to the new album for a moment, is there a certain kind of folk song that you gravitate towards? I ask because I think you do songs like ‘Jack Hall’ with a kind of beautiful, quiet gravitas. Are you chasing a certain something when you’re looking for songs?

I suppose I have a lifelong mission to prove that English folk music is odd – that we also have an odd music tradition which is no more or less fascinating than that of any other country.

So, you assume that people think English folk songs are staid and boring?

I think people in this country either don’t know that English folk song exists, or they think it’s all, “hey nonny fol-der-rol”.

What I gravitate towards is odd melodies – melodies that work in a very different way. I suppose the things that Vaughan Williams and Cecil Sharp thought were fascinating – songs with mutable notes, or songs that have a really strange shape to them. That’s what I look for melodically. But also, of course, I want songs that have a strong narrative or have an emotional pull somehow. I mean, I have lots of different reasons for choosing different parts of my repertoire, but generally speaking, it’s a sense of oddness. It’s a sense of something strange and dark, and often something that you can’t imagine anyone having written. Those songs that seem to have been shaped by the many singers that have sung them, that you hear it and think, “someone can’t have composed that”. That’s what I look for.

Eliza Carthy asks, “Do you still have the cowboy hat you were wearing when I met you? I’ve always admired your sartorial choices.”

Well, that’s very kind of you. What’s really strange is that I’ve been going through quite a lot of heartache recently and I’ve been listening to a lot of Patsy Cline as a result. I’m actually going to a session for American music in my local pub tonight where lots of my friends play and I sometimes go and sit in. We just run through a load of Patsy Cline songs. I was thinking, “I think I’ve got a tasselled cowboy shirt and a cowboy hat somewhere in the loft.” And I think it’s probably the very one that Eliza is referring to. I was thinking about that a matter of hours ago. So I think the answer is, “Yes, and I can confirm it when I go and look for it in a couple of weeks’ time.”

Maybe an Instagram picture to prove it?

I don’t think we need to go that far.

The writer, Jude Rogers, asks, “What is your favourite line in a traditional folk song, and why?”

Oh god. And now I can’t think of any! [Screws face up in extreme thought.] OK, it’s from ‘Jack Hall’: “Oh, the best of friends must part.” When I’m singing that song, that line is always something I’m looking towards. It’s in the penultimate verse, but for me, even though in the final verse he actually gets hanged, that line is the emotional apex. It’s a first-person ballad, which helps, but it’s not a musical. I’m not pretending that I’m Jack Hall when I’m singing that song, but in terms of my empathic relationship to the character, that’s the fucking line. There is such a beautiful sense of sadness and resignation. There’s a reason that song is still sung and 99% of those songs aren’t.

“Goodnight songs”, I believe they’re called.

Goodnight songs?

Yes – the songs in which criminals, often highwaymen, end up narrating their own execution. Martin Simpson talks about them in his set. He points out that it’s a strange name for that group of songs, given that nobody actually gets to say “goodnight” at the end of them because they all get hanged.

[Laughs] That’s true. But there is such an economy of language in that one. One learns so much about the character from the wording of that line. It’s a bridge in the truest sense. I like a lot of folk songs because they’re old and the language is odd, but any pop songwriter would be very fucking happy to have included that line because of what it conveys with such an economy of language.

Debbie Armour from Burd Ellen asks, “When you’re choosing songs for a body of work, how much do you think about ubiquity? Is there such a thing as an old chestnut, or do you not worry about it?”

[Laughs] It’s funny she has asked that because I’ve nicked a song off Burd Ellen’s record!

Lemany’, right?

Yeah, absolutely. I was reminded of it by listening to their performance of it, and I hadn’t heard it for years. I heard Peter Bellamy’s version, which I think is where they got it from as well. I always liked Peter Bellamy’s version, but Burd Ellen do it better. They do it very differently. I love Peter Bellamy, but I would sooner listen to Burd Ellen in terms of keeping my blood pressure in a consistent place [laughs].

But yeah, that’s something that I certainly used to worry about more. I suppose the problem comes when you do the same version of the same song and do it worse. Do, you know what I mean? So I’m running that risk on this album with ‘Lemany’ and with ‘Jack Hall’, because my version of Jack Hall is the Walter Pardon version, which I think is the same one that Sam Carter sings. I’m aware that I’m treading on Sam’s toes because that’s something of a signature of his.

There are a lot of songs on this album which are fairly obvious versions, and they’re versions other people have recorded. I think I care about it less than I used to. I think I used to be very into having unique versions. As long as you feel that you have something to contribute – something you can add or something new you can find in it – then it’s fine. But I didn’t used to think that and I still worry about it a bit.

I’ve been working on a version of Sam Larner’s ‘Henry Martin’ for some time now, but because you’ve just recorded a version for this album, I’m dropping mine. How long do you feel is a safe amount of time before I can start working on that again?

[Laughs] I don’t know. It’s a funny one, isn’t it? I feel very bad because this album should have been out a year and a half ago. So this is my fault and I don’t wish to hold you up. I don’t know. I mean, no one cares, do they? Just do it.

John Spiers says: “Hi, Nick! Because musicians in different bands are like ships that pass in the night, I’ve only really ever met you once for any serious length of time. And that was in a junk shop. (Not a charity shop, not an antique shop with stuff in little cabinets, but a proper junk shop). You seemed, like I always am when I find one, fascinated by the tools, the materials and the potential for repurposing old stuff like this. I wonder if you see a comparison between your approach to finding old songs and tunes from the tradition and making them alive again, and the way you look at things like you do in a junk shop? Can there be any difference between an approach to music and an approach to life in general?

That’s a very interesting question. I’ve never thought about that. But I do love junk shops and anywhere one can buy secondhand goods. I suppose there is something about that.

I have two recurring dreams. One of them is an anxiety dream which is fairly boring and predictable and it’s about not having revised for an exam or shit like that. But I also have another very particular dream – I’m not really sure what it represents or what it correlates to – which is that I turn up at a charity shop, junk shop, antique shop, jumble sale, et cetera, and find a glut of second-hand instruments. They’re all the kind of instruments I’d snap up on their own, but I have to decide which one to leave behind [laughs]. That’s why I decided last year to just give it and set up a business buying and selling rare old instruments.

There is something about going to a car boot sale or a junk shop where you don’t know what you’re going to find and you don’t know whether you’ll find anything you like. I think there is a very similar approach to rifling through a collection of source singer recordings, working your way through, not knowing whether you’ll find anything that is of any use to you at all. There is something about that sensation. It’s something that a lot of people cannot do. For some reason [laughs] they can’t sit through hours and hours of octogenarian, toothless members of the English peasantry whose voices were beginning to fail them. But I think you have to have a huge amount of faith and patience with that, in much the same way that you do going around a junk shop or an antique store, being prepared for the fact that you might get nothing.

Ever since the MusTrad website put their collection up for download… I mean, I can afford it all, but I don’t know if I can afford the time. I was supposed to be working yesterday and I ended up listening to nearly 80 recordings of Cecilia Costello, followed by an album of Phoebe Smith.

John also asked, “Can there be any difference between an approach to music and an approach to life in general?”

I can only speak for myself. I don’t really like planning ahead in any of my life, including my musical performance [laughs]. A mate of mine who has been living in Bristol for the last couple of years said to me, “It would be great to have a drink before I move back to London. Are you free in two weeks’ time?” The thought of putting that in my diary made me feel sick. Similarly, I don’t really have a setlist and I don’t make arrangements. So there is certainly a consistency there.

Seeing what the melody does to the instrument and what the instrument does to the melody is a really interesting thing.

Nick Hart

There’s only one question left and it is from Ellie Gowers. She says, “I’m intrigued by all the old instruments you collect and repair, and I’d love to know if these feed any inspiration into your music.”

Yes. This album features a lot of weird and wonderful instruments that I have collected over the years. It’s about discovering all the different things they can do.

Do the songs suggest the instrument or does the instrument suggest the song?

My studio is laid out in such a way that I have loads of different things to hand. When I made this album, I would pick a song because I liked the song, and then I would kind of mess about picking up different instruments and seeing what it sounded like on each of them, seeing how the melody starts, seeing how the instrument itself suggests a different kind of extemporisation. Playing the melody on one instrument might reveal things or force you to make choices that you wouldn’t make on another instrument. They definitely have a part to play.

I don’t want to say that it’s letting the instrument play you, because that sounds terribly wanky. I’m not really a virtuoso on any one instrument – there’s not one instrument I feel like I have complete command over – so I think I’m always kind of inspired by what the instruments do. Seeing what the melody does to the instrument and what the instrument does to the melody is a really interesting thing.

To hear what Nick’s instruments do for his third album, pre-order Nick Hart Sings 10 English Folk Songs from nickhartmusic.com today. Nick is also on tour throughout spring. You can catch him at any of the dates below.

Nick Hart Sing 10 English Folk Songs – the tour