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Sam Sweeney, English traditional fiddle player, photo by Elly Lucas
Sam Sweeney, or Hooty the Owl. Photo credit: Elly Lucas

The Sam Sweeney Interview

Traditional fiddle player, Sam Sweeney, discusses a life in folk music, from Bellowhead to Leveret to the Wayward Band, with the Great War in between.

It took yonks to track Sam Sweeney down, but only a few minutes to realise why that was. Just take a look at this interview. The man is involved in a million things at once and incredibly passionate about doing them without half-measures. He joined Bellowhead on the cusp of adulthood, and he seems to have been involved in pretty much every folk-related project over the following decade. His current obsessions, as you’re about to find out, include his work with Leveret and his position as artistic director with the National Youth Folk Ensemble (NYFE) – his first ever ‘proper job’, about which he is justifiably proud. 

I finally caught up with him almost accidentally when we found our way onto the same bill in Hampshire (I was supporting Fay Hield’s band, one of the gazillion groups he performs with). The following is the result of an hour-long backstage conversation covering everything from his first ever floor spot to the happy times he spent in his idol Dave Swarbrick’s living room. Along the way he explains how Jon Boden got him into Bellowhead by leaving a set of bagpipes in his parents’ greenhouse, and why he won’t be doing any of his famed leaping in Eliza Carthy’s Wayward Band (it’s for financial reasons, apparently).

As you can see, there’s a lot to get through. We’d better get started.

The idea that you have to sing in a specific way or play in a particularly scratchy way… is taking the music of this country backwards very rapidly

Sam Sweeney

Not to sound patronizing, but your age may be an interesting place to start. You’re one of the youngest established performers on the folk scene, wouldn’t you say?

Well, I’m 28, so maybe not so much anymore. Or maybe I am… and how depressing is that?

Well, who else is younger than you?

There’s the Moore Moss Rutter lads: Jack Rutter, who’s in Seth’s band and Jackie Oates’s band – he’s younger than me by three years, maybe? And Archie Churchill-Moss, who’s probably five years younger than me.

So there are some.

Oh yeah, there are some amazing players, but there’s probably only a few.

It’s interesting to me that you’ve been playing publicly since you were in your early teens, but you’ve always been playing to an audience several generations above you.

Yes, I started gigging professionally when I was 12. That was in folk clubs, and no – I gave very little thought to the idea that the audience was older than me. At that point in your life you’ve only ever done school concerts, where it’s grandparents and parents. It was actually only when I heard stuff from Bellowhead’s record label, where they’d say, “your audience is an older audience and we need to be doing something to get younger people into the gigs.” People always assumed that Bellowhead had a young crowd, but from an industry point of view we didn’t.

“Your demographics are skewed, Bellowhead!”

Exactly! But, you know… what’s the reason we’re doing this? We’re doing this to give people a good time. I couldn’t give a damn how old they are! That said, with Leveret, we don’t have a folk club audience at all. A hell of a lot of people have come to us via Radio 3 – classical audiences and world music people – so, weirdly, I think Leveret have a younger crowd than a lot of other folk musicians.

Do you actually play folk clubs with Leveret?

No, not at all. In fact, we kind of make a point of not playing them. We’re not a folk club act. The folk club idea has, at its core, this idea of communal singing and ‘The Revival’, and a leftwing political agenda, even though that may no longer be talked about. With Leveret, we’re playing instrumental tunes to the best of our ability to make beautiful music. So we’re not a folk club act. We don’t say no to folk clubs – we’ve played Nettlebed and Downend – it’s just that we don’t really get offered them. And while it’s kind of strange to be a concert band, playing arts centres and theatres and what have you, well… that’s just where Leveret sits. I think that because there are so few people playing English traditional music, it’s a spectator sport, which is sad. But I think the NYFE is going to change that. It’ll take decades and I’ll be long gone…

What is it that you’re doing on a day-to-day basis for the NYFE?

Well, I’m the artistic director, so… what have I done so far [laughs]? Well, I interviewed for the job… and that’s another thing! People assume I was just given it, which is strange. I interviewed for that job! I basically had to meet up with the EFDSS and set out my vision for what I wanted this to be. Then we did nine sampler days up and down the country for free, for young people to come along. We did a series of workshops where they had to do a two-minute audition in front of me. Then we invited 32 of those to final auditions in May, and I sat on the panel of that and helped to choose the final 17 that went into the ensemble. I’ve picked all the tutors. I do the timetables and schedule all of the courses, which is what I was doing when you came in this afternoon because the next course starts on Friday! I haven’t quite finished the… the thing! Haha. I’m officially leading it, but when you’ve got Andy Cutting and Saul Rose… It’s a great thing.

Presumably then, since you said you started professionally at 12 and went into Bellowhead at 18, this must be your first proper job?!

Oh totally, yeah! I’ve never had a proper job.

That’s amazing. It reminds me of my time as a journalist on Time Out magazine. We’d occasionally have guest editors come in – celebrities who would choose what went into that week’s edition – and I remember Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) turning up one week. He was offering us all cups of tea, and we had to say, “Daniel, this isn’t what an editor does.” He replied that he was just delighted to be doing anything as he’d never worked in a proper office before.

Did he? Hahaha! How lovely. No, I’m very lucky. I appreciate that I’m not ‘a normal case’.

Do you feel intimidated, suddenly having ‘a real job’?

It’s astonishing. I didn’t really have any idea what having a real job would involve! Three or four years ago, EFDSS sent around a kind of survey. Anyone could fill it in, and it asked questions like, “Is it a good idea to have a National Youth Folk Orchestra?” “How many people should be in it?” “Who should lead it?” That kind of thing. I remember filling it in and being quite hardline about what I thought it should be, but actually it turns out that this sort of music can’t be played by 30 people at once. So I sort of feel like… let’s look at the rest of the world, at places where the standard of playing traditional music is much higher than it is here – which is basically every country in Europe. Scotland and Ireland are wonderful. In Shetland, the fiddle is taught in primary school. It’s crazy! We’re massively far behind. So I thought, god… somehow we’ve got to make this incredible, otherwise we won’t be raising the standard of traditional music in this country; we’ll kind of just be spreading it quite thinly. What needs to happen is that we need to show that English music can be totally brilliant. So I insisted, when I got the job, that we have a relatively small ensemble. 17 is not quite as many as we have the potential to give places to.

And you feel that 17 works?

Yeah. It’s on the upper limits of what is kind of wieldy. We’ve got six fiddle players, two violas and a cello, which is already quite a big string section. Sitting around the sessions in Halsway Manor – if there were 25 of them we wouldn’t be able to sit in the same room and have a tune. So it just works. It’s just the right size. And we’re very, very lucky that they all get on and that they work together, musically, so well.

Are they reading from scores, or is it just like a massive session?

No, scores are banned. There’s no sheet music allowed at all unless they’re looking in the archives for repertoire. My ideas of what this NYFE thing is about, and how to teach it, comes very much from Chris Wood and what he did with the English Acoustic Collective, and what he taught on their summer school. It’s very much, “how do you want to play English music?” So what we did is we sat down with these 17 kids and we learnt a tune by ear, phrase by phrase – a very, very simple tune. And then we said, “right, how can you make this thing groove? How do you want to play it? What speed do you want to play it?” We’re not trying to make them play like source players, which is a totally defunct thing as far as I’m concerned. While you can take influence from source players, what these young people really want to do is communicate with each other through music, and they can do it by using this raw material. What they don’t want to do is sit down and learn every ornament from this bloke who is now dead. That’s too akin to what they do in classical lessons. So they pick repertoire and they arrange it and we’re just there helping. That’s very unique for folk groups in this country.

Are there any particular younguns that you think are worth looking out for?

Well, I don’t want to name names, but it’s worth saying that one of the reasons that some of them were shocked to be chosen was that I didn’t pick the most technically adept players in every case. That’s not to say they’re not brilliant, but there were some astonishingly, y’know… [mimes what a Jimi Hendrix of the fiddle might look like]. What I’ve done is pick the individual musicians who had something about them. And it has worked. I didn’t know if it would, but it really has. And there’s that thing where you play with people who are better than you and your game automatically raises. It’s like me playing in Leveret. I now play with two of the best musician players in England, and my fiddle playing has got a lot better. So there’s no pressure on any of them to become professional musicians, but some of them are simply astonishing.

I’d like to spin back through your career a little bit. You started very young, right?

I started playing when I was six.

And was folk music immediately a part of that? Was it something to do with your parents?


It nearly always seems to be the way, doesn’t it, that the parents’ influence gets in there…

That is the only way, as far as I can see.

Were you taken along to folk clubs and that kind of thing?

Yes I was. I started classical lessons at six, but because my parents listened to folk all the time… Kids don’t know that it’s difficult to learn by ear, they just do it. So I just learnt all of their records by ear, and by the age of 10 I was entering little competitions, playing Dave Swarbrick tunes and – amazingly – winning! So I was getting gigs as a result. I did my first floor spot at the age of about 10 or 11 at the Carlton Folk Club in Nottinghamshire.

What did you play?

Hahahah! I can remember exactly what I played! I played ‘The Morpeth Rant’, because it was in the Boosey & Hawkes: Jigs, Reels & Hornpipes book…

…which, of course, adorns the bookshelf of every modern British child these days. 

Absolutely! Hahaha! And I played ‘The King of the Fairies’ and ‘Drowsy Maggie’, both in the same book. So that’s what I was doing then. But I think I was very fortunate because the fiddle came very naturally to me. It didn’t at any point seem that difficult. I don’t mean that to sound arrogant – I tried the piano and couldn’t get my head around it. I tried the clarinet, too, but I just couldn’t do it.

But you do play other instruments don’t you?

Well… er… In my professional life I have played other instruments, but… You know, in Bellowhead I played two things on the bagpipes, but that was a condition for getting the job. Giles left so they asked me to learn the bagpipes in six weeks in order to reopen the Southbank Centre. I said I’d have a go, and I managed to learn ‘Jordan’ and ‘Jack Robinson’. To this day, if you asked me to play anything else on the bagpipes, I couldn’t. I can basically play the Bellowhead repertoire and some other things very badly.

I play the drums in the Remnant Kings, and I’ve just recorded the drums for Jon Boden’s new album, but I’m not a drummer. I don’t have drums at home. I might be a multi-instrumentalist, but I’d never put myself forward to play anything other than the fiddle.

So, when you got to the Bellowhead stage of your life, you didn’t have to audition for that, right? You were just asked to do it?


As an 18-year-old, what was that like? Was it all sex, drugs and, er… folk music?

Hahaha! It was a very odd thing, and the way it happened was that I went to Folkworks Summer School when I was about 15 or 16, and I was in Jon Boden’s band (because all the kids get put in a band for a week, and he was teaching). He asked me if I could play any woodwind instruments because he was forming this big band and Giles sometimes stepped out. Of course I said no, and then I didn’t hear anything from him for maybe a year and a half or two years. And then I got a voicemail while I was at school doing my A-Levels: “Hello, it’s Jon Boden here. Is it alright if I leave my bagpipes in your parents’ green house?” So I came home from school and there they were. I had six weeks to learn them, then we went off and reopened the Southbank.

And that was that?

Well, no. Then I went off to university and I got offered half a Bellowhead tour during Freshers Week, and I was told I couldn’t go. I went anyway! It was Freshers Week, so they had no idea if I was there or not! I only lasted 17 days at university. I didn’t get on with it at all, and I’d been offered another tour by someone else. I was told I’d have to retake the whole of my first year if I went, so I just thought sod this.

“Sod this, I’ll just be in Bellowhead.”

Haha! Yeah! So I just did that. I was the youngest in the band for a long time. Actually, thinking about it, I was always the youngest in the band! But I was noticeably younger than everybody else in the band for quite a long time, and that was a bit odd, really. They were lovely, though.

Did any of them take you under their wing?

I guess Jon was always like that. I joined Bellowhead and then eight months later he asked me to be in the Remnant Kings and Fay [Hield] asked me to play with her.

So you kind of became part of that family?

Well, yeah. Without Jon and Fay my career would look totally different. So I’m eternally grateful for that, because I was taken from school and within six to eight months I was in three professional bands and able to earn a modest living.

What do you miss about Bellowhead?

I miss the gigs enormously, because they were… big. It was amazing, you know? Having a huge stage with risers and big backdrops and lights and smoke machines, and just being able to mess about all over the stage… I was wireless! I could go anywhere! And there were no nerves. It was never a nervous thing with Bellowhead. I’d just get on stage and have a wicked time. I really miss that soooo much, and I doubt I’ll ever experience that again. It’s a strange thing because it’s not like it was more fulfilling than anything else. It was just a different type of fulfilling.

But you’ve gone on to join the newest Big Band on the block – the only member to have been in both Bellowhead and the Wayward Band. What’s the difference between the two?

The primary difference is that Eliza’s band is a collaboration. The way we made the album is that Eliza found the material and she demoed little bits with Saul Rose and Dave Dellare, but then it was arranged as a band and as an 11-way collaboration. Bellowhead was not a collaborative band. That wasn’t a bad thing – it’s just not how it worked. We were enormously successful, so of course it wasn’t a bad thing. We just weren’t collaborative. A piece would come from a sole arranger and amendments would be made. The idea came from one person and that was that. So that’s the primary difference in that sense. Neither is better.

On another level, I class Bellowhead as my family. The sobering thought is that, until May 1st last year, I hadn’t experienced a day of adult life without them. That’s insane, isn’t it? Really, Bellowhead formed me as an adult, so I’ll never forget them. It’s the kind of closeness where, even though I don’t talk to them very often these days, when I hook up with them we have so many shared memories. Now, with Eliza’s band… we just love each other! I’ve never got on with people in a band as well as I do with Eliza’s band. Everyone’s just completely in love! That’s a very different situation. It’s just a totally loved-up, weird vibe.

Is there anything directly different about performing with the two big bands?

With Eliza’s band, it’s strange playing with a big band and making an enormous sound – arguably a much bigger sound than we did with Bellowhead because we’ve got a bass guitar, two percussionists – and yet have small crowds who aren’t going mental because they don’t necessarily know our material yet.

They certainly will the next time you go out on tour, given the success of the album. 

Absolutely. It’s always worth remembering that new material never goes down as well as stuff that people know. So I’m looking forward to the next Wayward Band tour when people really know the album.

You’re doing festivals this summer, aren’t you?

Yes, we’re doing quite a few. Womad, Wickham, Towersey… bigger audiences, certainly. It’ll be a bit of a baptism of fire, in a way.

Are you expected to leap? It’s what you’re known for, isn’t it?

It’s true that I did jump off high objects in Bellowhead. I managed to knacker my foot doing that, on the farewell tour. But, no – we don’t have the budget for that in Eliza’s band.

There’s simply no budget for high things?

No. Although I did jump off a chair at Cambridge last year, and it was being broadcast live on Sky Arts. As I leapt, the chair snapped. It’s on Youtube so you can see it. A proud moment: me snapping a chair while leaping. Actually, it’s quite embarrassing…

As a musician, what’s the difference between being onstage with a band like Leveret and a band like the Wayward Band?

I guess the thing about being in Leveret is exactly that: it’s about being a musician. That might sound like a strange thing to say, but that really, genuinely is what Leveret is about. I mean, let’s be honest – we’re nothing to look at!

Haha! That’s one of my favourite answers ever. “We’re a band made for the radio.”

Hahaha! Well, y’know… The thing is, we just finished a tour where we got unexpectedly large crowds. We went to Leeds for the first time and played to over 200 people. It’s going phenomenally well for us. But what’s thrilling about it is that no gig is ever the same. We’ve got a list of tunes that we know how to play. We don’t have arrangements. We don’t even know who is going to start a tune, and often we just sit there going, “er…”

So it’s largely an improvisational thing? 

Yeah, but it’s very difficult to say that because when you use the word ‘improvisation’, people go, “Oh, you mean like jazz!” But no – it’s not like jazz. I always say it’s more akin to bluegrass. The language of bluegrass is very set, and similarly, the language of traditional English music is the 32-bar tune. So we have a tune but we just piss about with it onstage. Andy might start this time, or there might be a funny breakdown… it’s different every night and when we’re flying, it’s amazing. But it’s basically a listening gig. You have to sit on stage and not worry about what you’re playing, but listen to what the other two are playing. So in that sense it’s completely different to Bellowhead or the Wayward Band where it’s largely the same every night and I know what to expect. That’s not to say that they’re in any way boring. It’s just that the structure will be the same, and in Leveret it’s completely not. Let’s just say you can’t be pissed for a Leveret gig!

Ha! That must be pretty exciting.

It is. Becky from Folkeast came to see us the other week and she said, “It’s the most wonderful thing to see you when you’re on fire because you’re just waiting for that moment when everyone grins!” And it’s true. I know what she means. That’s how it feels for us, and we just hope that it’s the same for people watching.

It reminds me of reading old interviews with people like Eric Clapton and Cream. They knew their basic blues songs and they used them as a diving board. Some nights it worked, and other nights it fell flat.

Oh, we totally fall flat on our faces. We’ve absolutely done that.

So you’re the Cream of the folk world, are you?

Hahaha! Those are your words, Jon!

OK, I’m going to put some other words in your mouth now. It seems as though you’re the new Dave Swarbrick, too. You’re playing with Martin Carthy as well, aren’t you?

[Nervous laugh] Well I am playing with him, yes, but only for two gigs.

Do more!

We’ll see. It was a commission from Bath Festival. They take two folk musicians, put them in a room and then make them play a gig. I did one with Emily Portman a few years ago, which is how I ended up in the Coracle Band. In this case, Martin chose me, which was fantastic. Also, it’s slightly weird because the fiddle that I play actually belonged to Dave.

Dave Swarbrick asked if he could have a go on my fiddle, so he had a go and he grumbled and said, “I’ve got a fiddle that could eat your fiddle up, Sam”

Sam Sweeney

You do seem to have a bit of a history with Dave Swarbrick. You said at the beginning of this interview that you started life playing his tunes, and I’ve seen on Youtube that you jammed with him. I didn’t realise you also had his fiddle.

Yeah, it was his. It says ‘Made for Dave Swarbrick’ on the inside.

How did that come about?

It was when I interviewed him for something years ago.

He just gave you a fiddle?!

Nooo! That certainly wasn’t Dave’s way, to just give someone a fiddle!

I was going to ask, is that how this interview’s going to end?

Hahaha! He was a lovely man. I went to his house quite a few times. When I interviewed him he asked if he could have a go on my fiddle, so he had a go and he grumbled and said, “I’ve got a fiddle that could eat your fiddle up, Sam.” And he went off to his bedroom and he got this fiddle out, and I tried it and it was great. So he let me take it home for a few weeks or a few months and I decided I’d like to buy it, so he sold it to me. It was quite cheap, actually, but it’s a fantastic instrument. But that was the start of our relationship. When he was moving out of Coventry I went to see him and they were downsizing, so he gave me a massive cardboard box full of tune books and manuscripts. He was very lovely in that way – always so encouraging. He came to see a few gigs that I did. He was an amazing bloke.

Are you similar in styles?

No, I’m nothing like him. People class him as the quintessential English fiddle player, but the vast majority of his well-known stuff was Scottish or Irish. He’s kind of an odd idol in a way: a lot of the stuff that he did I find quite tasteless. But he has the thing that all fiddle players should aspire to and that’s having an instantly recognisable style. You hear Swarb and you go, “that’s Swarb”, whether you love it or hate it. And that, I think, is an amazing thing to have.

When you sit down to play with Martin, do you feel any pressure to play in a Swarb style?

No, not at all, but you can kind of see how Swarb ended up playing like he did with Martin. The way that we’ve worked so far together is that Martin has all this repertoire, and he just sort of just does it and you sort of play along. What it isn’t is, “Here’s the intro, then we’ll have four bars, and then…” It’s not that at all. It’s more Leveret-y in that sense. Because of his weird guitar tunings, though, it has been a hell of an experience for me. I’m having to hold notes or chords down that I wouldn’t normally use. The way that he tunes his guitar… it’s like bells ringing. Lots of strange notes lingering. It’s a very different experience.

Do you get to suggest stuff, or is it all him?

The instrumental stuff, I’ve suggested. We’re doing a funny version of ‘Old Tom of Oxford’ that I found. There are five or six tunes that I suggested, and he’s suggested all the songs. It’s great! It’s an absolute privilege to be playing with him. He’s so lovely!

I’ve him once or twice as a fan, and then I met him again at a session in Robin Hood’s Bay. He turned up at about 1.30 in the morning. All of the professional musicians had retired to the bar, and he came in. He briefly said hello to the pros, and then he made a beeline for the amateurs who were still scraping away in the corner. He was clearly still all about the music. And then he helped me get a taxi back to Whitby. I was a bit starstruck, to be honest. “But, but… you’re the man who taught Paul Simon how to play ‘Scarborough Fair!’”

Yeah, exactly! My dad always tells a story of me being at Cropredy Festival when I was about seven or eight. I was in the Hobgoblin shop playing a fiddle and apparently Martin came in and just stood and watched. I didn’t have a clue who he was. But he’s amazing for that – just so encouraging. A brilliant man.

You have so many projects going on. You’ve just toured with Emily Portman, you’re touring with Fay Hield, there’s the Martin Carthy thing, you’ve got your Made in the Great War tour… If you could only choose one, which would it be? What means the most to you at the moment?

It has to be Leveret at the moment, really. Mainly because we’re just about to record a new album, and because – this is going to sound so egotistical – I think we’re doing stuff with English traditional music that needs to be done. It’s very exciting to be playing English music in this way with those two people. My bugbear at the moment, maybe because of the NYFE, is raising the standard of English playing, and it seems to me that Leveret is making some difference in that world. That’s the most important thing to me, really.

I heard the interview you did with Jim Moray… Murray? How do you say that? I never know.

Ha! He says ‘Murray’, but everyone else says Moray [like the eel], so I don’t know.

Anyway, I heard your interview with him and you were talking about a strange phenomenon in which people think it’s cool to dumb down their talent. I’m not really sure what you were talking about. Can you explain? 

Yes. Of course, this is merely what I think, but what I see increasingly is the idea that to be good at English folk music you don’t actually have to be very proficient at what you do. Not only that, but it’s seen as a positive to not be very proficient. And that is, as far as I can see, very unique to our little English bubble. And it seems to me to be utterly insane. The idea that you have to sing in a specific way or play in a particularly scratchy way… seeing that as a positive, as far as I’m concerned, is taking the music of this country backwards very rapidly.

Look at America. You can go to Berkeley College, the best in the world, to study the fiddle. What have we got here? You go to Newcastle and have to study the fiddle playing of Willy Taylor, a shepherd from Northumberland who probably never re-haired his bow, couldn’t buy new strings… we’re not setting our aspirations high enough. It’s time that idea was totally smashed. Look at Ireland – look at Scotland. They’re nailing traditional music. You may not like what they’re doing but they’re playing it to a phenomenally high standard.

Why are they producing musicians so highly? Is it to do with the fact that we don’t seem very comfortable with our own traditional music, so we don’t tend to pick it up?

Yep, that’s part of it – although I don’t think that’s a huge part of it. I think what happens is that if you’re a kid and you’re playing traditional music in Scotland, you’ve got an awful lot of high-quality musicians to look up to. If you’re young and English and looking up to artists that you want to be playing like, it’s pretty thin on the ground. I think that’s the largest problem.

My difficulty, and again I’m very much an amateur, is that quite often, if you say to people that you play English folk music, they don’t even know what you’re talking about.

Boom! Exactly that!

I work with someone who saw that I make Youtube videos, and he asked me what kind of music I was playing. I said, “that’s your traditional music!” He didn’t have a clue that there was such a thing. 

Absolutely. I’ve been to Norway and other countries to talk to people at college about their traditional music. In Norway I was told, “If we don’t play the traditional music from my village, it will die. Therefore I must play it.” I spoke to someone in Lithuania and it was very much, “The Soviet Union tried to completely eradicate our culture and therefore we’re going to hold on to it as tightly as we can.” We haven’t got that in this country. We don’t have to preserve it, because it has never been under threat. And nobody is proud of it.

The other thing is that it is dead here. It died. In Norway and Lithuania it’s still very much alive. It has arguably been revived here – it’s all written down, but it’s in dead form. So that’s another reason: we don’t see it anywhere. In Lithuania I went to a town square and there was a folk dance – 400 people all under the age of 30, all going crazy. There was no caller because they all knew the steps. It was insane! I’ve never seen anything like it. In this country, the ceilidh has now become the sport of stag dos or whatever – pissed people who think it’s funny. How sad.

The last thing I wanted to ask you is about being a jobbing musician. What are the difficulties involved in that? What concerns you? What do you enjoy?

The thing that concerns me is the thing in the news yesterday saying that they’re going to bring in an enormous tax for all diesel drivers. Have you seen this? That’s going to ruin everything! [Laughs] No, I love it. The only downside I can see to doing this is that you have a slightly funny home life, because you’re not often there. There’s nothing negative about it, though.

I find it odd that people say that jobbing folk musicians are ‘anti’ the nature of what folk music is. I remember seeing Jon Boden’s keynote speech at the Folk Expo the other year, saying that we are part of the entertainment industry, but if we disappear and people are still doing it in pubs, that’s fine too. I totally disagree with that. I don’t think that what I’m doing as a jobbing folkie is at odds with that at all. I kind of think it’s essential, really, that people are doing this kind of thing to what is hopefully a high standard.

And here’s a thing that it’s very easy to forget as a professional musician. I went to see a band called Darlingside at Cambridge. I paid to see them twice. I left thinking, “Wow! That’s changed my life a little bit. What an incredible night.” And you forget this, but to think that you’re doing that to people as a musician – well, what a privileged position we’re in. Other than that, I’ve got no complaints about being a touring musician, other than perhaps the lack of fibre in a touring diet. You can’t have it all.

For more on Leveret, the NYFE and all things Sam Sweeney, take a look at www.samsweeney.comPhoto credit: Elly Lucas.