I first interviewed Jon Parker some years ago when he was backing Jake Morley on a tour. More recently we bumped into each other at FolkEast where Jon was playing with The Will Pound Band. The band are just about to embark on their first tour so it seemed the right time to chat again.
The tour with The Will Pound Band comes right on the back of a tour with Nizlopi last year, are you looking forward to this new tour?
Yes, very much so. It is really nice to play with Will, we started as session musicians for him, we got booked to play on his album. We all just got on really well musically and as friends, we had lots of mutual friends and musicians we all play with and it just became a band and we started writing and it was nice to be writing music that isn’t vocalist based.
The band’s website proclaims Will as one of the best harmonica players on the planet! Is that true?
I think so, I’ve never heard anyone play harmonica quite like him. He actually can’t do anything else! All his skills are for the harmonica – we often wonder how he dresses himself actually. But he can pretty much play anything on the harmonica, its quite incredible really.
It is not a particularly popular instrument, is it?
No, not at all. I think the root of him playing the harmonica, I think he was advised by his surgeon – he had open heart surgery when he was a child, so anything that helps you with your breathing and the harmonica was handed to him.
You play double bass, as everyone knows, its not a tradition English folk instrument is it? But it works, doesn’t it?
Yes it does. There is a guy called Danny Thompson that everyone knows from various bands like John Martin and people like that. He kind of made it possible for all of us double bassists to get involved with Folk music.
We met last year at FolkEast, a relatively new festival here in the East, what was your impression of it?
It was much bigger than I though it was going to be, was it its first year?
No, it was its third year but only its second at Glemhall.
We thoroughly enjoyed playing it, it was so well organised and so well run which makes it stand out in comparison to a lot of festivals. It sounded really lovely on stage too, a lovely place to play in the evening. We’d love to come back as well – I think there is rumour that we may be back at some point.
You’ve already answered my next question in a way – is it fair to describe the and as a group of session musicians?
Yes, we are. When you saw us at FolkEast we were…. we are still really working on our sound and writing new material, just figuring out who we are – four musicians equally able to write melodies and chords. Before Paul used to have to pay us to play with him, now its four ways.
You are just about to embark on your first tour, I would imagine, correct me if I am wrong, you might well be a different band by the end of the tour?
Absolutely. I hope so. One that has rehearsed! Sadly for me, I am nursing my Mum who is very unwell since November so I am now living in the Midlands, splitting the care between me and my sisters. It is hard therefore for us all to get together so the tour will be good for us to be all in the same place at the same time.
We featured the video of “Jimmy Wards” on our Facebook page last week. It looks like it was recorded in a hotel room…
So not an elaborate set then?
NO, it wasn’t even our hotel room either. We couldn’t afford to stay there, it was our agent’s hotel room. A good friend of ours James, he had just got a whole bunch of new cameras and really wanted to use them and we really needed something that caught what we do… or the beginning of what we are going to do! It toured out really well, it sounds great.
There is a new EP out shortly isn’t there?
Yes, I think it is out for 31st January. We are playing Celtic Connections in St Andrews that day.
You played the Royal Albert Hall recently, what was it like playing that venue?
There are very few venues I have not played, this was one of them. I tell you, it was strange, because it’s huge, it just seems to go up and up in the air and you expect it to be really really loud but in fact it was such a pleasant experience, it was almost acoustic on stage so it wasn’t deafeningly loud, you could hear the audience singing back and the choir all singing their harmonies, it was amazing. The work that the musical director put in arranging all that choir parts was quite something else.
It is impossible to talk to Jon Parker without mentioning Nizlopi what was it like being back on tour last year with Luke?
That’s a good question! It was a lot of fun we had some amazing gigs, our audiences are quite incredible, they are not like any other band’s audience really, its almost like a cult they are part of the band. It was beautiful to play to these people and we ended in Ireland which was awesome – one of my favourite gigs of the tour, it as quite wild! We got heckled a lot.
As a musician you have backed lots of different bands and individuals do you have to compartmentalise the people you play with or is it just the same thing with different people?
It is very individual, I find a lot of the time that… I’m very lucky, I get to play music that I want to play. I seldom play with people I don’t want to. I find most of my job is learning the songs but it is also more than that is reading the singer a lot of the time or the leader of the group and working out dynamically where we are going,what journey we are on when we are on stage. It is very full on and focused for me trying to play loudly when they do or quietly when they are singing something delicate and none of those things are rehearsed they are just in the moment. In a sense it is music therapy!
Do you ever worry hat one of the bands you play with are going to hit the big time and take over your life?
That sounds like a lovely thing to worry about! I worry more that they’l hit the big time and leave me aside! Its funny because obviously I done some recording with Ed Sheeran some time ago.. a long time ago, just before he got.. now he’s like the biggest thing ever. It is amazing watching that from the sidelines and kinda going my God… I mean Nizlopi had some success but nothing compared to what Edward is doing.
You teach people to play double bass. Not exactly the young musicians instrument of choice, is it?
No, partly to do with the way it is perceived and talked about in school. When I played it was the instrument that was given to the naughty kids because it is big and you have to sit down and it is hard to break so it kind of pins you to your seat. But when I do workshops with kids I say you can do this, it is a percussion instrument, you can play all sorts of music on it and they get really excited about by that and obviously you have to learn the classical music and the jazz and the traditions but there is nothing to stop you experimenting and mixing it all up.
Its not the easiest instrument to carry about, do you ever get tired dragging it around to gigs?
I do at the moment because I’m driving from Warwickshire to London, yes its a nightmare. Its more of a nightmare on trains than it should be. I wish they would just let me get on trains, but they won’t. Sometimes they threaten that I should probably pay double for that and you just have to put up with the jokes about it under your chin etc…
Your double base has a name and is rather special, isn’t it?
Yes, it is Nanni, it is French 19th century – a beautiful instrument and played by me.
We are drifting away from the Will Pound Band and thats my fault, what is the best part of playing with them?
I think its the fact that.. like yesterday we had a rehearsal and we spent five or six hours just on two tunes and its that… not just playing the tunes but trying to go deeper with them and with Will, Henry and Chris we really enjoy just thinking how can we harmonise this differently or arrange it differently. We are now very comfortable live, watching us on stage we are like four excited children really. It is really good fun.
So why should people go and see The Will Pound Band?
Because it would be really lonely if no one comes and sees us play! What we are really trying to do, and not to sound pretentious is, we are trying to show our respect to the tradition of folk music but also trying to bring in some more modern elements, a bit of hip hop, funk or groove just trying to mix it up which will appeal to young and old but especially getting youngsters involved in live music.
Do you find it is difficult to get audiences through the door?
Yes, there is an awful lot going on in the whole world. There are a lot of things to do and sometimes it is just easier to stay indoors or go to the pub. I don’t know. I’m going to see the Punch Brothers on Thursday and they’ve sold two nights out at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, so people are coming to gigs because they are unique events – you will never see the same gig twice. The Nizlopi tour almost killed me – the amount of work I had to put into getting people to come to the shows. Or just trying to get people to know about the shows. There is so much information on Facebook and Twitter nowadays that people are bombarded I think.
Jon, thank you for taking the time to talk to GrapevineLive – we are looking forward to seeing you at Diss Corn Hall on Friday February 6th.
The full Will Pound Band tour schedule is as follows:
Jan 31 Celtic Connections, Saint Andrews
Feb 04 The Place Theatre, Bedford
Feb 06 Corn Hall, Diss
Feb 07 Wychwood Folk Club, Tiddy Hall, Enstone
Feb 08 The Musician, Leicester
Feb 13 Ashcroft Arts Centre, Fareham
Feb 15 Riverhouse Arts Centre, Walton-On-Thames
Feb 20 The Live Room, Caroline Street Social Club,Shipley
Feb 21 The Civic, Barnsley
Feb 22 The Upfront Theatre, Penrith
Feb 24 Firth Court, Sheffield University, Sheffield
Mar 06 Wigan Parish Church, Wigan