Music Q&A:
The Coal Porters

Ex-Long Ryder Sid Griffin decided to turn away from electric music with this alt-bluegrass outfit. They play The Greystones, Sheffield, 2 June and Wirral Folk On the Coast Festival, 4 June

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What informs your music and songwriting?
I would say anyone who draws a breath can write a song if they open up to the world around them. I mean anyone – no musical knowledge required. My music is specifically formed by African rhythm as much as European melody. Where the two forms collide in American music that is where you will find me, that is where I get my mail. I suppose this makes me a toots rock artiste or something like that but the reality is I play music that is elemental to all forms of popular music: strong rhythm for dancing, a melody to move you, something you can hum, lyrics which stay in the brain like an important telegram from home, and a sense of swing, of lighter than air-ness about the whole sound. My songwriting is as much 1930s acoustic bluesman or 1950s C&W stars as it is modern pop music. It is simply mixed up in a different way and presented as something new. I guess I am reversing into the future!

How have you evolved as an artist over the years?

When I started playing professionally punk music was very popular. You could musically get away with murder then as long as you were committed to your material and did not jive or artistically lie to the audience. That was great – it allowed a door to be opened through which a lot of then young people travelled – but in the long run it gave us a great deal of folks who were more agitators or politicians than musicians. I suppose I have been all three so I point no finger here at anyone unless it is my mirror image. These days I am more a proper musician. I can play guitar, mandolin, clawhammer banjo and harmonica fairly well and play all of these instruments onstage in one act or another. So I have broadened my act, I have expanded my envelope to include sounds no punk band would dare feature. Can you imagine the poor soul who took a banjo onstage in his punk band back in the day? Oh dear…

What are you up to at the moment artistically?

Right now I am finishing some solo shows in Europe and my Coal Porters acoustic band just sold out Union Chapel in London so I am feeling pretty good about things. I need to focus on recording the first new Long Ryders album in 30 years (!) as we cut a single, Bear In The Woods b/w Down To The Well, which is doing very, very well on Spotify, iTunes, Pandora and so forth, meaning we need to do an album. So I am a pretty dang busy boy.

What’s on your rider?
Must have hot meal – no fast food. Also four Red Bulls, tea making facilities (including milk, sugar, spoons), bananas, cashews, a Pink Lily apple and honey.

Tell us your most embarrassing or surreal experience.
Assuming you mean in the music industry I would definitely say playing to over 100,000 people as a headliner in Barcelona, Spain in September 1986. It was live on national Spanish radio too! At soundcheck it was scary seeing all those thousands of people huddled around campfires – it looked like the Macedonian army ready to march on Sparta – but then at night all you could see in the darkness was cigarettes glowing and campfires burning. You couldn’t really see a single soul! So there was little reason to be nervous or have stage fright as it looked like we were playing to dark wallpaper with orange dots on it. I was more nervous at soundcheck!

What song do you wish you’d written?
I wish I had written Strange Fruit for Billie Holiday and I also wish I had written Blowin’ In The Wind for the Civil Rights Movement but alas I only wrote Looking For Lewis & Clark.

What’s your worst lyric?

An old Long Ryders song called Never Got To Meet The Mom is my worst lyric by miles. In Glasgow a few years ago a cute young waitress asked me if I was the author of the song. I said yes, grabbed a guitar and played it for her. At the end of my impromptu performance she smiled, thanked me for playing it, and then said: “My boyfriend was right – that is the worst song ever written!”

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Interact: Responses to Music Q&A:
The Coal Porters

  • Jonny
    17 May 2017 10:56
    I have always liked "Never Got to Meet the Mom. " I often sing it to myself. The lyrics are clever, if perhaps off-puttingly topical. Consider it a humorous throwaway and you will appreciate it for what it is.

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