Interview with Pete Devine of Pete’s Rock News and Views (http://petesrocknewsandviews.com)
I was fortunate to have a chat with John-Paul Davies and Duncan Leigh of TangleJack before their recent performance at The Grand Hotel Swansea as part of The Swansea Fringe Festival 2018.
PD: Tell us a little about the origins of TangleJack.
JPD: So Dunc and I have been friends since I was 9 and he was about 12. We started playing in a Brass Band together, Dunc was already playing guitar and I was starting to get into my mum’s Led Zeppelin records and things. I asked if I could jam with him, he said “Yeah, fine” and he gave me this bass guitar to jam with, put me in my place as all good guitarists would do. Not gonna tread on his toes too much when you start off. (laughs)
And we’ve been friends ever since and making music ever since for the last 20 years, 30??
DL: But specifically for TangleJack it’s been probably the last…well it’s a bit longer than the last 5 years, but we changed our name to TangleJack about 5 years ago to tide with a slight change in style. Because we were doing acoustic duo stuff under the name Holy Jack Tanglefoot, going back at least 10 years but that was more of a sort of … well I wouldn’t call it jazz enthused, more like modern folk. Whereas since we’ve titled ourselves as TangeJack we’ve gone back to soft pop slash folk routes, some of it a bit more simpler and some of it not.
PD: I just heard someone say that, “These songs are not so simple (laughs) you try playing my bit” lol.
You state that you’ve traveled many different paths musically, how did you come to settle on this one?
JPD: I think it was just consolidating it and it was a case of distilling what we were doing. We’d both studied music and jazz and folk and classical and all this kind of stuff. We’d actually been pulled in a lot of different directions. So we got back together after a little break and we just honed it down didn’t we? And it was more about the songs and less about what we were playing and as soon as we got down to that, that seemed to make much more sense. The arrangements are key aren’t they?
DL: Yeah, yes they are, they’re genuine acoustic arrangements. They are not written as full band songs.
JPD: They are written for the two guitar sound, getting in all the harmonies…
PD: So is it easier writing with the duo in mind?
JPD: Ha! Well we always think that two’s the hardest number. We decided this. With one if you mess up, you’re by yourself and who cares, if there’s 3 or 4 of you and you mess up the rest of the band is right, but with two, if you mess up then half the band is wrong. (laughs)
DL: There’s also the Stomp Box.
JPD: Yeah the Stomp Box, the unofficial third member of the band.
PD: Has it got a name?
JPD: Stompy….Stompy McStomp Box (laughs)
PD: Did you approach the recording of 2017’s Blackwood EP in a different way to 2016’s Eden EP?
Both: Yes, very much so…
JPD: Eden was totally the two of us doing our best at home, trying our best to put an album together and it was hard work wasn’t it?
DL: Yeah it was, depending on the jobs needed, obviously we were doing it in less than optimum conditions, in terms of it was a D.I.Y. effort rather than something that was made in a purpose built studio. But we ended up with a final product that we are really very proud of. Whereas when we went to do Blackwood we really did take that plunge of having it done professionally. it was professionally mastered it wasn’t professionally recorded. So with Blackwood, we are totally happy with the sound and the production.
JPD: With the album we multi tracked everything one part at a time whereas with Blackwood we did all the guitars together live and then the vocals together live. So it sounds much more like we do live. And we got to play off each other much more too. It gives it much more of a live sound. It sounds much more like the live us then the recorded us.
PD: Are there any plans for a follow up to Blackwood?
JPD: Yeah, we’ve started working on some new material now. We’ve got 2 new songs in the set today.
DL: But there are more, about half a dozen more written. There is one which I can’t mention at this moment in time as it will spoil a surprise.
PD:, Who are your musical influences?
JPD: For songwriting for me it has to be Simon and Garfunkel and Bruce Springsteen, that sort of era. For playing style I do like Richard Thompson and Bert Jansch. You listen to them and you feel, I wish I could do that….you’re inspired by them to do more…That’s for me
DL: I admire traditional stuff like 60’s pop music, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, that kind of thing and even though I like acoustic I do like acoustic folk music, 60’s folk music. I think I like to write acoustic songs, but they tend to be quite traditional pop in their structures. I grew up listening to people like Elton John, who despite some slight cheese factor at times I think is an amazing songwriter.
PD: Tell us a bit about your writing process?
JPD: We write pretty separately, it’s quite funny and then arrange them together. We might occasionally write a harmony part or something, but most of the time we just turn up with the song and then arrange it together.
PD: Do you have a lot of say in the other’s work?
JPD: No it’s pretty much done, if a song doesn’t work it may get put on the back burner. There’s a couple that were put on the back burner for about 5 years and then we looked at them again later to re-work them to make them ‘fit’ and that has really worked well.
DL: Yeah, I might put a guitar part to something John-Paul has written, but personally, I don’t really class that as composing. He’s written the song and I’ll just find my own way with it performance wise.
JPD: We’re always writing for each other actually, in our heads, always writing to…not impress…but I write knowing that Duncan’s gonna listen to it and say well that doesn’t work and that does. So I have it in my head that he’s going to pick it apart.
DL: But the irony is that my wife prefers John Paul’s songs and his wife prefers mine.
PD: I’m not sure what to think about that.
DL: The look on your face gives that away.
PD: Quickly changing the subject. What has been your proudest moment in music?
DL: There’s been so many gigs I’ve loved, it’s hard to nail it down to just one.
JPD: Yeah, there’s that moment you come off stage and you just feel like you’ve nailed it. Like the last gig we had in Carmarthen, that was a good one. Something just happened that night and it was a phenomenal gig.
DL: I think we have to mention the Dolbryn Folk Festival.
JPD: Ah yes, we headlined the inaugural Dolbryn Folk Festival in 2017.
DL: Unfortunately my wife lost her brother to an epileptic fit a couple years ago and since then she has been actively fundraising for the charity SUDEP Action who are a charity that is trying to not only raise awareness, but to make things like Sleep Apnea machines available and other things to help reduce the risk of death through Epilepsy.
So my wife organised a Folk Music Festival last May to raise funds for that charity. It took place in Dolbryn Camp Site up in Newcastle Emlyn and we headlined that, so I think that was pretty important.
JPD: Jen (Duncan’s wife) did it, but we helped put it all together and mates of ours played. The atmosphere was wonderful for the whole day.
DL: It wasn’t just about us, it was for the whole gig it was for a greater importance.
PD: That’s the beauty of music, the way that it can bring people together.
JPD: Yeah, yeah, that’s what it does.
PD: Who is your music God?
JDP: For me it has to be Simon and Garfunkel, for the type of thing we do it has to be them.
DL: It depends what you are looking for? As a guitarist for me it has to be John Williams, he is about as good as it gets. For a singer my favourite singer is Mick Jagger, even though I like The Beatles slightly more than The Stones. Jagger is my favourite frontman/singer. If you’re looking for a classical composer, then it’s Debussy.
PD: Why should we check you guys out live?
JDP: Because we’re best friends and I think you get that vibe when you see us live. Hopefully that comes across in the music and hopefully when you listen to the album or hear our songs on the radio, you get that impression. But I think it’s when seeing us live that you get to see that special vibe that we have that I don’t think a lot of bands have. I’m sure everyone plays with their mates, but we’ve been together most of my life and there’s an intuition that is hopefully nice for the audience to see.
DL: If you come to any of our gigs, we’re very lucky that we’ve managed to build up a very loyal fan base, so there’s quite an intimate atmosphere at our gigs and that amounts to quite an entertaining night.
JDP: Yeah, come join the family. (laughs)
PD: So, how is 2019 looking for TangleJack?
JPD: Yeah, we were just talking about it, weren’t we? We just realised that this year we haven’t played any pub gigs at all. We had been playing a few pub gigs, playing a few covers, our own stuff, but this year it’s all been ticketed events or festivals. So that’s been brilliant. As a result of that we have about 6 promoters between Cardiff and Cardigan, who want to work with us. Chasing things up and getting out there for us.
DL: And the Folk Festival will be on again next year, we missed this year. So we’ll be there again. We wont be headlining this time. We’ve got an idea for a potential headliner. Hopefully next year we’ll have more collaborations.
JDP: Yes more collaborations, getting out there and meeting people
PD: Have you any message for the readers of this interview?
JDP: Go on our You Tube channel, there’s lots of new stuff coming up there. We’re going to put up all the stuff from Creature Sound on there. So there’s lots of songs going up on there. Also on the You Tube channel, we’ll be premiering our new stuff as well.
DL: All the links are on our website (and below) On our website there is an option to sign up for our email list and in return you get a free EP and we’ll send an email out when we’ve got a gig near you. So when you sign up we ask where you are based so we don’t send you emails that may annoy you as they’re irrelevant. So we use that when we have gigs or are recording some new stuff.
PD: Well it’s been fantastic talking with you, many thanks for taking the time out and have a great gig.
JDP: Hope you enjoy it. Many thanks
DL: Thanks Pete.
Band location – Swansea Wales
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