- 10 May 13
Devon singer-songwriter John Smith will be familiar to many as one of Lisa Hannigan’s able henchmen but with the release of fourth long-player Great Lakes the guitarist is set to establish his solo status...
“It was freezing!” exclaims John Smith. “I had to stay in the water all day. Until the light was right. The cinematographer is quite a perfectionist and wouldn’t let me out.”
The cover of John Smith’s Great Lakes is an arresting image of the artist fully-clothed and waist deep in water, strumming his guitar. The captivating snap came at a price.
“I kept saying, ‘Can I get out?’ and he was like, ‘Hold on, hold on.’ It went on for hours too. It was proper cold. It was November so it was frosty as well.”
Smith is no stranger to suffering for his art. He spent most of his teenage years in his bedroom practising guitar. The sacrifice has paid dividends with his beguiling latest opus, which came together after a prolonged bout of writer’s block.
“I’ve since heard (fantasy author) Philip Pullman say writer’s block doesn’t exist, which made me feel very guilty,” he laughs. “All I know is that I tried extremely hard but I couldn’t write for about two years; I hit a wall. Then the wall broke and all of a sudden songs were pouring out. I wrote the album in about two months – very fast by my standards, Normally, I’m a slow writer.”
Smith’s step-up to headline status follows high-profile supports with the likes of Iron & Wine, David Gray, John Martyn and Richard Hawley who he opened for here.
“That came about through the benevolence of Lisa Hannigan,” nods Smith in his hushed tones. “She’d supported Rich and then, when he came to tour Ireland, he was playing the kind of venues that maybe Lisa would play. So I asked Lisa if it was okay for me to ask for the support and she said, ‘of course’. Richard who I’d gotten to know a good bit was like, ‘absolutely!’ That was amazing because Richard Hawley is a fantastic guitar player. I would stand every night and look at his hands, I was in guitar nerd heaven the whole tour!”
What was former Thomastown, County Kilkenny resident John Martyn like to play with?
“That was a huge honour,” Smith smiles. “He was a real character, I know everyone says that, but he was. He was very generous. He also taught me a bit about extensive drinking on tour. I came away knowing a thing or two! He was lovely… may he rest In peace.”
Smith was in good company on Johnny Boy Would Love This: A Tribute To John Martyn which featured contributions from Robert Smith, Beck, David Gray, Paolo Nutini and Snow Patrol to name but five.
“I think they took a bit of a punt because nobody really knew who we were at the time,” he refelects “We’d gotten home after a particularly hairy Glastonbury experience and there was one song left on the list and it happened to be my favourite John Martyn composition. We recorded it in a day, sent it off and fortunately it made the cut.”
‘Hairy Glastonbury experience’? Tell us more!
“Er, well, it was sort of a ‘rum, sodomy and the lash situation’!” he laughs. “There was rum and we lashed it pretty hard!”
Great Lakes gets another live airing on May 29 when John renews aquaintances with Iron & Wine in the Dublin Olympia. Listen to his Storeroom Session on hotpress.com