Saturday, 8 November 2014

NIZLOPI - LUKE CONCANNON

Interview

Luke Concannon 

"This is goodbye from Nizlopi. We are no more!" those were the ominous words posted by Luke Concannon about the break up between him and the other half of the duo John Parker five years ago.

Nizlopi  John Parker and Luke Concannon
However, starting this month (November) there is the Stand Up Together tour kicking off in Cardiff and a live album for fans to enjoy.
It would be easy to sneer and start with yeah, yeah, yeah, it was all a stunt etc except for one thing.
Concannon holds his hands up and admits it was the wrong thing to do even if it did have honourable intentions.

"When we did it there was a sense we really wanted to do something together in the future but there was this sense we have to give people clarity, and that (saying we are no more) was a bit of a mistake really because it wasn’t really true," Concannon candidly admits. "The record label took a lot of work to operate. It was just a few of us, family and friends and the band took a lot of work, gigging, promoting, writing, recording - it was just too much for our relationships. I have some pretty full-on feelings and I didn’t want to sign on to a major record label at the time and so I think we had some pretty strong differences. The amount of stress and pressure on us and not enough time to just do the work and deal with our relationship, in the long term, took its toll.
"So I just decided I wanted to step away and go and find myself and go to Palestine, and write some songs."

Why Palestine?
"We were playing a gig in York about six or seven years ago and there were these two girls at the front who were going for it, singing the words and rocking out.
"There's one of our songs called England Uprise which is about saying yes to one part of our history, the history for people power, arts, George Orwell and multi-culturalism, but no to the imperialism which has been in our past.
"Those girls were responding to that and I talked to them afterwards, they said they were Palestinian /English and that we should go there because there are great people and great music and I think that sparked a seed because I wanted to go on an adventure."

With many, such a notion would be a passing fancy soon forgotten in the bustle of everyday life but not Concannon, he disregarded the concerns of his parents and friends about heading to the troubled region and hitch hiked from England to the Middle East.
"I volunteered as a peace worker there, working with farmers in the west bank. When I was there I was really happy, it felt really good to be working at something I believed in.
"I was with farmers who were working their own land and who were in danger of being attacked by militant settlers. So they had asked for help from the International Solidarity Movement and going to do it felt very liberating.
"It’s the sort of things your parents or whatever say no you shouldn’t really do, that it’s too dangerous but when you actually do it, it feels really good it’s a risk, but you need to take risks when you are doing something you believe in."

Concannon's solo album
During this period Concannon made a solo album, Give It All, which was itself a bundle of new experiences not least of which was producing the record on his own but did his Palestinian adventure affect him personal and or musically?
"You can definitely feel the trauma in people, and the stories about being shelled; being occupied and being under the threat of violence, imprisonment or torture. You can feel that there’s a trauma and an anxiety in people."
"It was very inspiring. Being there, making friends with people and having them touch your heart with their kindness created a sense of we are just one people around the world.
"We are not Iraqis and Americans and Israelis we are just one people. It may sound clichéd but to have that feeling brought more of an internationalism to the music.
"I wrote the lyrics “The future is in our hands so don’t you dare play small, join the movement all around the world."
"That sense of solidarity of people power came into the music more. And I think the sense of just going for it, seizing the day and life felt more precious for going there."

As Concannon opened up about his approach to music, he made it clear it is not just notes on a page, background music on the radio or disposable digital detritus left behind by a ravenous music industry. His deep love and emotional attachment to music borders on the spiritual.
"My mentor was a Scottish Quaker called Alastair McIntosh. He collaborated on one of our albums, a piece called Homage to Young Men.
"He said to me 'When you are singing really go deep inside yourself and really care about the people you are singing for'.
"I have found when I really try to go that deep and hold fast to that place then afterwards people have come up to me and said 'Oh that song made me cry'.
"I have had that experience where music can be healing and cathartic and in ways that aren’t just rationalised in that is was just a sad song."

They say a week is a long time in politics but five years is a epoch in the music industry there was a danger Nizlopi would no longer be cool, part of the scene or even required however, a friend's impending nuptials proved a catalyst for the public re-emergence of the duo.
"We were asked by a friend to play at his wedding, he had said for years 'Lads you can break up but you have to reform for the wedding'.
Ed Sheeran
"So we said why don’t we book a show in London as a warm up gig for the wedding and that sold out in a few hours. We were really surprised and we put a second date on and that sold out in 12 hours.
"The thing was we had been gigging over eight years and putting out a lot of music and we had developed a fan base which was long-term.
"Also having Ed Sheeran blow up who was a big fan of ours, and who talked about us a lot in the media about how he learned his life crafts from Nizlopi and they were his favourite band. So that helps when the biggest artist in Britain is talking about you. Then we just thought fuck it, let’s play some music again it’s been long enough so let’s just fucking do it. It wasn’t like we were broke or anything. Although we were but it wasn’t because of that."

So are there any fears about setting off on a new tour?
"We have played a lot together over the last year, I am really excited. John is a great musician and he’s just feckin' brilliant at what he does and he works really hard, it’s really good to gig with him.
"He is one of the most sympathetic collaborators and he listens and improvises and we have a good thing, so it’s exciting to be getting out. It’s the first full big tour we’ll have done in six years so yes it feels good to get out and share this stuff.

Before setting off on this new tour the duo, from Royal Leamington Spa who have been mates since school, have had time to reflect on the success of JCB.
"It was a big surprise when it did take off, we were sort of slowly building this rootsy thing and then suddenly we had this massive success.
"Generally it’s given us some visibility and money to carry on writing music and doing our thing, so it was a good thing.
"But then there’s that little bit where it’s easy for people to say, 'Oh yeah they are that novelty act.'
"Generally we feel lucky we are doing our thing and that we have an audience - they know what we are about, they don’t follow us just because of one song."

Rory McLeod
Seeing them in any way as a novelty act or one hit wonder does them a great disservice because Concannon and Parker are both politically motivated, although the former admits to being the more left wing of the duo, and that will come out in their music.
"Everything is political isn’t it, if people say I am not political that’s a political thing to say," he offers with a wry laugh.
"As people we have a lot of power but sometimes it’s just believing we are powerless that stops us from making the changes we want to make.
"In the 60s there was a serious quality of music around and it was in the mainstream, whether it was Joni Mitchell singing about paying for paradise or Woodstock, where she sings I dreamt of bombers riding shotgun in the sky turning into butterflies.
"I wonder if it was a top down thing where record companies said we have given too much power to radical left wing voices and we can’t go on doing that or whether that happens in a market driven economy where you end up with more sensationalist, distracting opiates in the mainstream which are being pushed forward because they are the ones which are easy to sell.
"In the same way that the only music we could get through the firewall of mainstream music was the one they could characterise as a novelty, nothing too serious and they could make a bit of a joke about it."

As he continues Concannon's passion for making a difference becomes evident.
"My hero is Rory McCleod, he’s written stuff such as Miners Picket Dance, and about the Falklands and I think the BBC would be frightened of playing his song No More Blood for Oil.
"So the real folk music which is about what people care about is being forced underground like in the era of Woody Guthrie.
"Although in hip hop it’s interesting because it is folk music in the oral tradition and you have got plenty of people in that scene who are activists.
"There are guys such as Akala or Immortal Technique or even someone as mainstream as Kanye West who went on the telethon for Katrina and said George Bush doesn’t care about black people and I don’t like the way they’re portraying us. When they show a white family they say they are hunting for food and when they show a black family they say they are looters
"So even someone as pop and mainstream as Kanye was willing to put his neck on the line and say something."

Reading between the lines you get a sense Concannon now has a clearer vision and perhaps a little more maturity to take them into the next stage of their career which straddles the folk, indie and hip hop camps.
"We definitely feel happier and a bit mellower. It’s funny I feel more politicised and more hungry and more determined and less rigid.
"We have both got a bit clearer about what we are passionate about."

Returning to the impending tour, on November 19 they come home to the Assembly Rooms in Leamington is that going to be something special?
"It’s funny, there always seems there are three home town gigs for us Dublin, Leamington and London where we’ve played a hell of lot and where we live now.
"Worcester is also like a home town gig because we have played the Marrs Bar about nine times now and Dublin apparently has already sold out.
"We are calling it the Stand Up Together tour because that’s what we’re deeply feeling is needed. A sense of us getting together and building a community and asking what sort of country do we want to leave for our grandchildren?"

Nizlopi are appearing at The Assembly Rooms, Royal Leamington Spa on Wednesday November 19 and at The Marrs Bar, Worcester on Friday November 28.

Nizlopi Live the album is available now from the band's website or can be downloaded at music glue or itunes.

To see the review of Nizlopi's new live album visit http://folkall.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/nizlopi.html