Hailing from Devon, John Smith symbolises everything that is great about folk music. His expert guitar playing, his “honey-on gravel” vocals and like all great folk artists – his ability to tell amazing stories that elicit a wide spectrum of human emotions through his songwriting.

It’s not just in his solo work he can be heard, he’s had numerous collaborations with the likes of Lianne La Havas, David Gray, Jarvis Cocker and many more.

This year he returns with his 5th album Headlong. A very personal and honest album that he dedicated to the memory of folk hero and friend John Renbourn. We were lucky enough to get an interview with him:

Which was the first record from your parent’s collection that inspired you to embark on a music career?

I didn’t really decide to embark on a career, I just played guitar every day until people started paying me. It was only when I made more money from gigs than from four part-time jobs that I decided to make a real go of it. Still, the records that got me playing guitar in the first place were Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Clapton, Ry Cooder.


Do you remember the first real song you wrote? How has your writing style changed over the years?

I wrote a song about Sonic The Hedgehog when I was eleven. I’ve branched out a little since then. I feel now like I’m able to write what I feel, in a way that makes sense to me. I’ve always tried to be vivid in my writing, to use strange imagery. It feels more fun that way.


It’s a hard question to answer, but who has been your favourite collaboration to date? Is there an artist who you would especially like to work with in the future?

I played with Danny Thompson in 2015 which was a real highlight. Playing on Joe Henry’s last couple of records has been a wild privilege too. This year I played guitars for Martin Simpson and Joan Baez. I feel very fortunate.


Which track are you most proud of in your new album Headlong?

Honestly, all of them. I meant every word.


Which track was the hardest to write?

Save My Life took two years to write.


What is the album about? What message would you like listeners to take away from it?

It’s about travel, separation, unconditional love and moving forward in hard times. Honestly, it’s none of my business what people make of it. Hopefully, they’ll feel good about it.


Do you ever see yourself moving away from the folk genre?

Folk is a big word – but I think I did so with this new record. I wanted to record something with perhaps a wider appeal, something that could reach more people, which it already has. I dug into the Clapton/Knopfler section of my inspiration and smothered the songs in electric guitar and pop choruses. Right now it feels good.

Dikshyanta Rana