John Forrester

From R2 January 2015 about John Forrester

“I’m not really a folk musician, but when you have an acoustic guitar in your hand you kinda get thrown into that. I love folk instruments. I love acoustic guitars, uilleann pipes and bouzoukis. But I’m coming at it with a noisy indie attitude. The two worlds colliding in a way.” Despite playing in Robb Johnson’s band, and for folk-rock legends Press Gang, John’s origins are in loud guitar music. His first band, The Colour Mary, played indie guitar rock in the early nineties alongside bands like The Stone Roses and Ride.

The song writers who have helped form John’s writing are “anything with a bit of passion in it and that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. When I first fell in love with the acoustic guitar I loved the Waterboys’ This Is The Sea and Mike Scott’s writing is a big influence. More recently Nick Cave who is an unbelievable song writer; no one can touch him, the way he forms stories.” On his latest album, Outsider, ‘Magpies’ builds on the gothic imagery you might expect of a Cave song: “The magpies are therapists and counsellors.  I work for a mental health charity and at a meeting someone’s story was being discussed and it occurred to me that she had been through the system over and over again and nothing was working.  She really did have a weak heart which explains the first line of the song.  One of the therapists described himself as a magpie therapist, taking bits and pieces from all over the place.  I saw someone constantly going through the rigmarole of hospital and people asking questions with clipboards but never giving you anything.”

On first listen it seems that the songs reveal a lot about John personally but he says: “People have said that Outsider is an intensely personal album, but I don’t really see it that way.” The mistake is assuming that the first person songs actually relate to John’s own life whereas he is often telling other people’s stories, but with total conviction and understanding.  There are, however, songs from his own experience such as the uplifting ‘Riding Trains’. “That song is how a certain year felt. It actually woke me up at 3 o’clock in the morning and made me get up and write it. The song is about being tired of having to put on a brave face and get on with things and being a bit travel weary. It refers to Berlin and actually being trapped on a train going round the city when I was trying to get to the airport.” The contrast between the lyrics of alienation and loneliness with the joyful music was not deliberate: “The music was just there and putting the accordion on it cheers it up! There is a bit of a juxtaposition.”

Not every song arrived fully formed but “three songs were just there on three consecutive Sunday mornings. ‘The Wrong Side Of The River’ I was about to give up on when old friend Andy Webb turned up with his guitar and we knocked it into shape. I start with a notebook and note down lines and then try to marry it up with bits and pieces I’ve got. When it comes to song writing I think of the Tom Petty quote that song writing can’t be explained and it’s not something you want to ‘look in the eye’.”

John is working on a new, more intimate album for next year. “Outsider was very much an album of motion and I see the next one being a bit more claustrophobic. I want more space so I can relax into the song writing. Maybe just me. Lots of ideas and bits of paper.  I am thinking of recording it myself over the year as songs come rather than all in one hit.”

Peter Tomkins

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