Folksongs of Tomorrow about Today
Joseph Porter, Blyth Power, Red Wedding
Joseph Porter is the smart and exceptional songwriter, singer and drummer (!) of the English folk-rock-punk band Blyth Power. Exchanging the drum kit with an acoustic guitar, Joseph recorded an album under the disguise of 'Red Wedding', featuring fellow Blyth Power member Steven Cooper (mandolin, harmonica, guitar), and is about to introduce his enigmatic songs to a folk audience. 'Folk music is all about telling stories', so he picked up on 'some unlikely heroes and events' and turned them into the 'folksongs of tomorrow about today'. T:-)M questioned Joseph Porter about a musical career that went from punk to folk and back again.
Joseph: The Clash and the 1977 punk scene were a big influence on my life around 1977-79. I started drumming in 1978 when myself and two friends formed a punk band in our village in Somerset. From there I moved to London and learned to play properly in a Mod band. From there I went back to punk bands on the periphery of the Crass Anarchist scene. We started doing my songs with 'The Mob', but it wasn't working, as no one who came to see The Mob wanted to listen to the drummer. So when the band stopped it was only natural that I start my own and I formed Blyth Power in 1983.
How does it feel to be the songwriter, singer - and the drummer?
It's a pain in the arse a lot of the time. I sometimes wish I was just the drummer, and had no other responsibilities.
But only recently you also formed 'Red Wedding', going acoustic.
There are a lot of venues in the folk scene in England that are too small and intimate for the full band, so Red Wedding is a means by which I can perform my songs in venues where electric guitars and drums are not convenient. It can also be a more gentle introduction to the band for some people.
What's the idea behind the band's name? 'Wedding' is a district of Berlin, and 'Der rote Wedding' a German worker's song! Furthermore, the pictures included in the booklet seemingly have been taken from the Czech novel 'The Good Soldier Svejk'?
That's right. I like the name Red Wedding, and I sympathise with the workers struggles against the Nazis. It sounds very ironic in English. -- I love the Svejk stories, and the pictures were exactly right for how I felt about the CD. I do admire Svejk's stoicism and acceptance of fate. Besides, anyone who can beat someone round the head with a dog (I think it was a Pomeranian) gets my vote.
I felt it always very difficult to get an idea what your lyrics are about. Can you give me a clue?
All the songs have subtexts based upon people and events that have influenced me personally, so there's little hope for anyone to fully comprehend them, even people for whom English is their first language.
What's that relation to a rather colourful personnel such as Benjamin Jonson etc? And one Andreas Baader?
They are all metaphors. For instance 'Sometimes I Wonder' is not about the RAF at all. It's about some people I didn't like who I knew were on their way to one of our gigs, and who I was going to have to be polite to, even though I knew they hated me. Two men and two women. I wrote the song and had fun doing so. Jonson is myself. I empathise with his frustration and dislike of his contemporaries - all of whom made more money than he did.
Did you ever get any 'official' recognition for your songs? I vaguely recall that the songs of Gary Miller (Whisky Priests) have been introduced into school curricula.
The lyrics for 'To Whose Gods' were used in the programme for the opening ceremony for the last Commonwealth Games in Manchester. Someone found them on the net and asked if they could use them. Most odd.
Having mentioned Gary, you played with the Miller Brothers acoustically before as a trio called 'Mad Dogs & Englishmen'. Seemingly not a very fruitful collaboration then?
It could have been, but they weren't keen on playing the smaller venues for smaller fees that we were being offered for the project, so it sort of fizzled out.
Part time punk, part time folkie. Where do you see your place?
We have no place. That has always been the problem. I don't really know much about the British folk scene at all. I'm more interested in model aeroplanes. I never listen to music to be honest.
I recognized that you played some gigs with Blyth Power in Germany last year. Are there any more chances to see you on the continent?
Red Wedding have been back since then, and Blyth will return - but probably not until number one daughter is old enough to be left behind. We have a new CD planned, which we are slowly working on. Things have been dialled back a bit since Emma was born, but there are still plenty of songs unrecorded, and the band still has a lot to do.
Mad Dogs & Englishmen "Going Down With Alice" (2000)
Blyth Power "The Bricklayer's Arms" (2000)
Blyth Power "On The Viking Station" (2002)
Red Wedding "Red Wedding" (2004)
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