Interview : Fountainhead
Fountainhead are an electric folk band from the Valleys who are just picking up momentum in their second incarnation, having released a new album, Nothing Can Stay, earlier this year. They now how have a definite country undertow evident in their music, which suits singer Beth Dowsett's distinctive, emotive vocal style - and listening to Nothing Can Stay gives you a sense of a band very successfully finding their bearings within a new sound.
Talking on the phone to Fountainhead's lead guitarist and one of the band's main songwriters, Tom Stupple, he quickly comes across as affable, self deprecating and humourous. We started at the beginning with Tom explaining how the band initially developed:
"We started in 2003 as a three piece, based in Yorkshire - Beth & I, with Caitlin on percussion and harmony vocals - we began playing in folk clubs, probably without really knowing how folk clubs work (laughs) - our first gig was in the Topic Folk Club, it was quite an old school pure acoustic venue, a club made for listening, an atmosphere wasn't helped by us rattling backwards and forwards to the bar before we our set - I can still remember the looks we got (laughs again)."
"We played live a lot - including in Belgium to several hundred people on roller skates, a definite high point - the one time we unquestionably got an audience moving!"
Honing their sound (which was definitely in the realms of contemporary folk at that point), a commitment to gigging led directly to their first recording, as Tom explained:
"We recorded an album in 2004-5 with a producer and musician caller Phil Snell, who we met through a folk club gig, he just approached us at the end of it and the rest flowed very naturally from that point - it was called 'Footprints in the Sand', just guitar and two voices."
"To be really honest we were quite young and didn't know how to promote ourselves, so, exciting though it was, the release didn't lead where it might have - the internet was not so fully developed, so it was a lot harder to get your name and music about, other than playing live. Then we moved to Wales and a whole set of new commitments - things eased off, and we stopped for four or five years."
And you get a feeling that might have been that - and have to ask what sparked the restart?:
"We just got offered a gig out of the blue - supporting Tom Hingley solo (Inspiral Carpets) - at a local venue. Then a slow process started, that took over the three years in the end, of bringing people in and developing a band. We are lucky to have Josh Evans in the lineup - who is a Valleys' singer songwriter in his own right. The last person to join was Eira Morgan - she has a great voice, and is a singer who comes from a more choral background - we've also had a few drummers in that time, and are now settled with Ieuan, with Nick Wheeler on bass completing the lineup."
Having gone from a three piece to six band members was bound to change things, but the musical direction is fresh too - I asked why Fountainhead, who were an entirely acoustic folk band the first time around, now play what might be termed country folk rock, and Tom responded eagerly:
"Both Beth & I got into Gillian Welch - we were quite obsessed with her work for a time and it influenced us; there is just a purity to the sound and an 'in roomness' intimacy, and it all feels live. It's also timeless - in the sense it can stop time, it is a place to be, it's the music that makes me stop the car to listen."
"But we weren't sure how to put it into what we had, until I heard Emmylou Harris' Wrecking Ball album (a 'career redefining' work, which was expertly produced by Daniel Lanois) - that blew me away; it makes country much more contemporary, has an almost indie feel. The Zervas and Pepper album Lifebringer - that was a great influence too"
"The other thing is living in Porth, driving around - it is beautiful, rugged - the mountain backdrop- but also there are signs of hardship and dereliction - it seems to fit the music, and its themes and mood"
Tom then went on to talk with infectious enthusiasm about how this link is perfectly illustrated in the Lewis & Leigh song Rubble, which led the conversation onto how Fountainhead had found the experience of starting again:
"There's no pressure or nerves now - we just enjoy it too much. As Rhod Gilbert recently said on UK's Best Part-Time Band, 'There is no ******* prize' - and there really isn't in any sense, you have to do it for its own sake, for the music."
"Recording and releasing 'Nothing Can Stay' - we started out without a definite plan, but the way it has come together and the people we have worked with have been great. We have played some marvellous gigs - including Filey Folk Festival, an event held mainly in all the pubs around the town, we played about seven times."
We finished the call, with a small voice in the background insistent that Robot Wars was about to start, with Tom enthusing about who he rated locally:
"We played recently with The Brwyms - really lively folk with a great sound, and I have to say (laughs), although it is true, that I love the work of Josh Evans (who is in the band), solo he plays punky folk ... social commentary that tells it like it is. Dan Bettridge too - he is just a great singer. And Lewis & Leigh, obviously ... "
And with that praise the small voice and the tractor beam draw of radio controlled robot conflict won out.
At the time of writing this interview up Fountainhead have just won a place on the bill at Purbeck Folk Festival, topping an open vote against great opposition; they seem to be getting somewhere without that even being the point. They are clearly worth a listen.
Fountainhead I Ship Without Anchor
Fountainhead I Rosie