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Thursday 23 May 2024

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Interview with Pete Morton

Apr 16, 2020

Always a restless spirit has claimed Pete Morton, his albums filled with songs of the here and now, the human condition as well as traditional refits and relevant covers. His own material has long been celebrated for inherent hope and honesty, yet his new collection ‘The Golden Thread,’ is particularly telling and satisfying. Taking Spiral Earth through the music he explains his thoughts and motivations; scribbled notes, Simon Jones.  

I first came across Pete Morton when the estimable Gordon Jones (of Silly Wizard,) landed in the rarefied environs of Manchester and began a record label named Harbourtown. Since I was writing for the Guardian group, he sent me a cassette of a young singer at the time based in Leicester, what I heard was edgy, punkish, distinctive and exciting just what was needed to give certain parts of the folk scene a thoroughly deserved wake up call. When I actually saw Pete play a gig it was great, he had the appropriate ragamuffin chic, battered guitar, he sang in his own voice and shaved slices off the earnest but plain boring singer songwriters mostly populating the clubs.  More than that he was affable and approachable, straight away three or four other labels gnashed their teeth at missing his signature. Pete wrote significant songs from the off, his debut ‘Frivolous Love,’ still sounds great all these years later, ‘The Sloth & The Greed,’  ‘The Last God Of England,’ 

Harbourtown, debut and breakthrough

The Backward King,’ and later ‘Another Train,’ all spoke volumes. Here was an artist going places.  He’s going places still, never having wavered from his purpose and craft, there was even a band along the way or did I imagine that? Urban Folk a collective song fest with guitarist player Roger Wilson and accordionist Simon Edwards, produced a cracking album which should be revived, y’ hear Pete? His own releases have landed now at number 14, whispers say it’s decent, worthy of investment, see SE’s review elsewhere,  capturing him at the top of his game. What follows is a sharing of Pete ‘s philosophy, impetus, drive and belief in the album. (SJ) 

‘A Golden Thread’ is a selection of songs that simply built up over the last couple of years. There wasn’t any plan or specific theme, just a decision in the end of which ones to record. There was a general idea of what songs I’d like to try. I think there is always a link with each song or should I say a thread, but I think that’s a combination of the songwriter who never changes, and what’s going on in the world.  The feel is quite global really, even though there are traditional songs, and a couple of self -penned numbers about London. There’s protest and unease but also plenty of optimism and belief in people, and our world’s future.  

The song that became the title track ‘Oh Had I A Golden Thread’ is from Pete Seeger. As other writers have done in the past, I put together my own version.  Climate change was at the fore of my mind when I was working on it. I’ve always loved his songs from when I first discovered folk music. He wrote it back in 1964 and became a signature song for his TV show at the time. 

‘ A joy to record with a great bunch of musicians and sympathetic engineer.’

Eight of my own songs ended up going on. I chose to record ‘The Grenfell Carol’ at the last minute. It was written around Christmas 2018, and thought of it as a seasonal song, but every time I mentioned the new album, friends and fans would ask if I would include ‘The Grenfell Carol’ so I gave in in the end. It is funny what gets left out and what makes an album. I’m glad it’s included now. It’s a call for victory over injustice and the truth being watered down by the powerful. 

‘Universal Basic Income’ is something I’ve always thought would be the most sensible option for humankind as a whole economically. Now we find ourselves in this lockdown with jobs falling by the wayside like nothing seen since the 1930’s, people are starting to talk about the concept as a ‘not so radical’ concept. Funny …just a simple ditty I found myself singing while walking round a graveyard in Reading. 

Most of my albums have at least one anti-arms trade song on. ‘Yemeni Moon’ is the Staffordshire moon, or the Berlin moon. It’s our moon for a shared world community. There’s a lot of sorrow and some bitterness in this song but the chorus is uplifting and is for everyone, for when we overcome this murderous and non-sensical, money making trade. 

‘Immigrant Child’ is another song about us all, and all of our ancestors. Nobody is exempt. We are the immigrant and nothing better or worse. 

Many years ago I was reading some poetry by Emily Dickinson and felt compelled to write a song about her that was recorded on an album in 2005 called ‘Flying an Unknown Flag’. Just before recording ‘ A Golden Thread’ I got the idea of revisiting the song and added some verses and a chorus. It turned out that Emily was speaking back through the chorus, encouraging her lover to have self-belief and be guided toward making a better world. 

Immigration plays a part in the more light hearted ‘Metropolitan Safari’. The song was meant to be me but transferred to a first generation gig economy worker with lots of myself in it. He’s darting all over London, with memories of another place and life, and thoughts of his new life as he rides about the city on his moped. 

I listen to and learn a lot of traditional songs all the time. ‘The Farmers Boy’, is very much a live song for me, and decided to end the album with it. The version of ‘Barbry Allen’ is from the singing of Jean Ritchie. Both of the traditional songs are powerful lyrically and full of meaning.

I’m in love with all of the songs on this album – every songwriter will know what I mean. I’m pleased with the way the album fitted together and can see the thread better now. 

I found myself recording the album in Leek, thanks to the Peace Through Folk organiser, Malcolm Hawksworth. When he first heard me sing ‘Yemeni Moon’ we discussed the idea of a choir for the chorus. This is why I ended up in the Staffordshire Moorlands. We worked with the Peace Through Folk Choir Malcolm had been very supportive from the beginning. He suggested I get in touch with Paul Yarrow at Field Street studio. I’m pleased I chose to work with Paul. It was also central geographically for a lot of musicians I wanted to work with. It was a joy to record, with a great bunch of musicians and a sympathetic engineer with a good pair of ears.

Simon Jones

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