Some musicians need an external reference point to push them to figure themselves out. Fairport Convention’s early recordings with Richard Thompson inspired Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo to pick up folk instruments and address his Mexican heritage. Fairport was likewise influenced to dig into English folk history by the roots moves of the Americans whose songs originally made up the band’s repertoire. For UK guitarist C Joynes, who will play his first U.S. concert on Wednesday, June 22, at the Empty Bottle, that catalyzing figure was the progenitor of the American Primitive style, John Fahey.
On the records Joynes has made for Bo’Weavil, Thread, the Great Pop Supplement, and the local Immune label, he plays a variety of instruments that he’s accumulated via world travels and eBay shopping sprees, but his music’s center of gravity is fingerpicked acoustic and electric guitar played with unvarnished tones and at infectious tempos. Speaking by Skype from his home in Cambridge, Joynes explains how Fahey’s example propelled him to fashion his own hybrid music, which he calls Anglo-Naive and Contemporary Parlour Guitar. “I would say it’s my little self-invented genre. It allows me to do what I want, when I want.”
Joynes continues: “I’ve been very interested in many forms of music and had been trying to perform them as well in a kind of half-assed way before I really got into solo guitar. The problem was that I just really love many different kinds of music and I couldn’t get a mechanism through which I could explore all of these different things. I didn’t want to just be a folk musician performing traditional English tunes, and I didn’t want to just be a jazz musician performing jazz tunes, and I didn’t want to just be this and just be that. And when I heard John Fahey it was kind of a revelation, because there was this guy who was using the most lo-fi, democratic, easy, immediately accessible instrument to explore a multitude of different musical interests.
“The first one you hear is the fingerpicking style, and it’s country and ragtime, but then you hear what he is doing melodically and how he’s structuring his tunes, and there’s all sorts of strange stuff going on there. And it very quickly became apparent to me what he had done. Because if you took the acoustic guitar (and acoustic-guitar instrumentals) as having through its simplicity almost an infinite range of musical forms and musical styles that it could be used to explore, that really was what motivated me to do that. And also as a teenager growing up, I listened to a lot of country blues and a lot of 1950s Chess electric, I was really into that—so that was kind of an obvious starting point for me. But I think I was also quite conscious that I wanted to bring in my other interests and other influences as much as possible. And I think what I’m finding is that it’s quite a slow process.”
Joynes has ventured out in myriad directions from those starting points. His debut recording, a CD-R called 33 that he first self-released in an edition of 33 in 2005, nestles American Primitive-worthy folk and gospel themes next to a Big Star tune. On the 2009 album Revenants, Prodigies and the Restless Dead (Bo’ Weavil/Immune), whistling shortwave static and detuned strings that clank like John Cage’s prepared pianos butt up against melodic, episodic reveries and a cheerfully woozy cover of Loudon Wainwright III’s “Out of This World,” which Joynes learned from a Freakwater record.
Joynes’s next record, Congo, which Bo’Weavil released in 2011, casts the widest net of all his releases in terms of influences and instrumentation. On one tune, bluegrass picking and West African-sounding marimbas gallop in unison. Elsewhere droning strings, skirling flourishes of electric guitar, rustling percussion, and churchy keyboard licks drop in and out of the ambling guitar figures like the sound effects on a Lee “Scratch” Perry Black Ark production. “I had recorded loads of stuff, and I thought, ‘How am I going to mix this?’ I listened to a whole lot of Lee Perry and Prince Jammy and Augustus Pablo, and I thought, ‘OK, this is how I’m going to do.’ I’m not going to use loads of dub effects and turn it into a dub record, but I was listening to how they drop in different things.”
Congo‘s production was so labor-intensive, though, that Joynes hasn’t made a solo LP since. “I do everything myself at home on a laptop, and mixing that record, it took so much out of me,” he recalls. He’s instead sought out collaborations and shorter-term projects. He and singer Stephanie Hladowski cut a selection of nakedly performed English folk tunes called The Wild Wild Berry (Bo’Weavil), and he made a series of rampantly eclectic singles with a performance and sound-art troupe called the Dead Rat Orchestra. Joynes’s most recent release, and the likely template for the shows he’ll play on his first U.S. tour, is this year’s Split Electric (Thread), an all-electric recording on which he alternates tracks with fellow guitarist Nick Jonah Davis. Plugged in, Joynes delivers cheery folk melodies in a grimy tone midway between Hubert Sumlin and Link Wray.
Joynes will headline a bill that includes multi-instrumentalist Jim Becker and a band led by Zelienople singer Matt Christensen, who’s released eight solo albums via Bandcamp since the first of the year. The Numero Group’s Rob Sevier will DJ.