Folk rockers The Rails are husband wife team James Walbourne and Kami Thompson who are back on the road promoting their critically acclaimed debut album Fair Warning.
If Kami’s surname seems familiar it’s because she is the daughter of folk rock pioneers Richard and Linda Thompson who produced six classic albums before splitting up. Hopefully history won’t repeat itself, but what can people expect from The Rails on this tour?
“This tour is James and I acoustic,” says Kami. “We’re playing some songs off Fair Warning, and a lot of songs off a new EP slash mini-album called Australia, which is just available on this tour and for a brief time online.”
The duo won the Horizon Folk Award at this year’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards that recognises rising stars, but why just acoustic guitars and no band this time out?
“We always do both as we write and put it together just the two of us. When we can afford it we take a band out, but it’s not cheap to take a band out on the road without label support, so this is the only way we can do it at the moment. But we enjoy it just as much.”
James Walbourne plays in eighties pop legend Edwyn Collins’ band, who also produced their debut album, but the former Orange Juice frontman doesn’t seem an obvious choice to produce a folk influenced record.
“Ed’s great and he’s a real character as well. He has that great sensibility as he is that weird pop sound guy and we love Ed’s stuff. It was great to have that slightly punky approach to things in the studio – him going you’re not doing that again and we were like arggh. We came out with lots of things maybe we wouldn’t have got if Ed hadn’t been around.”
The duo recruited another member of a folk dynasty, Eliza Carthy, to play fiddle across swathes of Fair Warning.
“We’ve been mates for years so I love Eliza and I love her parents. It was great for me to watch James and Eliza play together as they such fantastic instrumentalists, so they really enjoyed getting to play together.”
Kami’s parents Richard and Linda recorded together until their marriage imploded resulting in a brutally raw final album Shoot Out the Lights. So given they know the pressures of the music industry have her parents supported Thompson’s decision to follow in their footsteps?
“My mum bailed me out on my rent for a few months as trying to pursue music isn’t the most fruitful activity you can do in your twenties,” recalls Thompson. “They’ve been supportive, but it’s probably weird for them as they’ve seen it all, and now they have to watch their kids go through a very different type of industry.
“There are lot of things they know really well, so they are trying not to preach to the choir, and a lot of things they don‘t really understand as the industry has changed so much from then they were doing it. It’s a mixed bag, but they are very supportive, so we’re on tour with my dad at the moment and my mum’s always there with kind words.”
Richard Thompson invented folk rock with Fairport Convention and since turning solo has knocked out a series of classic albums, but is still touring relentlessly into his late sixties.
“I enjoy watching his show of an evening, and I know James does too. It makes doing the support great if you want to watch the other act at the end of the evening. The audiences have been lovely, and quite receptive, but if there a crowd pre-disposed to listen to us then my dad’s is probably it.”
Walbourne may have married into a folk dynasty, but he has an impressive track record playing with Collins, Uncle Tupelo, The Pretenders, Ray Davies’ band and session work including a stint with The Killer.
“I did a week or two recording with Jerry Lee Lewis in Memphis and it was the best experience of my life,” says Walbourne. “It’s rare to get to play with people like that, I never thought I would as he was a childhood hero and just a hero in general.
“We had Jim Keltner and Ben Keith from Neil Young’s band playing, Kris Kristofferson was there for the whole thing, so it was just mind-blowing. You have to take it in your stride, and not get vexed by it, otherwise you are screwed, but I was just where I wanted to be.
“I played with him at the Forum on the 2008 tour. I was only supposed to do one song but I played the whole set with him, so it was just follow him and keep going. It’s the Killer so you have to be on your toes, and I was just trying not to get shouted at.”
The Rails play Hebden Bridge Trades Club on Sunday 11 October and to book go to www.thetradesclub,com
Other dates are:
Oct 1 – Salford Trinity Church
Oct 2 – Arlington Arts, Newbury
Oct 3 – Canada Water Culture Space, London
Oct 4 – The Railway, Winchester
Oct 9 – Folk House, Bristol
Oct 10 – Anvil Arts, Basingstoke
Oct 12 – Fibber, York
Oct 13 – Musician – Leicester
Oct 14 – Stables, Milton Keynes
Oct 19 – Henry Tudor House, Shrewsbury
Oct 20 – Glee Club, Nottingham