A SIMPLE name, perhaps, but far from simple tunesmithery: John Smith is coming into 2021 with positivity and a grab-bag of songs to beguile you.
Essex born but raised on the Devon coast, he’s earned his crust previously as a session musician, lending his chops and precision to bigger names across the globe, such as Joan Baez, David Gray, Joe Henry, Lianne La Havas and Tom Jones.
He also plies a critically loved path as folk singer in his own right, with a clutch of albums under his belt – five studio sets and two live, the most recent being last year’s limited Live In Camden doubleset.
As with every other human, 2020 was to be something of a watershed for John: his life on the road – he can take in up to 200 live dates a year – buckled under the ‘rona restrictions; him and his wife lost a child during pregnancy; his mum received a serious clinical diagnosis. The kind of cluster of events that make a man sit up and take stock. And John found catharsis in his art.
“With newfound pain coming from so many directions, dealing with the uncertainty it brings, I closed the curtains and picked up the pen, turning to song-writing as a lifeline,” he details.
And the first song to emerge from this process is “Friends” – a simple idea, a complex one, especially in times of social constraint.
“I wrote this song for my friends. Some of them feel more distant than others, after a year without contact,” he says; something I’m sure we can all agree with – good and vital people we just can’t get to see.
But, he adds: “The ties that bind these friendships are not lost or forgotten. They’re still there, as tight as ever. I imagine a lot of people are feeling this way, to some extent.”
John laid down a track which comes over like John Martyn circa “May You Never” with longtime friend and producer Sam Lakeman at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios, near Bath. My favourite moment? That off-the-cuff little laugh partway through. There’s still light in the world.
Weve embedded the video below, live from the selfsame studios, which John, aptly, shared with his friends on Christmas Day.
“Friends” is, we’re promised, just the vanguard to a larger body of work from John this year; he promises an array of talented collaborators on what’s to come from him in ’21.