Cornwall-based singer songwriter Noel Prior has made a much welcomed return to the music scene this month with a string of local live dates and a new EP.
Noel’s acclaimed debut album ‘Outside In’ was released back in 2004 and led to a run of live dates and festival appearances across the UK which saw him play alongside the likes of The John Butler Trio, Paolo Nutini and Newton Faulkner. The years that followed saw the releases of two further studio albums ‘Hazards’ (2005), ‘Said & Spun’ (2008) and the EP ‘Friend or Foe?’ (2008) which was produced by iconic record producer Ian Grimble (Travis, Mumford & Sons).
‘Espy’, the new four-song release, is an inspired collection of original material rooted in the acoustic folk vein that has been nearly a year in the making. Noel’s intricate finger-picking style and soft vocal harmonies shine with elements of James Taylor, John Martyn and Ben Harper and they take centre-stage on this stripped-back and intimate recording. It’s a magnificent collection of poetic tales that are both beautifully performed and produced.
Noel’s solo performance at Gylly Beach Cafe in Falmouth earlier this month was his first in six years. The long awaited return was followed by a successful EP launch party at The Hubbox in Truro and he is next due to perform at The Rashleigh Arms in Charlestown tomorrow night. South West Pulse editor Dan Aston caught up with him to discuss his return to music, the themes behind ‘Espy’ and what we can look forward to in the coming months.
Dan Aston: Welcome back! How did it feel playing your first gig in six years?
Noel Prior: Well, I have actually done some other shows with the last band I was in called Sound of Fable, but this was the first solo performances in around six years. It felt good to be back on stage and I really enjoyed playing the Gylly Beach Café as my opening show, as it was one of my last solo shows I did all that time ago. A bit nervous, but all good once up and running!
DA: It was great to hear songs like ‘Military Town’ and ‘Money & Gold’ performed live again. Does it feel any different returning to old songs now compared to when you first wrote them?
NP: Yep, completely! My songwriting always used to be very biographical, so when time moves on it does feel a bit odd; like delving into an old diary. I now am happily married, have a lovely son and a pet dog! When I wrote those songs, around ten years ago, I was very much in a different place. I really like their simplicity and they are a lot of fun to play, I still think they have a good groove and hopefully don’t sound too stale!
DA: You have an impressive live set up that is bolstered by taped backing vocals, bass lines and percussion. Does playing solo provide a greater sense of freedom for you?
NP: To a certain degree. I’ve always had a very firm idea about what I wanted my songs to sound like. In the past I have been fortunate to work with excellent musicians who also appreciated my vision and could help me recreate that live. Working on your own with samples does mean you can always get it to sound the way you want and you can always recreate that accurately for the audience. I’m a sucker for making things sound good for the audience! I think that’s one of the most important things in a live show – I like to try to deliver something similar to what people will hear on my albums.
DA: Do you see yourself performing with a band again anytime soon?
NP: I’ve had a few enquiries from various friends, so I won’t rule it out. But I’m quite happy solo for the immediate future.
DA: What inspired the lyrics behind your new songs on ‘Espy’?
NP: All the songs are observational. They reflect on things seen in nature. ‘Dirt Lane’ is quite literally about a load of rubbish I saw blowing around in the wind, ‘Rubies In The Morning’ is about experiencing a multitude of weather changes on my way to work, ‘Pesky Aviators’ is about those helicopter seeds which fall off trees, and ‘Inspiration Gone’ reflects on the sea and storms in relation to inspiration. They’re all quite simple, to a certain extent.
DA: Did you approach songwriting any differently this time around?
NP: Completely! All my earlier music was completely self indulgent and massively personal, like many youthful singer songwriters. The songs still have a personal edge, but are much more broad in their scope and hopefully a bit more interesting. I spent a lot of time crafting the guitar parts and writing the lyrics separately as poems in their own right then trying to get the two to combine – it all took quite a bit of editing (nearly a year!). The guitar playing is a bit more complex too, as I’ve recently become obsessed with Travis picking, which can be heard throughout the EP.
DA: Your new EP is fantastic, can we expect a full album anytime soon?
NP: Yeah, I’m always writing and I would like to develop some of these new techniques and methods into a full album, that would be a lot of fun. So, perhaps towards the end of the year? I don’t set myself deadlines these days!
DA: Will there be any more shows coming up this year?