INTERVIEW: Andrew Johnson | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Walking along the path that inspired Out Before Nine, the new record from Teesside’s Andrew Johnson, you get the sense that the geography of the area is ingrained in his very being: “I suppose the path itself is the umbilical cord between the urban and the rural. Even going back to when I was a teacher I used to walk every day from Middlesbrough to Stockton and back. This is Black Path Hill we’re about to walk up,” Andy told me of one of the album tracks, “there used to be a viaduct and that’s where the line about ghost trains comes from but I didn’t want to go too far down the local history route.”

The prolific musician (subscribers to his Bandcamp page get over twenty albums worth of stuff), who also performs under the Cherry Head, Cherry Heart moniker, further explains his process. “I usually record an album and put it out in about a week but I’ve actually held this one back. The album to me makes more sense in that kind of spring setting. I could have put it out in the autumn but then the colours would have been different to the colours of the album. And I wanted to wait until after the clocks had changed!”

And that does indeed come over in the music. Mars By Morning and Carry Me On are acoustic instrumental segments reminiscent of Michael Head’s The Strands project or Streets of London-esque progressions, capturing the essence of rural Teesside like a Ben Myers novel if not quite as bleak; spring (green) rather than autumn (brown). The early morning mist is almost palpable, insects chirp and toes feel damp from the dew amongst the “brambles and nettles and empty cans” he sings about, folding gentle electronica and guitar into two or three minute parcels.

We live in very interesting times and it might not all work out right but we will come to the other side at some point

Given Andrew’s many different projects, I asked him if he had always intended Out Before Nine to be a solo record. “I had a load of songs I wrote before 9 o’clock in the morning that were a little bit different [to the other projects], and that’s why some of the instrumentals are on there. I suppose there is that contemplative element to the album that comes from walking; some of it is overtly folky and rural and pastoral, but once I realised the songs were going together I didn’t want it to be too obviously like that and that’s when I started emphasising some of the more electronic elements.”

There is also a depth to the lyrical thinking. On first listen Pieces In The Sky is about a failed relationship, but after putting this theory to Andy he slightly sheepishly explained: “It’s actually about the Windrush scandal. It’s deliberately a little bit vague but it’s about Amber Rudd and I suppose more generally about politicians covering their own backs with lies. We live in very interesting times and it might not all work out right but we will come to the other side at some point.”

This sentiment is the crux of Out Before Nine, it’s an optimistic record of rebirth and regeneration. “That came from getting things done first thing in the morning and clearing the decks and having that positive start to the day…” Something maybe a lot of us could benefit from.

Andrew Johnson releases Out Before Nine this month. A unique ‘walking album launch’ will take place on Sunday 7th April from The Hamilton Russell Arms pub in Thorpe Thewles at 8am. See his website for further details.





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