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

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There’s a lot to take in for those witnessing Tim Head perform for the first time – from his bedroom beats and idiosyncratic ‘barely rap’ delivery, to personal handwritten messages and the repurposed homeware within his stage set-up. As charm offensives go it’s mightily potent, though at times it runs the risk of obscuring the Durham wordsmith’s innate gift for storytelling; the pillar which, for all the quirks, represents the true heart of his guise as Faithful Johannes.

This rather crucial element becomes rather more difficult to overlook, however, with the arrival of new full-length Ken & Jean. Whereas Faithful Johannes records to date have housed collections of stand-alone, bite-sized vignettes, this ‘story album’ is an altogether more audacious undertaking – 12 tracks oozing his unmistakable, endearing DIY trademarks, yet bound in the form of an engaging, intimate and often poignant tragicomedy.

“The album was kind of an accident,” he confesses. “It started out as just a couple of songs for a tape Steve Chell was doing for his Northern Tape label. I had 11 minutes to fill, and I thought it’d be nice to put two or three songs together which had some sort of arc to them. I didn’t have much of a story mapped out, though – I tend to have my best ideas in the shower! – and I ended up completely misjudging the length it’d take!

“Ken’s quite an anonymous kind of guy, but somewhere down the line he realises he’s quite good at jokes, pranks and impersonating people,” Tim continues, introducing his story’s principal character. “He gets a bit of a kick out of it, and it helps him step out of who he normally is, but ultimately it ends up driving him and Jean apart. I got the idea that he’d set up a fake photography company to get them to the front of a Neil Diamond concert – a big, grand gesture to try to win her back.”

A peculiar starting point, one may feel; yet as Tim’s tale took shape, this hapless figure quickly became a smorgasbord of inspiration – an ideal hub from whom to flesh out a narrative. “Ken was nice to write about, as you could build so many random anecdotes,” he reveals. “For instance, there’s a song about a Mediterranean holiday in 1991 where he pretends he’s a famous Hollywood actor. Of course, back then people didn’t have access to the internet, so nobody could really verify this! He ends up getting special treatment, but eventually somebody he’s made friends with catches him out when he spills drinks at a pub and breaks character.”

Ken & Jean oozes his unmistakable, endearing DIY trademarks, bound in the form of an engaging, intimate and often poignant tragicomedy

Penned from that acquaintance’s viewpoint, the song in question – Holiday In The Sun In 1991 – is also notable in that it sees Tim hand the reins to a guest vocalist, Glaswegian rapper Eli Hermit. This fresh collaborative spirit is reflected elsewhere in a spoken word Intro from Nel Unit’s Jon Horner and trumpet contributions courtesy of James Leonard Hewitson, while Jean’s own perspective – as revealed on gorgeously bittersweet highlight The Leap – is voiced by Great North Slam-winning poet Ellen Moran. “I ummed and ahhed for quite a while about that one. I wanted somebody who would talk through it almost in a matter-of-fact kind of way. I think the description I gave Ellen was ‘like you’re sat down having a cup of tea.’”

With a three-dimensional cast, vivid anecdotes and a convincing emotional core, you’d be forgiven for wondering whose real-life romantic drama these estranged soulmates are based upon. “There’s a Ken and Jean who drink in the same pub as us, but that’s just a coincidence!” Tim insists. “There was a lot of Googling involved, and I had a good long conversation with Victoria Wai about the experience of being a photographer at a big arena event, but they’re pretty much entirely fictional.” Nevertheless, he does confess a certain fondness for Ken’s character, beyond his usefulness as a narrative catalyst: “I do think he could be a projection of myself, in some ways. I’m guessing he’s probably in his late fifties or early sixties; I’d quite like to partially retire from my office job, work in café and go to jazz lunches…perform at nights for pensioners, listen to avant-garde music and spoken word performance. I think that’s where Ken ends up, and I think that’d be my dream!”

What’s more, tentative plans are afoot to transfer this likeness from his imagination onto the live stage: “I think I’m going to try to do the September gigs [listed below] in character, so I’ve started buying clothes for Ken!” he reveals. “It’s a bit am-dram, and I’ll probably have to come out and do some kind of pre-performance announcement, but for all that it’s silly, hopefully there’ll be bits which people find quite honest, emotional and resonant.”

None are characteristics Faithful Johannes’ music has ever been accused of lacking, yet they’re magnified profoundly through the thrills, spills, fallout and partial redemption within Ken and Jean’s tale. Equally, few can cast doubt over Tim’s DIY credentials, with the new record issued as ever through his own Win Big Records, available on handsome pink vinyl or via digital download. With artwork hand-drawn by artist Anna Billany, it’s a gem fit for any collection.

Ken & Jean is released on 10th September via Win Big Records. Faithful Johannes performs Brinkburn Street Brewery, Newcastle on Sunday 26th September



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