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

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What can you expect from a Ryley Walker live performance?  As he approaches almost a decade of writing and performing his own unique blend of folk, jazz and prog rock, the ever-evolving stylings of Walker are difficult to encompass in a single genre or phrase. This elusiveness is only exacerbated by the colossal transformation that begins when transposing his studio recordings into a live setting. 

Heavily steeped in sprawling, meandering periods of improvisation, Walker surrounds himself with outrageously talented musicians who radiate spontaneity, constantly spiralling off into undiscovered territory. “I’m not musically trained at all, when I started, it wasn’t called improvising. I was jamming. Starting off in dank, disgusting basements, it was all about the crowd and being entertaining. It was never a calculated choice to make us a jam band, it just felt intrinsic, we just kept riding the wave. I try not to get bogged down in the grandiose mathematics of it, I do it because it’s fun and the band are all phenomenal improvisers.” 

This innate  sense of fun is very central to the Ryley Walker live experience, citing that the whole purpose of his music is “to show gratitude for humanity, entertain the clientele and provide a break from manual labour.”

I try not to get bogged down in the grandiose mathematics of it, I do it because it’s fun and the band are all phenomenal improvisers

Fun hasn’t always been the central focus though, as Walker laments about the previous endeavours and battles that sully his memories of the early stages of his music. “It’s not nearly as folky any more. I feel like that was a definite costume, it was all marketing and branding,” and later  admitting “a lot of the songs are muddied by self-sabotage. I’ve been lucky travelling and playing but the drugs and alcohol came first all too often. Much of what I did live was theatre, I wanted to be some nihilistic and tortured artist, it’s all ego.” Yet now, with his 2021 release Course In Fable, produced by music legend and Walker’s personal hero, John McEntire, Walker has entered his most focused, confident and joyous stage of his career. The record oozes euphoria and charm, as well as developing the stunning and textured soundscapes he creates so well. 

Anyone familiar with 2015’s Primrose Green album will confirm Walker’s talent as one of our generation’s finest fingerpickers, and everyone who’s followed his career since then will attest to the serene, serpentine melodies his guitar and lyrics have provided, yet it’s only after an encounter with the man that you learn how fundamental comedy is to his performance. 

Maybe it’s a defence mechanism, I’ve always been loud and irritating, so it bled in when I was filling dead air. I’m the least funny friend in my group, but they all fix pipes or whatever now, I’m the only one given the mic. It might be annoying to some people but it helps keep the vibe fresh and personable. I live in New York which is the home of artists loving the smell of their own farts, it’s just not me. I ramble onstage because it’s all about connection and community!”

Following a fantastic album, feeling eager and energised, all while enhanced by a newfound clarity, there has never been a better time to get caught in the fun mastery of Ryley Walker’s magic live shows. 

Ryley Walker plays The Cluny 2, Newcastle on Friday 20th May.


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