Interview: Tom Chapman (Urban Folk Quartet) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Having spent the summer touring as an eight-piece to celebrate their tenth birthday and playing the likes of Green Man, Kendal Calling and Shambala, the Urban Folk Quartet are back to their core quartet of Joe Broughton (fiddle, mandolin, guitar), Paloma Trigás (fiddle), Tom Chapman (percussion) and Dan Walsh (banjo) and are out on tour and heading to Newcastle. The band will be bringing their unique style of folk music, pulling in influences from Galicia and the Mediterranean, Asia, Europe, as well as American bluegrass and Celtic traditions, to Prohibition Bar, Newcastle on Saturday 9th November and so we caught up with Tom to find out more.

You incorporate a wide range of styles, but which artists would you say are the biggest influences on the UFQ?
We’re not really one of those bands that came together through a shared love of a particular niche or subgenre.   
Our tastes overlap a lot, for sure, but each member has a different angle. Joe has a real thing for artists like Jeff Beck and Stevie Wonder, alongside folk-rockers like Dave Swarbrick and Richard Thompson. Paloma is deeply into classical music and the folk music of her native Galicia, as well as Irish/American fiddlers like Liz Carroll. Dan’s brought a real American influence, with his love of bluegrass and American folk. I love early jazz drummers like Papa Jo Jones and Gene Krupa, alongside percussionists from around the world. All that said, in the van, you’re just as likely to find us listening to Snarky Puppy, Little Feat or Tom Waits, depending on the day! 

You are soon to be releasing your new studio album. What is it called, when is it released and what can people expect?
The album will be out in the spring if all goes to plan. It’s provisionally titled “on the things we can change”… but that, appropriately, is not quite set in stone! We haven’t rushed this album in any way, putting a lot of time into it to build on what we’ve learnt from the previous six releases. Sonically, I really think it’s the strongest record we’ve ever made. There’s an even balance of vocal and instrumental material and it’s the first UFQ album to have any guest players on, including our friends from the eight-piece we toured this summer.

How do you go about writing new material?
Someone brings an idea – a melody, a riff or a song usually – and then we set to work altogether. We treat our writing days as full work days, trying things out until all four of us love the end result. We might split off to iron out some details of harmonies or grooves but the vast majority of the big decision making is done together, in a room, working by ear. The upcoming album will feature some bigger arrangements and things built up using studio approaches, which we’ve loved working on too. But as it’s always been for us, the real nuts and bolts of it is the music the four us have worked up together and taken out there to play live.

You’ve been together for a decade. What is the secret to your longevity?
We really do like each other, we’re all on the same page about what we want for the band, we communicate with each other and we work hard… yes, I’m just realising how much that sounds like relationship advice!

You temporarily toured as an eight-piece to re-imagine songs from your career to celebrate your tenth anniversary. What has it been like going back to a four-piece and what is it you prefer about performing in the core quartet?
We had a real blast with the eight-piece this summer and it’ll be great to do it again. There is, of course, a certain energy and economy that only comes from years of touring which it’s been enjoyable to slip back into with the four-piece. Having all those extra parts covered was a real luxury but it’s also interesting to listen to the four-piece versions again and realise how much of the stylistic things we used the extra players to highlight is still implicit, from just four acoustic instrumentalists.

Describe your live show ahead of your performance at Prohibition Bar, Newcastle on 9th November.
It’s a high-energy show, with a broad range of influences but still rooted firmly in folk tunes and songs. Whilst we take our music very seriously and it gets pretty technically fiery in places, we love to have a laugh with audiences. Our core ethos is to send people home a little happier than when they arrived and we really do go all out to give people the best time we can.

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