Like all artists, musicians enhance the quality of our lives, and expand the cultural commons which we need as much as the air we breathe. Chris Wood has developed into one of the most socially aware songwriters in Britain, and I caught up with him during his latest British tour.
Who are the people who’ve influenced you most, musically and politically?
The answer to both questions is Anon. Our folk songs are a vast repository of wisdom and are about a history that has largely escaped the airbrush of the Establishment.
They contain works of exquisite genius and great wisdom, tales of cruelty and injustice, inventiveness and stoicism, love and fortitude. Above all folk music reminds me that, whatever is thrown at us, we abide.
You won the BBC Folk Award for the song None the Wiser, a melancholy but devastatingly insightful song about the social impact of austerity economics. Can you tell us about the song?
None the Wiser was written on the Joan Armatrading tour bus during a 60-day tour. Every morning we’d wake up in a different town and I’d have the whole day to hang out in town centres and coffee shops. I soon realised I was getting a privileged opportunity to observe Britain in the throes of austerity.
Your version of Jerusalem is unusually downbeat and reflective. How far do you identify with Blake’s “mental fight” to “build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land?”
It’s not the voice of many, it is a solitary voice. It’s the voice of a human reaching into himself to find a reason to carry on. The voice of a man shaken by the depth of indifference the world has for him and all that he believes in. I know what Blake’s poem means: the struggle never ends.
What’s the music business like these days, for working musicians?
The business is brutal but I think it always has been. If I could click my fingers and make one change I would have loads more women in the business — it’s far too blokey.
How’s the tour going?
Well, a few years ago the industry decided to make music available, effectively, for free. But you still find people talking like nothing has really happened. So an innocent question like: “When’s the new album out?” actually means: when will we be able to get what you’ve been pouring your heart, soul and life savings into for the past three years, for free?
This of course is not isolated to musicians. Driving jobs employ more men than anything else and yet the driverless car is only about four-five years away.
Yes, and I noticed on your Trespasser album that you lament the enclosures, the process of privatising and commercialising the commons, which as you say happens with cultural products like music as well as land. So what’s your thinking on what the way forward should be?
It’s a human fault to always feel that the times through which we’re living are somehow special, but there’s nothing special about where we are at the moment. All of history’s archetypes are present — the avaricious, the ignorant, the helpless, the blind, the unquestioning, the naive, the cynical, the jaded, the selfish, the acquisitive, the self-righteous and so on.
We keep turning out to vote for our oppressor and, as such, deserve everything we get. And it is an English issue, just over the border the Scots are conspicuously more socially aware than we. They are a far more cohesive society with a clearer mandate for their governors.
Personally, I try to vote with my money. I’ve never been in debt to anyone but a mutual building society. I avoid multinationals and I try and source my needs from my community. The allotment is a massive part of our life.