Dave Hughes is a punk/folk singer from Glasgow who’s been likened to acts as diverse as Bruce Springsteen, The Clash, The Pogues and Green Day. In March, he takes to the road in the UK and Europe in promotion of his upcoming album Rise, Again, including a visit to the Black Swan Inn on the 27th.
We caught up with him to find out why setlists are over-rated, the joys and pitfalls of ‘experimental’ music and the future of folk.
By Graeme Smith
Your upcoming tour takes your through Scotland, England, the Netherlands and Germany. What made you choose York as one of the only English cities you’re stopping off in?
This is a result of how I’ve changed my ‘touring ways’. In the past I’d book two weeks in the spring for playing other cities/countries, then two weeks in the autumn to do the same. Nowadays, I tend to spread it out through the year by playing weekend trips away to two or three cities at a time. And so, this weekender brings me to York and Nottingham. I’ve played inYorka good number of times, and The Black Swan is one of my favourite venues in the country. It’s always a fun night with a great audience, and the local supports are usually amazing. In particular, I really like it when Jonny Gill is playing. At this show, there are a couple of local supports but also my Huddersfield friend James ‘Bar’ Bowen who’s doing York and Nottingham with me. He’s a great political folk singer, but perhaps a bit more blue-grass than most.
How would you describe your shows for anyone who hasn’t been to one before?
Every show is different. I’ve given up writing set-lists because I found them too restrictive to putting on a ‘good’ show. I mean, if you know what to expect from an audience or they have an expectation of what songs they want to hear, then a set-list is great. Instead, I like to know what song I’m opening and closing with, and in between these points I work out where the show should go. Should the next song be fast, slow, political, personal, a cover, a sing-along? That kind of thing. Over the years I’ve amassed around 100 of my own songs that I can pick and choose for a show. Obviously there are some songs that get played more than others, but sometimes I get adventurous. I also like to play covers by lesser known acts or my friends rather than boring the audience with another rendition of Under the Bridge or Wonderwall.
Most of the time the shows end up being a raucous sing-along with a lot of storytelling in between. We shot the video for the title track of the new record in a tiny cafe inGlasgow, and really tried to capture what it’s like at one of my shows.
Filmed at The Blue Chair in Glasgow
video via YouTube
You’ve played intimate venues, large venues, and everywhere in between. What’s your favourite type of place to play and why?
All depends on the audience; I’ve played big shows that were empty and intimate shows that were rammed and vice versa. When I think of my top 5 gigs that I’ve played, it usually sways towards the intimate ones but that’s more statistical since there are more of them. One of my favourite shows was down in Greenock for the Tall Ships. It was in an old sugar warehouse to an audience of around 600 people. When we had them singing and dancing along, that was one of the moments where I realised that I was pretty good at what I do on stage. Smaller shows have much more connection to the audience; I can open up a bit more with the stories or conversation between songs. It helps me to enjoy the show more, especially when I’m in a different city or country. I had a really great show at The Saint in Asbury Park(New Jersey) for these reasons. I was booked to play, no-one in the place (city, or country!) knew who I was, but through Scottish ‘charm’ I was able to make it a top 5 gig. I always like it when I go and see my favourite bands play and they make you feel like they are allowing you in to their world by telling you more about the song and where it came from.
Your new record ‘Rise, Again’ is out on the 30th of March. How would you describe it?
It’s 70% political and 80% biographical. It’s also my most ‘experimental’ record, but not a David Bowie “let’s throw some random shitty sounds together and make people believe it’s music” type of experimental record. More that in the past I have stuck to fairly conventional guitar and vocals, drums and bass type of productions. On this record, I’ve expanded by experimenting with piano songs, electronica drum beats, and ditching the acoustic guitar all together in some places. Perhaps not experimental for say a Bruce Springsteen record, but experimental for a Dave Hughes record. Above all, it’s a set of 10 really good, meaningful, pop-folk-rock songs.
Which track on the new album are you most proud of and why?
This is a difficult question to answer. In terms of accessibility, I’m really proud of a track called Bleecker St because I managed to make it sound exactly how I heard it in my head. It’s a pop-rock kinda song, in the same vein as The Wallflowers or Ryan Adam’s Cardinals stuff. In terms of lyrics, I’m really proud of the first single, Freedom of Something, because I managed to put in to the lyrics exactly how I felt about the attacks on freedom of speech.
It contains perhaps my favourite stanza I’ve ever written “The freedom of speech is the freedom of thought, the freedom of peace and the freedom of war, the freedom of religion and the freedom to believe in absolutely nothing at all”. That cuts right to the heart of everything that I stand for. I had a bit of an email argument with someone who thought I was advocating illegal wars with the song, but, really, when I say “war” in the song it’s in the context of warring against anything you see as unjust. If you disagree with your government or authority, you are at war with them, and in a country with freedom of speech, you are completely and utterly entitled to be.
Freedom of Something
Video via YouTube
You describe your songs as being ‘socially conscious’. What message would you want your audience to take away from hearing them?
That there’s always hope. I try to write songs about what I see and experience in my life, and sometimes it can be a bad patch but I always try and see a glimmer of hope. Whether that’s the light at the end of the tunnel or an oncoming train, your circumstances will always change and it’ll work out in the end.
What do you see for the future of folk music?
I think we’re seeing it at the moment with the transition away from big record labels controlling the music that people can see or hear. I’ve only ever been signed to one record label in my ‘career’, but I found that I could do for myself most of what it could provide. More and more folk singers are running their own lives and career through grassroots touring, bandcamp selling, and writing amazing songs. Cut out the middle man, and if people want to listen to your songs, allow them to. Then profit….
Any last words for the fans?
The pre-order for the new record has started at my bandcamp page; you’ll get the Freedom of Something single immediately, and then the full album when it’s released on the 30th of March. Until then, and after, I’ll see you at the gigs.