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I first met Chris Joynes when we were both playing at a concert celebrating the Copper Family of traditional Sussex singers. His free and improvisational guitar playing lends itself to collaborations, both on and off the stage.
Tell us a little bit about your background Chris – people might see you as a folk musician, in that you play traditional material, but, like us, you consistently work beyond that, in a more holistic way.
My musical background comes from being a fan of music, I’ve always listened to loads of different sorts of music and I’ve always been fascinated by it, in quite a sort of naive sort of way. That also reflects on my approach to making music, being curious about it. When it comes to music making, I don’t see myself as being rooted in any one particular tradition. Nominally it’s easy enough to present myself as a folk musician because I play mostly acoustic guitar, and mostly instrumental music, and use a technique of finger-picking that’s come out of the folk tradition. So for simplicity’s sake, that’s maybe how people perceive me, but I don’t think of myself as a folk musician. I’m interested in listening to a lot of different stuff and seeing how I can lift different bits of it and incorporate it into what I do.
And have you always put on shows and been involved in the new and experimental music scene?
No, that’s been a fairly recent thing. I’ve been involved in putting on shows in the last five or six years. As someone who’s out gigging and active as a solo musician, I’ve really benefited from the DIY circuit – people who put on shows where they can, when they can, for the sheer love of it, just to make sure something happens. I’ve lived in Cambridge for fifteen years, and when I first moved here – it seemed like I moved at a very good point – there were three or four underground promoters putting on loads of great shows, and collaborating with each other. There was this golden period in the mid-2000s, where every week there was something. But it petered out, and now it comes and goes. Sometimes it seems really good, and then sometimes the experimental scene here can seem very fragile. It depends on venue availability and affordability, and having supportive landlords and sympathetic promoters. I decided to get involved because I recognized that I had grumbled quite a lot about stuff not happening. And as someone who benefitted from people being prepared to put on shows, I thought it was time I stepped up and contributed. Kind of like a community service. I’m part of this collective called Crushing Death & Grief, which was originally run by this guy called Ollie when I first moved to Cambridge, and then after three or four years he stepped down. Since then it’s been a rolling thing, with two or three people always involved.
I’m interested in how scenes co-exist or crossover. Is it part of a scene around Cambridge that’s tied to any student scenes or does it operate outside of that?
I’m gonna do a classic Cambridge grumble here. There is basically no crossover between what happens at the University and what happens in town. We never get those students coming to our shows. There is a bit more integration with the Anglia Ruskin students, because we use the Blue Moon pub which is next door, it’s become one of their student pubs, and maybe because they have quite an active music/media/technology programme there, with students who are interested in recording sound for example. Also, partly the reason why we don’t get any crossover with Cambridge University proper is that firstly those students are actually worked off their feet, and secondly, it’s all in a hermetically-sealed environment. There are organizations and societies who put on concerts, particularly in the sphere of classical/contemporary classical music, there’s loads of interesting stuff. But what’s also quite frustrating is that it doesn’t seem to be widely circulated. Gigs happen within the university and you don’t hear about it – recently they had Princess Nokia, for example. Like in China Miéville’s book, The City & the City – there’s this one physical urban space which is overlaid by two separate cities. There’s no connection, it’s like two separate universes.
Who else is involved in other new or experimental music things happening in Cambridge?
The Junction, who mostly put on mainstream shows, but they’re also part of the Outlands network of eight provincial arts centres around England. They bring through programmes of experimental music. There’s also the Wysing Polyphonic one-day festival in September which seems to be increasing in profile – I get the impression there’s some trickle down as a result of that. Increasingly there seems to be an interest in the way these things intersect. Probably a better way to put it is that the divisions between these different cultures or traditions are being removed. That’s based on my habits as a radio listener, I’m interested in listening to all of these different kinds of music, so I’m assuming that there’s people like me all around the country. It seems to be becoming less and less tribal. The idea of subcultures is becoming more and more redundant, and actually people are just interested in pursuing interesting sounds and engaging, with cross-fertilization between the two.