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Will Pound - Through The Seasons

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Not many people who are known primarily as a folk artist can claim to have played on a number one record in the charts. Even one nominated three times for the coveted BBC Folk Awards ‘Musician of the Year’. However, Will Pound played the opening harmonica riff on one such record. He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother, by the Justice Collective, was recorded to raise money for the various charities associated with the Hillsborough families. It reached the highly coveted Christmas Number One spot in 2012.

By that time Will, who was just over 20 years of age, was already a professional musician on his chosen instruments of the harmonica and melodeon. His first album, along with then partner and banjo player Dan Walsh (now of the Urban Folk Quartet,) had received critical acclaim and good sales. The two virtuosos met whilst studying at university and toured together with great success.

Yet Will only came to be playing the harmonica as a result of a childhood illness. His parents were musicians with a morris team and he was given his first harmonica as a result of the suggestion of a doctor who recommended he might consider taking up the harmonica to improve his breathing after a childhood illness. After a couple of years, the results were spectacular – not only was his health and particularly his breathing a lot better, but he could now play the harmonica! Will's spell studying folk music at university in the North East was productive and he was introduced to the piano as part of the course, but he found paid work was starting to interfere with his studies, and that perhaps he wasn't entirely suited to academic work, so instead of finishing his course he became a full-time professional musician instead.

A really big kick-start to his professional career came from the three-part series on BBC 2, Goldie's Band. This was a TV series in 2011 which followed the drum and bass pioneer Goldie on a personal mission to discover young people whose talent and passion for music was at the centre of their lives. They would be turned into a band.

“I am eternally grateful to festival organisers Joanie Crump (now Hartlepool Folk Festival) and Joe Heap (Towersey). Goldie was looking for young people who were passionate about their music and they were both kind enough to nominate me. Two of the mentors on the programme were Guy Chambers and Cerys Matthews and the connections I made and the work I did with them has stayed with me ever since. I often do session work that Guy has asked me to do; I am on Robbie William's latest record, for example. For the finale at the end of the TV series the band played at Buckingham Palace and put on a show in front of Prince Harry who had been following our progress.” A string of radio and TV appearances followed.

Will doesn't read music very well but does not find that a great difficulty. Remarkably he shares connections with well-known musicians such as Duke Ellington, Rimsky Korsakov and Tori Amos – all have or had a neurological condition known as synesthesia.

Briefly, Will sees sounds and musical notes in terms of colours. There has been little study of this phenomenon and it seems that no two people are alike. The only constant theme that those with the condition have is that lower notes tend to be in darker colours and higher notes in lighter colours. “I'd love to know a lot more about it,” Will explained, “because it never appears to be a handicap to anyone musically, and seems to be spread amongst the population at random.”

Will recently appeared on the front page of the National Harmonica League magazine which is published every two months. “They kindly asked me to do some tutoring and I really looked forward to it. I have taught harmonica in workshops at festivals such as Sidmouth, but this was different.”

I asked Will about teaching people with various levels of achievement and ability all at once. “It's much easier than you might think,” he said, “because many of the problems people have, especially when they first start the harmonica, are in their mind. After all there are not a lot of notes you can find there, and you can only either puff or blow on them, so there are not a lot of places to go. Usually within the space of a few hours I can get people playing a recognisable tune.” Sounds so easy when he says it!

If you have ever seen a solo show by Will then you will notice that when he is performing on his own he is also a very accomplished melodeon player. This is, in part, down to his parental background, for both his parents are associated with morris teams and they both play the melodeon. Therefore, in his early years Will lived in one of those households with constant music so the melodeon was his first instrument. He recently took his own instrument to its place of manufacture in Italy. The makers at Castagnari did the servicing of the instrument for nothing after he had played a few tunes for them! As you watch his fingers run up and down the keyboards nowadays, it's hard to realise that he has never had a lesson. “I'm completely self-taught on both my instruments,” he tells me, “although I did have one lesson on the harmonica.”

The house concert is something else Will finds himself doing more of. A small audience in a large room is somehow suited to the instruments he plays and he loves the audience participation. Much of the basis of what he does is suited to intimate audiences like that. “The audience is so much closer and at times I can show them exactly what I am doing.” In a house concert, Will also sometimes gets the chance to explain some unusual techniques when perhaps an audience may not recognise precisely what is going on and it all adds to the appreciation of the music. But he’s at home on all stages, from these intimate gigs to festival and big venue tours.

His latest venture comes out soon, appropriately enough in May, a month traditionally associated with folk dancing. A CD called Through The Seasons, it is a celebration of the strength and diversity of the music of folk dance in general and morris dancing in particular.

We know folk dance goes back a long way. Although academics may argue about the origins, written records seem to indicate its presence way back, even before the Wars of the Roses. What Will is looking for in the CD is the capturing of the energy and spirit and excitement of the live dance, for without the music there is never really a proper complete tradition.

For the album, he has worked with a number of dance teams across Britain. The live music from some of the teams and events captures both the authenticity and indeed some of the idiosyncrasy that this music brings along. This activity was supported by an Arts Council grant, by the Sage Gateshead and the National Trust Public House, the Fleece at Bretforton.

“My own background with various teams, including Chinewrde and Earlsdon Morris with whom I both perform as a musician and dance, were the real inspiration,” says Will, “and it has been an ambition of mine for a long time to record an album like this. But I have also done Cotswold which I love, and some Border Dancing is really wild. I like that.”

Will is careful to explain that this new album is not a dance tune manual, or an instructional for the various dances featured. “It's unique to me and the musicians involved,” he pointed out. “The last time anyone did anything like this was when Morris On was first played to an audience. We are a lot different though,” he says, “for there is a whole stage show.”

As well as archive footage and audio-visual design from David Parker, there will be spoken magic by master storyteller Debs Newbold in the form of words woven between the tunes. And wherever possible, a local dance team will be involved. Having said all that, Will hopes that that music will take pride of place. “People do tend to focus on the dance aspect of, for example, sword dancing. It's entirely understandable because it can be a spectacular sight. This CD and the whole show will try to bring a bigger spotlight onto the music so that it is no longer seen just as the background, but instead as very much an equal partner.”

The roll call on the album is a long list of musicians from across England and into Scotland. The project members who will be touring with Will will be Benji Kirkpatrick (Faustus) and Ross Grant (Inlay). Musicians on the album include Eliza Carthy (who also sings), John Kirkpatrick, Ross Couper, Suzanne Fivey and Patsy Reid.

The dances covered include Cotswold, North West Morris, Carnival Morris, Border, Molly, Rapper and Longsword, including the passionate tune for the famous Papa Stour Sword Dance. The tunes on the album bring out the joy of performance, not just of the characteristic bells associated with morris, but the sound of the northern rushcart, stick dances and rapper dancing. It sounds like a big production and it is!

The show tours for the month of May and performances will include Chester and Chippenham Folk Festivals and the Sage Gateshead. Full tour dates on Will’s website - willpound.com

Through The Seasons: A Year In Morris And Folk Dance
Lulubug Records LULUBUG004
You can support the project by pre-ordering the album on pledgemusic.com.

by Dave Eyre
(photo by Elly Lucas)

This article was published in Issue 123 of The Living Tradition, April / May 2018
Buy the printed version of this issue from our online shop