To win the Best Duo category at the 2015 BBC Folk Awards is quite an achievement at any stage of an artists’ career. But just two years prior to this accolade Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker were virtually unknown on the folk scene. So their success is quite remarkable.
Now signed to Rough Trade Records, Josienne and Ben are currently touring extensively in the UK and are set to play Acapela Studio, Pentrych, Cardiff on May 7.
Although Ben Walker (who grew up in Worcestershire) studied classical guitar from childhood and Josienne Clarke (from West Sussex) is a classical music degree dropout, both are keen to stress that they’re “bog standard comprehensive school kids” who didn’t benefit from a conservatoire education. The elegance and sophistication of their music comes entirely from their own discipline, rigour and craft. To emphasise the point, Josienne has been known to quip: “We’re not posh, just pretentious!” Their album Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour was a hugely ambitious, uncompromised realisation of everything Josienne and Ben had planned when they met six years ago.
After their ovation-stirring rendition of The Banks of The Sweet Primroses at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards last year, 6 Music DJ Cerys Matthews fell in love with the music of Josienne and Ben and invited them to appear in the National Theatre’s production of Our Country’s Good. The play, which ran from August to October 2015 at the Olivier Theatre, also featured two of Josienne and Ben’s original compositions. Andy Howells recently put questions to the pair.
How did you both get into music?
I started playing classical guitar when I was 7 but got into electric guitar and guitar bands in general in my teens. When I met Josienne I started listening to people like Martin Simpson, Pierre Bensusan, John Reborn, and Nick Jones and this has really influenced my approach and style of playing.
I sang at school, in choirs and school productions. As I got older I got interested in song writing and although I tried classical singing, I didn’t enjoy it.
Ultimately you both decided to collaborate what was the story behind that?
Ben was playing electric guitar in and Indie band. A mutual friend of ours was the sound engineer for their record. Ben went over to pick up the audio files and had a go on his Martin acoustic guitar. He said ‘If you can play acoustic guitar like that, what are you doing playing in that band?’ He knew I was looking for a guitarist and introduced us and here we are – 6 years on.
How do you find working together as opposed to working as solo artists?
I’ve never worked as a solo artist so I couldn’t say!
I’ve never really been comfortable playing guitar on stage so having Ben with me means I can concentrate on my favourite bit – the singing.
How have things changed since you won the BBC Folk Award?
It’s helped us in that bookings have gone up and more people have heard of us. Actually, I think performing on the night (which was broadcast live on Radio 2 and on the iPlayer) probably helped more than winning the award itself because lots of people tell us that’s where they first saw us play.
Whats been your best live experience?
Playing Stage 2 at Cambridge Folk Festival last year in front of several thousand people was really special.
Can you tell us about your latest album?
Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour
came out in October 2014 and we’ve just finished recording our new album which is coming out on Rough Trade Records this autumn. We’re really excited about that and spent a week in Rockfield Studios in Wales with a great bunch of musicians. We’re really excited about that.
What can people expect from your forthcoming Cardiff show?
It will be just Ben and I, playing songs from all of our albums and a few new ones too.
What else will you be doing this year – anywhere we can look out for you?
we’re touring the UK in May and June. We’re playing a few festivals including Ely, Towersey, Boom Town Fair and End of The Road. We will be back out again in the autumn when the album comes out.
Where can people find out more about you and your music?
twitter @josienneandben facebook – Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker
Visit www.ticketsource.co.uk/date/FEMLLG for booking details
- A version of this Q&A by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on April 29, 2016