Welcome to the official Douglas E Powell website
Douglas E Powell’s music has been described as alt-folk, alt-country, acoustica and Anglo-Americana; he’s a lyricist, a poet, and a key singer-songwriter on the South West UK live music and gig scene
Douglas E Powell’s music has been described as alt-folk, alt-country, acoustica and Anglo-Americana. He’s a lyricist, a poet, and a key singer-songwriter on the South West UK live music and gigs scene, and with two albums under his belt (The Still and the West and The Iron Coast) and another due for release some time in 2013, he’s one of the more prolific independent singer-songwriters and live performers in the region. We spoke to the man in the plaid shirt.
Your music is described as being of the genre that encompasses Anglo-American, alt-folk, alt-country and acoustica. What do these terms mean to you?
To me, this genre of music is more about a feeling or a style rather than playing music and being an American, which I can confirm, I am not. The Americana folk sound appeals to me because of the simplistic home spun blend of guitar and vocal harmonies married with, in my case with my band The Rising Spirit with fiddle and double bass. But specifically, the terms Anglo-Americana and alt-folk refer to non-Americans (Anglo) whose musical influences derive from a mixture of American country music (music from the post American depression era), blues music and folk music. The genre became popular in the 1940s and 50s with musical pioneers Pete Sager and Woody Guthrie. In the mid 1960s bands such as The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Band, Bob Dylan and The Incredible Submarine Band mixed this folk/country sound with electric rock. The folk element derives from 1960s British folk revivalist musicians such as Martin Carthy and band like Pentangle and The Incredible String Band.
Acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies are always the mainstay of these genres with a much stripped-back sound, often captured at the recording stage using vintage recording equipment and musical instruments. When it comes to the lyrics and subject matter, folk and country music has always traditionally been a way of storytelling and a way of passing on these stories in song, and this tradition continues. The popularity of this style of music with people who weren’t even born in the post-war era is definitely on the increase, largely due to the accessibility of re-issued albums from its originators and the simple playability familiarity of the music. Bands and artists such as Laura Marling, Kate Rusby, Seth Lakeman, Alasdair Roberts and Mumford and Sons are good examples of the ‘new’ folk sound from the UK. Peter Bruntnell, and Neil Halstead are well-known Anglo-Americana artists, and bands like Jonathan Wilson, Wolf People, Bright Eyes and Tembling Bells are all ringing the bell for Alt-folk.
How did your music develop into the style (described as Anglo-Americana, alt-folk, alt-country, acoustica …) that it is today?
As a child I was influenced by my parents’ tastes, as we all are: my dad had a prized collection of 50s and 60s jazz records, and my mum, who played piano and sang, encouraged me to learn the piano and clarinet and take singing lessons, which gave me an understanding of how songs were constructed and how the balance of instruments and vocal harmonies come together to form great songs. My clarinet tutor was really into jazz music, so as well as the regular practice tunes he encouraged me to play along with my dad's jazz records: artists like Acker Bilk, Gerry Mulligan and Dave Brubeck.
As I entered my teenage years my musical tastes changed dramatically and I started listening to rock and heavy metal bands, like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Iron Maiden. That's when I dropped the singing and the clarinet lessons, and started buying records, going to gigs and playing in bands. Although my main focus was on rock and metal bands, it was music, gigs and performing music, regardless of genre, that fascinated me; as Miles Davis said: “There are two types of music, good and bad. I like good music”.
As a young teenager I would to go see bands at arena shows. I was lucky enough to get to see Deep Purple and AC/DC at the NEC Birmingham. AC/DC was the first band I ever saw live; I was sat two rows from the front, and it was the scariest, loudest, but most exciting thing I had ever seen and heard in my then 13 years.
The older I got the more my musical palate developed. In the late 80s I was listening to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and songwriters Bob Dylan, Nick Drake and Bert Jansch, alongside UK indie music. On my 19th birthday I was given a vinyl copy of Freewheelin’ by Bob Dylan, and if there was a tipping point in my life as far as a major shift in musical my tastes goes, then this was it.
That record showed me that passion and power in music didn’t have to mean screaming, 1000-notes-per-minute guitar solos or amps up to 11; more that poetry and subtlety can be employed to dramatic and devastating effect to create wonderful music. Albums by Neil Young, The Byrds, Pentangle, Jonny Cash, The Velvet Underground, Billy Bragg, Gram Parsons and Billy Childish soon followed, I bought my first acoustic guitar and plaid shirt, quit my job and started honing my abilities as a lyricist and singer-songwriter.
Which comes first for you, words or music?
It all depends on the moment. If I hear a phase or have an idea for a concept for a song then I will work the words first around that idea, then find a hook for the chorus or a verse and start building up from that. I liken it to a sculptor working up a statue from a chicken wire base.
Which is your favourite own song? Why?
In Her Palace is my favourite song to perform. It has a great mix of all the elements that make up a good song: interesting words, a great hook, a fantastic fiddle solo and a driving bass line. I can drag the ending out for as long as I like too. It’s the kind of song that I would like to hear an orchestra and a choir perform on. It a real pleasure to play live and always gets a great audience response.
How active is the South West England live music and gigs scene?
There’s always a lot going on in when it comes to South West live music and gigs – there’s no shortage of venues to play. The danger is that you can get trapped in a circle of the same gigs, so I do like to get out of the region to play gigs, too. I’m always up for a road trip!
Which live music venues and music festivals do you enjoy playing?
Douglas E Powell and the Rising Spirit will be releasing there new album Good Men Get lost at Sea in the spring of 2013 on Twister Valley Records.
I’ve played such a huge number of live music venues over the years that it’s hard to narrow it down to favourites. When it comes to music festivals, there are some excellent ones local to me in North Devon. Gold Coast in Croyde is on my doorstep, and for a few years I’ve played there, both as a solo artist and with my previous band, Central Casting. Heddon Valley Beer and Music Festival is held annually at the Hunters Inn at Parracombe in Devon, and attracts an eclectic mix of performers from across the UK. I played at the festival in 2010, 2011, and then in 2012 with my new band, Douglas E Powell and the Rising Spirit. Pilton Village Hall in Devon is one of my favourite live music venues in the UK, due to the audience being so appreciative of acoustic, folk and alt-country music. Every year it hosts the Home Grown music festival featuring local artists with the musical emphasis being on acoustic, folk and alt-country. I’ve also played headline concerts at the hall and played support to Otis Gibbs from the USA. The North Devon Fringe Festival is another favourite, and in particular Lilicos in Barnstaple: it’s one of the excellent live music venues that hosts the festival’s events, with a memorable gig there being in 2010 when I supported Peter Bruntnell and The Caves. Further afield, Holmfirth Folk Festival in Yorkshire is fantastic to perform at; every year in May the entire town is taken over by the folk festival with shops, cafes, pub, clubs and venues hosting live concerts. Buskers and Morris dancers perform on every street corner and a carnival parade winds through the town’s cobbled streets. Though performing in the South West of England is important to me, I also play all over the UK. Over the past 15 years I’ve played with various bands at The Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth, one of the very best places to see all that is best in both national and international musical talent. The Railway Arms in Winchester also deserves a mention; it’s a fantastic venue hosing alt folk and country acts from all over the world. Its promoters head to the SXSW Festival (Texas, USA) every year to scout for the very best in alt country/folk, acoustic and rock music. I‘ve played there supporting Peter Bruntnell and Kathleen Edwards, and also with my once song writing partner, Mike Stocks. But my most regular haunts and the place where I feel most comfortable only because of the amount of time I have spent on their stage is The White Lion in Braunton, Devon - my local live music venue and the spiritual home of the famous Braunton music scene where I sometimes host a Sunday open mic night. Other Devon venues well worth a mention are The Kings Arms in Georgeham, The Thatch Inn, Croyde and The Grampes, Lee Bay. I do enjoy playing to new audiences at different Anglo-Americana/ alt-folk/ alt-country/ acoustica music festivals, though. What is the next step for Douglas’ live ambitions? “To put together a UK tour to promote my new album would be great and if I could get onto the bill for the End of the Road, Green Man, Latitude, Truckfest, SXSW and SXWS in Winchester I would end the year a very happy boy”