Producer extraordinaire Ethan Johns (Kings of Leon, Laura Marling, Rufus Wainwright, Ryan Adams, Tom Jones etc. etc.) is undertaking a tour of eighteen record stores throughout the UK in anticipation of the release of his solo album IF NOT NOW, THEN WHEN? It is scheduled for a February 2013 release although a limited edition vinyl version has been made available to coincide with this tour.
His appearance at my ‘local’ independent record store, Union Music, had been highly anticipated and when I arrived about half an hour before the scheduled time, there was a long queue of people hoping to gain admittance. Wondering if I might have left it too late, I was mightily relieved to be ushered in and what followed left me in awe of a man whose CV is littered with production credits for some of the most revered names in the music business.
The joint proprietor of Union Music, Jamie Freeman, introduced Johns to us. This afternoon’s session was billed as a Q&A and Johns made it clear that he was happy to answer any questions put to him. Equipped with a Gibson acoustic guitar, he opened with Hello Sunshine a song that he’d performed for Laura Marling who encouraged him to record it. It was that encouragement, coupled with her invitation to join him for her ‘and friends’ 2009 performance at the Royal Festival Hall that set in motion the recording of this new album.
Questions from the audience about what it was like to work with Tom Jones – Johns intimated that he was surprised to receive the call but having met Jones, he knew within moments that this would be a fruitful relationship. They’ve worked together on two albums 2010’s PRAISE AND BLAME and 2012’s SPIRIT IN THE ROOM with plans afoot for a third collaboration.
Asked about Ryan Adams’ HEARTBREAKER album he explained how it had been recorded within just ten days and how one of the songs had been written in five and a half minutes during the recording process. Its first ever playing was for the album! This recollection led him into playing Gillian Welch’s and Dave Rawlings’ Time (The Revelator) as Adams had initially listed it as a possibility for the album but because Welch and Rawlings were at the time working on their own album, they refused Adams permission to use it.
Insights into Johns’ own song-writing processes were shared; songs seem to come from an unknown place and he doesn’t really know how and when they’ll come to him. Stories about his father, legendary producer Glyn Johns, working with the Rolling Stones were touched upon. He recommended we all go to see ‘Charlie Is My Darling’ the recently released Stones’ documentary about their two-day tour of Ireland in 1965 – many of the interviews were conducted by Johns senior.
Back to the music and he asked local musician Martin Barker (Cajon drum box) to join him for Rally – it’s on the album. Johns also played a brand new unrecorded song Among the Sugar Pines and finished the hour-long session with Howie Payne’s Lay Down Your Tune For Me.
It was a privilege to listen to such a highly respected producer (and multi-instrumentalist) talk about his art in such an unassuming way – he’d admitted at the beginning to being nervous but there really was no need. We all hung on every word and I’m sure I’m not the only one looking forward to his full show in Brighton in February.
If you ask me to describe Ethan Johns in one word then that word would be ‘authentic’. He is very grounded despite having been through some incredible experiences as a producer and performer; I could have listened to him for hours! Jela Webb
P.S. Union Music Store host in-stores every Saturday at 3pm and usually pass the hat around for tips. They did so again this afternoon but because as Jamie Freeman said ‘Ethan doesn’t need any more gold or diamonds!’ today’s collection is being donated to Starfish Youth Music, a local charity offering professional tuition to youngsters interested in music