‘Domestic’ is the recently recorded album by Paul Armfield, a collection of songs that pivot around the theme of ‘home’, whether this be the four walls that surround you, the country where you were born, or more pointedly, the continent of which you are a resident. Place, belonging, allegiances, and mental states are all explored with a deft and playful use of language. The musical accompaniment reflects the mature and ponderous nature of the subject matter and is performed with a beautiful lightness of touch by a trans-European cast of musicians: Italian Giulio Cantore on guitars and cavaquinho, Johann Polzer plays the drums, and his fellow German Max Braun plays bass as well as producing the album. The songs were recorded in Stuttgart and will be released in September 2020.
01 How did you get started in the Arts and Music?
As a youngster, I displayed some talent for drawing and music, although I come from a non-artistic family my life seemed to bend in that direction of its own accord. In my early teens, I was befriended by a girl who lived nearby who was and still remains the most incredible artist (hiya elaine) she and her artistic family opened my mind to the world of art and different ways of seeing and thinking.
02 Where did your passion come from?
I’d always loved music and my parents never minded me digging into their eclectic record collections and sitting for hours with the headphones on. My father’s love of rock’n’roll, my mother’s love of Sinatra and the musicals all rubbed off on me. My teenage cousins were friends with Black Sabbath, all living on the same Worcestershire farm in the mid-70s where I would spend each Saturday, and that sparked some sense of excitement, but it was as a twelve-year-old enthused by the energy of punk that I was inspired to do something. With some friends, we formed a band, got instruments, learned to play them (in that order) put on gigs and adopted the DIY attitude with gusto.
03 Who are your major influences and inspirations and who do you despise?
I’ve always loved a good lyric and those early Elton John records really fed that followed by the likes of Joni Mitchell, Elvis Costello and Paul Simon, writers who can deliver a phrase to make a song explode from the continuous hum of music that soundtracks our lives like a kind of banal tinnitus Musically I constantly return to the early doo-wop of the Golden Gate Quartet, the stripped-back piano and voice of Nina Simone, early Chuck Berry, Chet Baker, Hoagy Carmichael. I am still most readily inspired by the great chansonniers, Jacques Brel, Brassens, Ferre, our own Jake Thackeray and more recently I’m enjoying discovering the work of their Italian counterpart Fabrizio De Andre, I love the poetry, the delivery, the way the music follows the words, the lightness of touch on the heaviest of subjects. These days I find a lot to get me excited, lots of great younger artists diving into their folk traditions and emerging with something completely original but dripping with authenticity and heart, Anna and Elizabeth, Lisa O’Neill, Alasdair Roberts, Richard Dawson et al
04 What drives you to make music and art still today?
I spent three years running an Arts Centre recently, whilst it was a wonderful thing to be accommodating, encouraging and facilitating so much creativity, I had no time or energy left to create for myself and the deprivation made me realise how much I need it. Nothing satisfies me so much as creating a song from nothing, sculpting with words and air. I love the process, it starts a strange and often revealing discourse between the conscious and the unconscious. I’ve also renewed my love of lino-printing, I love the problem-solving aspect of turning three dimensions into black and white marks, it’s good for the mind. And I love the challenge of performing, to convince yourself and the audience that for that moment in time what you do matters.
05 What can someone who has never seen you live before expect from your live show and or your various output?
I’m often told that I exude a confidence and a gentle warmth from the stage. I hope I inspire both thought and emotion, I’m never happier than when I’ve made somebody in the audience cry. I’ve been making music for long enough that I hope I sound like myself rather than someone else, I don’t actively strive for innovation, simply try to dress the song as attractively as I can, sometimes that creates something surprising.
06 What shapes your Songcraft and methods? What types of themes and subjects do you deal with?
I seldom start with a deliberate theme or subject, but simply doodle with a germ of an idea, melodic or harmonic and let that develop into something a bit longer, that might then suggest a vocal line, usually just sounds that then evolve into words that generally suggest a theme or at least some direction. It’s a good way to let the unconscious have it’s say, and from there, like a palaeontologist with a bone, I can guess at what the bigger creature might look like and I can use my craft to flesh it out. When I’m writing an album a theme will usually begin to emerge, an accidental leitmotiv that runs through the songs. For this most recent record ‘Domestic’ the idea of ‘home’ began to emerge in all it’s different connotations, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, I was home more than I’d been in a long time, my kids were leaving home, the house felt different, we were helping them to make their new homes, and in the background all the news was about refugees and Brexit, raising questions about belonging and allegiance. I’m quite good at writing to order though and have written many bespoke songs for commission or otherwise, it’s a service I offer. It’s a different process, more like a crossword or jigsaw puzzle, problem-solving, using your craft to distill something potent and hopefully beautiful from a collection of dry facts. I’ve worked on some collaborative projects where I’ve been given ambient music to develop and I’ve used Google to brainstorm, come up with a very basic idea, google it and follow the trail of interest. It adds a random element but ultimately you are still following your creative instinct.
07 How has your music evolved since you first began playing?
I think I trust my instincts more these days, I certainly enjoy the adventure just as much now as I ever have. Making music with friends, moments of magic, frustration, satisfaction and occasionally joy. I hope my oeuvre is not a stagnant pool but an ever-winding stream of ideas, my approach to every record is a reaction to the previous one, I always set out wanting to avoid the aspects of the previous that I like least in retrospect.
08 What has been your biggest challenge as a Performer? Were you been able to overcome this? If so, how?
My biggest challenge as a performer is to create a solo show that remains interesting despite a lack of musical dexterity. I try to make it an engaging emotional journey punctuated with the occasional lyrical flourish and the odd musical surprise because I can’t do a jaw-dropping spectacular on my budget.
09 Do you play covers? If you could pick any song, which would you like to cover most and why?
I do throw in the occasional cover to keep the audience engaged. I usually give them a choice, it helps me get the size of them. I’ve covered Jacques Brel quite successfully and will continue to do so, with my wife and I translating from the French. When I had my subscription service I would do a cover each month requested by the members, that threw up some interesting and unexpected choices: Babushka by Kate Bush, How Soon Is Now by the Smiths.
10 Where do you envisage being in five years time?
Hopefully no different to now. I have an interesting and very satisfying musical career. I play double bass locally with a couple of gypsy style bands maybe a couple of times a month, I play electric bass occasionally too with my old band from the 80’s and various others. I’ve a busking act called Stranger On the Saw (Santa On The Saw at Xmas) which sees me dressing up and playing a mixture of classical, standards and TV themes on the saw, and I have my solo career which seems to be based mostly in europe, so I very much hope that I’ll be able to continue touring there after bloody brexit. The only difference may be that my career as a funeral celebrant will take up more of my time, I’ve done a few already but will be advertising my services shortly.
11 Who would you most like to work with?
I made a record last year with the jazz pianist Greg Foat which I only played bass on, and we’ve spoken about doing another but with me singing and writing lyrics, I’d love for that to happen.
12 Can you tell us about your current project and or projects and run us though all facets of it?
I’m in the process of raising funds to release my album ‘Domestic’ which I recorded last year in Stuttgart with a mixture of performers from across Europe. I’m accompanying the album with a series of 10 linocut prints so I’m busy making those, and when we can travel again we’ll hopefully be making a video for some of the songs and touring in autumn.
I’m also currently working on an album of covers all from the year 1980 and all played only on stringed bass instruments and drum machine. 1980 was the year my heart really opened musically and was a great time for music, the tail end of punk with so many sub-genres, new directions coexisting with older styles, disco, two-tone, new wave, reggae etc, all being listened to by everyone on the one radio station and one tv show TOTP. It was the year I started performing on the bass. So I’m choosing really unexpected songs, from The Cure’s ‘A Forest’ to Diana Ross’s ‘Upside Down’ to Neil Diamond’s ‘Love On The Rocks’. I really wanted to release it this year but I’ve been preoccupied with other stuff. But I’m having so much fun.
13. Can you tell us about the IOW
The Isle of Wight’s a funny place, like all Islands it attracts creatives, the isolation is useful, it provides a safe distance from which to view the world a little more objectively, slightly askance. It’s finite borders also push people together a bit more, so musically you get to play with a wider range of people than might happen ordinarily elsewhere, and there is a feeling of solidarity and, on the whole, people are mutually supportive. It’s a very green, largely untouched, undulating environment, and I’m still not sure what effect being surrounded by sea has, but there’s a romance to it that I think we all respond to at some level. It’s a good place to get away from and an even better place to come back to.
14. Can you tell us a joke?
Do you know The Tale of two Cities was originally published in two Midlands newspapers? It was the Worcester Times, it was the Bicester Times!
‘A buried treasure…heir to deathless troubadours such as Tim Hardin’ Gavin Martin in The Mirror
‘Everything about Up Here is exceptional. Breathtaking’ Simon Holland on Folk Radio
‘Uncompromising, elegiac, but staunchly non-sentimental’ Nigel Williamson in Uncut
‘Gorgeous..beautiful, positive and amazing. Ace!’ Lauren Laverne BBC 6 Music
‘Exquisite, extraordinary, almost unbearably beautiful’ James McNair in Mojo
‘A lovely lyric, a spellbinding song. This is really beautiful’ Guy Garvey
‘Heartbreakingly beautiful. An Album to be treasured’ Electric Ghost
‘A voice that could make the Needles crumble’ The Word magazine
‘Spooky, affecting folkish singer-songwriterliness’ Time Out
‘As toasty and lovely as Christmas morning’ Caitlin Moran
‘A Perfect example of English songwriting’ Maverick
‘Lovely, lovelorn songs’ Nigel Williamson in Uncut
‘An incredible collection of songs’ iD magazine
‘A solitary, treasured jewel’ Fresh Deer Meat
’Distinctively amazing’ Rudimental
‘A revelation’ The Scotsman