With songs revealing various upheavals, life in general for Louise Jordan is moving on to brighter things.
Having packed away the school books and downed tools as not only a teacher but also a charity project worker during a stint in East London, Louise Jordan decided to relocate to more familiar surroundings of her home county of Hampshire. The reason for such career and life changing decisions was due to a former passion returning to her thoughts once more centring on a truly gifted vocal and equally adept musicianship having been involved with choirs, youth theatre and musicals from a young age. Therefore, the transformation from addressing a high number of students on a weekly basis to fully independent singer-songwriter performing up and down the country has proved to be the right decision for Louise Jordan, but one that is no less demanding as she explained to Famous Last Words.
“As a singer-songwriter I have been doing this full-time for the last two and a half years. Before that I taught for a few years, but I decided that that wasn’t necessarily the way that I wanted to communicate and express my ideas, so it came back to singing. It became obvious to me, and probably to those around me a bit earlier on, that it’s what I should be doing full time. So I got there eventually [laughing]! Having said that, the workload is no easier as I’m trying to do the best that I can as I’m covering all bases by being a driver, roadie, sound engineer, manager, agent, PR or whatever, it’s really hard to be everything in one go [laughing]!”
With the singer-songwriter (apply your own definition here) career held on ice until the realisation dawned for this talented songstress that there were other avenues to explore in order to communicate and express her ideas, the genre of folk music seemed like the perfect vehicle in order to achieve this, due to its focus on narratives as its main driver (i.e. music transmitted by mouth). In addition, the retelling of traditional folk songs provided another conduit for Louise Jordan to impart further knowledge to those less familiar with this genre as the rendition of ‘Promises Like Pie-Crust’, from recent album ‘Florilegium’, indicates. Therefore, the years spent in the classroom were actually laying the foundations for what was to come.
“Yes, definitely,” is the immediate response when asked how Louise Jordan feels regarding her previous experience of teaching playing a role in terms of where she finds herself now. ” Standing up in front of thirty-five school pupils on a regular basis certainly helped when it came to learning how to address an audience and learning how to get feedback from your audience when you’re going through a performance. I’ve had that experience of helping other people in terms of mentoring young people and helping them through difficult times and difficult experiences working as a support worker. I think it’s really helped me to understand how much music can communicate and how much music can mean to somebody as a support network. Therefore, songwriting and composing is a way of communicating for me. I like my music to be reassuring, even if it explores emotions that aren’t necessarily kind or happy.”
With the often touted description of singer-songwriter being something of a buzz word when it comes to the present state of the music industry, the relatively new Louise Jordan and her brand of folk music, as FLW likes to refer to it, seems to have adopted such a label but one that also morphs in to similar categories. Take for example one description pigeonholing Louise Jordan as the ‘UK acoustic scene’, but is such a label adequate when it comes to this Hampshire-based musician and her music?
“I really don’t mind what people use,” is the honest confession. “It’s difficult, as when somebody is writing up one of my performances in a brochure they have to explain it to their audience, who may or may not have heard of me, what the sound is like. So I understand that you have to use certain words sometimes and it’s appropriate to do that, but it’s also really difficult because I think everybody will see folk [music] in a different way, as everybody comes with their own perception of what music is and what genres mean, so it’s really difficult to know which words to use because I want people to come to the music from their own position. I generally get associated with folk, acoustic and classical because of the piano and strings and cello and the way that I use phrasing in terms of the lyrics, so I kinda get all three [comparisons] and I guess it’s somewhere in the middle.”
In terms of your music, however, would you say that it is more acoustic based or classical or do you try and get a fine balance between the two styles?
“I don’t try to think about genres when I’m writing,” explains Louise, “because I don’t think that I need to stay within this area or I need to push myself or pitch myself within a certain area. I want the music to be very authentic and the sound that I want to create. I don’t completely ignore that when I’m recording as I have to be sensitive to the instruments that I’m using. For example, if I’m using a piano which, for me, is much more preferable to a keyboard or a synthesizer because that’s how I learnt and the way I feel most comfortable. In terms of recording and making it work, then I use acoustic instruments such as the cello and acoustic guitar, so I can be quite flexible depending on how people see acoustic, as some people might perceive acoustic to be completely unamplified. I think it’s seen as something quite different now, with people such as Laura Marling and Mumford & Sons using different sounds and people referring to it as folk-acoustic, but it’s very different from what I do. So it’s a tricky one to categorise really.”
The music of Louise Jordan is certainly different from the examples cited by her as her vocal is more attuned to a classical style with only the guitar providing any form of familiarity with the aforementioned folk bands. If anything, there are moments linking her sound to the traditions of the past as examples such as ‘Promises Like Pie-Crust’ evoke centuries old imagery that really transports the listener back to more primitive times. It came as no surprise, therefore, to learn that Louise Jordan adopted a very hands-on approach when it came to making her latest album ‘Florilegium’ which, despite her chosen style of traditional folk interspersed with acoustic and classical influences, no doubt helped to achieve the age-old feel of the whole album.
“Most of it was recorded in the garage at home,” explains Louise on the making of ‘Florilegium’. “We soundproofed the garage in a very practical way whereby we had carpet on the walls and put in a false ceiling using MDF from B&Q [laughing]. So you’d be amazed with what I can do with masking tape generally! One song on the album, which I have included in the album notes, I recorded on the upright piano at home. The rest of the piano was recorded with my old piano teacher, who is a friend of mine and he lives over in Dorset. He has a grand piano in his front room, as he is a concert pianist, so we moved the studio and my husband helped press the buttons [recording] for that day so that I could sit at the piano and get as much in rhythm with it as possible. But the rest of it is just me at home running from one room to the other and setting up and recording and listening back.”
After hearing such an honest description of the recording process, it is incredible to think that ‘Florilegium’ blossomed into the fully-fledged long player that it has now become. Full credit to Louise Jordan as no sizeable budget and the availability of hi-tech equipment and luxury of plusher surroundings would have surpassed the end result because it is close to perfection.
“I am proud of it [‘Florilegium’] because I felt it was right at the time and I’m certainly a person who doesn’t look at things to find regrets in order to point out what could have been done differently because everything comes together in time for a reason I think,” comments Louise. “So, I am proud of it and of course, when I listen to it, I listen to it very critically because it’s my work. I don’t listen to it very often at all, but I love playing the songs live. The songs have grown since I’ve recorded them, and that’s always a difficult thing, but of course there are things I would have done differently if I had more time to do it again now that the songs have moved on and that I have moved on.”
Florilegium’ is not always coming from a happy place as the stark revelations of opener ‘Brave Face’, consisting of lines such as “Lying here with only my tears to console me now” accompanied by cello and adding to the encroaching sadness, sets out its stall early for what is to come. Therefore, with such open honesty considering the melancholy at the depth of some of these songs (‘Where Did You Go’ and ‘For The Asking’) is there a point where Louise Jordan struggles to relay these stories when questioned about them at the various folk clubs when performing live?
“I am very open about the songs but up to a point, as there is one song on the album which is about a very personal experience or group of experiences and it’s not the easiest to talk about,” she explains after an initial pause. “I think I found myself even saying that about the song ‘For The Asking’ when I’ve introduced it, as I’m not really comfortable with going into the real detail of what it’s about because it’s about a relationship with a certain person who I am still very much in touch with. I don’t know, but as a writer I guess you have to be careful about what you want to share and don’t want to share. But I guess as long as you’re writing a song, I prefer to talk about how I felt about it but I don’t want to talk about the other person’s side of it because that’s their experience. In actual fact, when I did the launch of the album, it was a very emotional experience as I purposely put that song just before the interval so that I had time to go away and gather my thoughts before I spoke to anybody about it because I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about playing it. I had written a song when I had recorded my first album [‘Tempvs’] and then ended up taking it off because I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing for me to do at the time, but now I feel much stronger about the experience and songwriting in general.”
Was ‘For The Asking’ recorded quite close to the overall album launch and therefore why you felt very emotional?
“Not time wise as it’s very historic,” replies Louise, “but when it involves other people, I’m still a bit protective about how other people feel about certain experiences.”
Despite some of the lyrics being autobiographical in nature, there are moments of observation concerning the lives of others, which are cleverly retold through a traditional folk narrative. One example of this method of working is the rather exquisite ‘I Know Where I’m Going’; a traditional song that Louise Jordan tinkered with in order to include a narrative of her own as well.
“In terms of ‘I Know Where I’m Going’, I decided to look at the song, as I like to do it with traditional songs, to see if I could find a different perspective in terms of the words. So I used the story of an ex-colleague who I was teaching with when I was in Cannock Town in the Docklands. This person had a very unhappy experience in their life because of an arranged marriage; therefore, I decided that the song would lend itself to the story. So I’ve changed the words of it to develop the story and hopefully make the song more contemporary to tell us a story that is very relevant to people today. I like to do that with traditional songs, to help the song move on by putting my own little spin on it as it goes on its journey for hopefully many more years to come.”
Having recently completed a British tour involving nearly a gig a night at various folk clubs as well as a career first venture into Scotland taking in such places as Edinburgh, Falkirk and Perthshire Amber Festival run by Dougie MacLean, who is a traditional Scottish folk musician and songwriter, Louise Jordan is now focused on the next recording project which should reveal itself in 2014.
“I have just received a funding grant for another recording project for next year, so I’m really at the early stages of working on that. I’m not sure if there are going to be other instruments on it or not as I’ve just started to demo the tracks and therefore putting the nuts and bolts of the songs together. The songs will grow over the next few months before they get to be recorded, so I’ll just have to see how the songs feel really.”
Can we expect more of the same sadness that is littered throughout ‘Florilegium’?
“In actual fact, the next series of songs are much more positive,” replies Louise smiling. “I don’t always intend for the songs to be as dark as they might come across, but I think songs help me to question different things as I think sometimes you do have to look critically at your own life or other people and situations in order to take something positive and move forward. So it’s not always that it has been a negative outcome but that you have learnt something along the way and sometimes it’s a challenge to do that. I wouldn’t say that I like to write negative songs, but I think the next album will be a lot more positive and that might surprise some people!” she finishes laughing.
...songwriting and composing is a way of communicating for me. I like my music to be reassuring, even if it explores emotions that aren't necessarily kind or happy."
FLW - From the Tapes
Quick, call the police! Louise Jordan recalls a rather precarious incident that almost landed her in trouble with the local constabulary in South Wales.
“The one that really sticks in my mind is the day I went to South Wales and I was staying over with the [local] radio presenter. I went out for a run because I love to exercise before I’m singing and I had a gig the next day. I was dressed head to toe in what one runs in – black waterproof, black trousers and black gloves [tongue in cheek] importantly for the story. When I got back to the house, the key didn’t work but I remember the radio presenter mentioning that I could ask the neighbour if there were any problems. The next-door neighbour suggested that we could break a very small window at the house so that I could climb through it. I managed to climb through it and got ready to go to my gig. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the door to unlock from the other side as it was the lock that was broken. There was no other exit on the ground level of the house, so I ended up having to pass my guitar and keyboard and various other things back through the window. So people had seen somebody go in with black gloves breaking the window and passing items out through the house. By the time I had got everything to the van, the police were there and they were wondering what was going on. So I had to explain, but at the same time thinking that if I don’t leave in the next ten minutes I’m going to be late for the sound check, and I really hate being late. I ended up hurrying the police on and asking them to take a picture, fingerprint or whatever they needed as I really had to go without wishing to be rude. I have been invited back to play [at the radio station], and I hope I can make that in the future, but I’m not sure whether the residents will be that happy to see me back!”