Folk Series #4 feat. Andy Bell

By Kath Hartley


In Part 4 of the Folk Series, we spoke to Andy about life as a producer within the British Folk scene, and the key to his success…

Andy Bell

Andy Bell’s journey to becoming a successful folk music producer has been no easy feat. A Music Production alumnus from LCoM, Andy’s first studio job was at Leeders Farm in Norfolk recording pop and rock artists, using his studio downtime to record folk musicians he’d befriended along the way.

A move into freelance work brought six months of solid hard work and not much money, but things started to take off as he landed a live album with renowned folk percussionist Cormac Byrne. Since then, Andy has forged a place for himself as a producer on the British folk music scene, working with the likes of Bellowhead, Martin Simpson, Jon Boden, The Young'Uns, Maddy Prior and The Furrow Collective. He now produces the vast majority of British folk records, and counts the 2014 BBC Folk Album of the year, The Full English, amongst his production achievements.

As well as producing, Andy also runs Hudson records, an indie label based in Sheffield, releasing traditional and contemporary folk as well as singer songwriters, pop, jazz and everything in between!

How would you define the term folk music?

This is a question that really polarises people! Some people think it’s just traditional music, but then you have bands like Fleet Foxes which people refer to as folk. It can be all those things and everything in between. For me at the heart of it is a story. It doesn’t really matter to me what the story is, but that’s the heart of it. People get really cross about defining folk music – when Jon Boden and I recorded ‘A Folk Song a Day,’ Jon included Mercedes Benz by Janis Joplin. The song has got spiritual roots, but there was real anger by the community of listeners! When we recorded it I asked him why he was doing it, and he said “just to see whether people think its folk music or not!” It differs for everyone and none of it is right or wrong – it’s just personal.

You mention that the story is at the heart of folk music. How does production contribute to telling the story?

Producing folk isn’t that different to producing any other music. You might start from a different viewpoint, but it’s all about the story of the song. Sometimes it’s about doing very little to a song, and sometimes it’s about bringing new elements in. I recently worked on Emily Portman’s album Coracle; Emily could have easily done an album of stories with her banjo or concertina – but we wanted to be more adventurous with the production so it had quite a lot of layered and overdubbed sounds on it. It’s about using those techniques to highlight different elements of a story and make sure it works in context.

How do new production techniques or digital sounds marry into folk music? Does it help push the boundaries of the genre?

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve heard plenty of records where modern production techniques, sounds and synths sound awful! However, it’s really about the listener’s interpretation; someone who enjoys listening to a solo concertina album might not be as interested in Emily Portman’s album, for example, which has a lot of different sounds and modern instrumentation. You just try it; and if it works, it works and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. It’s about being subtle within it.

Do you think that formal training for folk music can work?

I see it as a tool to open up other opportunities rather than the end destination. If the new LCoM degree is going to offer students opportunities to work with people in the folk industry, then that’s got to be positive. The key is using that opportunity to develop your work, contacts and passion, because you’re going to need them to get to the point where it becomes self-perpetuating.  You’re not going to get a degree and when you come out suddenly be doing UK tours on the folk scene; it’s just not going to happen and it wouldn’t happen in any genre. For me, success is really down to how hard you work -  I worked really hard when I was studying, I probably spent two or three times the amount of hours anyone else did in the studio, picking up work as a studio technician at the college, but the commitment to what you are doing is the most important thing.

What advice would you give to people looking to get into the world of folk music?

You need to get out there and get involved. I would say 95% of the work I’ve got is just because I got involved with the scene - helping out at folk clubs, going to gigs, being part of it. There’s loads of folk clubs and it’s really easy to get involved because everyone’s friendly and open. Just do it!


Leeds College of Music launches BA (Hons) Music (Folk) in Sep 2017

Fore out more information about Hudson Records, here

More from the Folk Series: #1 Gilmore & Roberts #2 Sif Jacobsen & Caitlin Stubbs | #3 Sunniva Brynnel

By Kath Hartley

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