Destined: C Joynes
Tackling notions of "authenticity" in terms of music can be quite exhausting. Coupled with an inescapably commodified market, the wonders of digital technology have standardized the musical process in a way, allowing any Ashlee Simpson/Paris Hilton hack with enough money and sex appeal the ability to make a listenable hit record. But all those professionally-produced clicks and whistles don't amount to shit if they don't have the conviction – they just mask the money-minded intentions of the American Idol masses and slather them with a sugary gloss. What's authentic about that?
"For music to be authentic, then it should be sincere: that is, written and performed with a true sense of pleasure," says C Joynes, a native of Surrey County, U.K. and one hell of an acoustic picker. By that definition, Joynes' music is as "real" as it gets. Over the course of three super-limited, hand-crafted CD-Rs released on his own Leith Hill Recordings, the man has displayed a captivating blend of reinterpreted traditionals, original compositions and improvisations solely with an acoustic guitar and an honest love for a good "tune." Each release was captured with "cheap-and-cheerful equipment" at his current home in Histon, inviting the listener into the kitchen where he sits, kicked back with a freshly-opened brew, plucking in tune to a light breeze sweeping through the open window. His on-the-spot recordings evoke a hauntingly rustic air, dusty melodies that still shine with a familiar energy. Conceived in whatever circumstances were at hand, the tunes may be a little rough on the edges, but such quality makes them all the more sincere.
"By limiting one's technical options and working with the basics, is one in essence concentrating on the music?" Joynes asks. "By accommodating the flaws and shortcomings of both these rackety instruments and the rudimentary recording process, the random and unintentional starts to creep in, ghosting the tunes. For me at least, it feels like time is short and there's no sense in hanging about. There's a worry that getting too concerned with the technical side of it will just mean another excuse to put things off."
In the coming months, London imprint Bo'Weavil will reissue his second CD-R, God Feeds the Ravens – an endearing stroll through joyful renditions of "Glory Glory Hallelujah" and searing originals like "Pirandos Tolos." Joynes wittily employs the phrase "Anglo-Naive and Contemporary Parlour Guitar" as an umbrella for his music. "By coming up with my own category it would allow me to play my own unfashionable stew of traditional folk, world musics, hymns, carols, jazz standards, obscure pop and improv without having to justify it to anyone," Joynes says. The phrase is also a jab at the ingenuous criteria that musicologists use to categorize music, along with a not-so-subtle nod to the “American Primitivism” school of acoustic picking.
Joynes first picked up the guitar when he found a dusty, banana-shaped acoustic in his attic at age 16. He began playing along with his blues heroes – Muddy Waters, BB King, John Lee Hooker were his main squeezes – providing the initial foundation for his style. From there, he began exploring a variety of other genres, frequently strumming along with folk, punk and indie records for practice.
"I was consuming music at a rate of knots. I was a total musical omnivore who would buy and listen to anything if it looked interesting: the bargain bin was my spiritual home – jazz, classical, techno, dub, garage, punk, psychedelia etc etc. I would get frustrated with friends because they each seemed to be into one or two things only, and weren’t interested in exploring anything outside of that, whereas to me it all seemed wonderful."
It was in the bargain bin that Joynes discovered his major inspiration. He purchased a copy of John Fahey's The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death on a whim, attracted to the album's odd cover art and album title. Perplexed by Fahey's seemingly average technique and "odd, ethnic-sounding pieces," Joynes couldn't quite figure out why he was so captivated by the cassette, but kept returning to it, year after year. He finally succumbed to the album's appeal around 2001, when he abandoned the sing-and-strum technique to focus on finger-picking and open-tuning, with Fahey serving as the model. Though he's making strides to distance himself from the pervasive Fahey influence, the luminary provided three basic points that still serve as the foundation for his style:
1. "All music is equal – the outlandish and the over-familiar all exist for the same reason and on the same grounds, and should be treated with the same respect."
2. "The tune is the thing – let melody and discord be the primary means of expression, and send folks home with something they can whistle."
3. "Speed and dexterity alone do not make for good music – an investment of emotion and feeling in the composition is far more suitable, and these should never be sacrificed to flashy playing."
Though Fahey was crucial to his musical evolution, Joynes cites an incredibly diverse list of influences that have seeped into his playing. He was especially touched by Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, captivated by the "alien quality" of the recordings, and the sound of the United States as a developing country. His obsession with the Anthology led him to seek out traditional music from the British Isles, which he was able to maintain a healthy diet of through a friend that worked for The English Folk Dance And Song Society, who would smuggle in tapes to make extra recordings. After attending the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, Joynes traveled extensively, living in Pakistan for several years, working and recording in Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Singapore and Eritrea, subsequently moving to The Gambia in West Africa. His travels had a heavy hand in sculpting his approach to the guitar, as radio, street-bought cassettes and indigenous acoustic music filtered through his perspective and into his playing. But despite all his foreign influences, Joynes still deeply identifies himself as an English musician, drawing from a uniquely English tradition that separates him from the recent crop of post-Takoma guitarists.
"While I love country-blues, the technique on which all this is based, it is an American music, and I am not American, so it doesn’t feel appropriate for me to style myself as a player in that tradition," Joynes says. "In fact, it is more interesting to use this technique as a basis for exploring alternative melodic traditions: North and West African music; classical Indian modes; proto-minimalist and impressionist music from early 20th Century European classical traditions. Many of my tunes lift chunks from traditional English songs and dances, and then skew the melodies so that they fit with the tempos and rhythms of that country-blues finger-picking technique that over the years has become the staple of folk-guitar."
Joynes relocated back to the UK in 2004, where he now resides in Histon, just north of Cambridge and about 90 minutes north of London. At 36, Joynes refers to himself as a "classic late starter" in terms of releasing music. But age brings wisdom and Joynes is comfortable with the natural progression of the learning process, accumulating ideas, and experiences that have played a pivotal role in his musical evolution – a progression that he's happy to continue through solo playing, exploring collaborations with other musicians, and maintaining his own Leith Hill imprint.
"For the first 30 years there was a lot of day-dreaming but not much action. But it feels a bit like all of that day-dreaming was part of the preparation process; it was all going on inside, exploring ideas, weighing up the options, brewing away and all contributing towards the distilled liquor that eventually started dripping from the still…"
By Cole Goins