Sat, 16 May 2020
Jon Wilks Picture: Shaun Duke
STEPHEN OTTNER on Jon Wilks, mainstay of Whitchurch Folk Club
ONE of the side effects of lockdown has been the number of musical collaborations that have emerged that probably wouldn’t have happened in the non-virtual world. One musician lays down a track, passes it to others who record their part and all the contributions are mixed together.
An outstanding example of such a collaboration was brought together by Whitchurch resident and mainstay of the Whitchurch Folk Club Jon Wilks. Jon received an email from Katherine Priddy, who he’d never met in person, suggesting a collaboration. They discovered they both came from a few miles from Tamworth-on-Arden, like the legendary Nick Drake.
Having listened to Katherine’s music and some of her finger-picking on guitar, Jon had concluded that “Nick Drake had happened in her life” so it seemed obvious they should tackle one of his songs. Jon then roped in Lukas Drinkwater, who he had first met when they were both performing at ACE Space, and Jon Nice – the other half of duo Grizzly Folk. Their subsequent version of Northern Sky clocked up 40,000 views in the first week and many enthusiastic comments and requests for more. Mark Radcliffe played the song on his BBC Radio 2 show.
Like many in the folk world, Jon has to balance his passion for music with work that provides a sustainable income. He plays gigs when he can and, as he does not drive, when he can find suitable transport. He was about to undertake his first UK tour when concern was growing about the emerging pandemic. Lockdown had not yet happened, but it was clear to Jon that travelling by train would expose him, and subsequently his audience, to potential infection, so he made the very tough decision to cancel the tour.
The tour had included a gig in Sheffield for which had been booked by folk superstar Martin Simpson. When Martin phoned to ask if Jon minded him getting up on stage to play a couple of numbers as support, Jon’s reaction was “I had to laugh at him really, are you serious, is this real?”.
As a journalist, Jon first met Martin when he interviewed him. Martin obviously liked the result of the interview as he recalled getting a call out of the blue to which he thought “it could be anyone, Martin
Simpson is a fairly common name. You don’t expect it to be your guitar hero”. It was the Martin Simpson, who had a gig in Andover, and Jon joined him for a pizza, eaten beneath a picture on the wall of The Troggs.
With lockdown, directing his creative talent online was second nature to Jon. He describes himself as an “original digital native” as he “came of age just at that point the internet arrived and it wasn’t something to be fearful of”. In the late 1990s Jon was interested in blogging and podcasting while other journalists in the office saw online as beneath them, their interests being in print. Jon, however, embraced the online world because “you can see the reaction that you are getting, you can edit, you can respond which makes the relationship with the audience so much more exciting, more personal, more interesting”.
Jon Wilks podcasts, interviews, research into traditional songs and his music can be found on his website jonwilks.online. He will be performing in Newbury, at ACE Space, in November.