Music Monday, November 7th Words by: Mark Bowen, pictures by: Mark Bowen

Mark Stevenson interview: Ledbury's man of British weather

Music Monday, November 7th

Mark Stevenson interview: Ledbury's man of British weather

A week before I'm due to interview folk singer Mark Stevenson I am discreetly told by another Herefordshire musician that he's somewhat of a legend in Ledbury. 

Mark would blush at the description. But when I walk around the town with him it quickly becomes apparent that he knows a lot of people, and a lot of people know him.  

Mark Stevenson, folk singer

Mark ran open mic sessions at the Prince of Wales pub for 14 years and resided in Ledbury for a 20-year-spell before uprooting to live on a narrow boat in Upton.

Narrowboat life didn't work out, however, and he's now back in the market town he calls home despite hailing from Coventry.

The day job is "a jack of all trades" in the building industry but it's the folk singer personna he's known for. Singing unaccompanied or backed by just a bodhran, the nakedness of Mark's bucolic music serves as a shock to some.

At the age of 57, he has just released his debut album, Ground, Glass and Whiskey (Border This record label).

The record is a mix of traditional music and Mark's own compositions. His timeless songs make you feel the past is ever-present and can be summoned up if you so much as close your eyes. They are about nature; man's connection with the land and the permanence of the landscape against our own fleeting existence.

"I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up", said Mark, while we chatted about work in the buliding trade.

Maybe, with the release of this album, he may have found an answer.

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How did you start as a folk singer?

I started off as an unaccompanied singer. In 1979 my parents were going on holiday to Ireland. They said “can we bring you anything back?” and I said ‘bring me back a bodhran’. I did not have a clue how to play it.

Six months later I went to Ireland and I got somebody to show me how to hold the stick.

I was into Irish music. I loved the sound of the drum that is how it all got started. I like all sorts of music but Irish and traditional is where I am coming from.

Listening to your album your love of the landscape and folklore is more than apparent – especially on ‘I Sit At Home And Look Out My Window’. 

When I was living in this house near Malvern. You could look out across to Worcester and to the west you could see the hills sloping across Herefordshire.

Because of the way the light changes you could see something you would never normally see. I like the way the landscape changes and also its permanence and the history of it.

I think of the amount of lives that have moved through the landscape and the relationship between the landscape and the people.

There is something about when you have lived in an area for so long. I can go into the Malverns and have memories of certain things that happened there and you get that connection.

Tell us about ‘Man of British Weather’ which tells us about your love of walking regardless of the elements.  

‘Man of British Weather’ has been recorded. I was in a band called Whiteleaved Oak, named after a hamlet to the south of Malvern, and we did a recording of the song.

It is a well-travelled song that one. It seems to be the one song of mine that people pick up on.

It’s great that people are singing it. How they got hold of it I have no idea.

It has also got to Australia. A friend of mine was in Australia where she heard someone play the song. This fella had come to Worcester and he must have brought the cassette (of the band recording) and took it back to Australia. My friend wrote to me to say she had met this man playing the song.

I love walking. I have always walked. I think it is the pace you are meant to move at.

I was 23 when I wrote ‘Man Of British Weather’. I like the elements - it keeps it real.

Tell us about playing open mics.

I used to run open mic sessions at the Prince of Wales for 14 years. It is an excuse to get up and play.

It’s nice if you can make a little bit of money here and there (for playing).

I am not knocking them but I think landlords have realised they can get live entertainment without paying musicians.

But I think they are a good idea and it gives people a chance to play with other people.

Do you like folk clubs?

Sometimes going to a folk club was a bit like going to church.

Some people feel that songs are meant to be sang in a certain way and if you don’t do it like that it is almost sacrilege but to me when a song is out there people can do what they want with it.

I feel that when a song is sang in public it is almost public property. They are out there in the world and who knows what will happen to them.

When you sing unaccompanied does it make you feel naked?

You just get used to it. When you are doing it you have got to put the song across.

Each time is like singing it for the first time. There is always the potential for it to go wrong.

Each time you are singing it you have to try to nail it. When you are doing it you need to get in the zone.

I have always sang to myself. There was a folk club in Worcester I used to go along and listen.

One night I asked if they knew one song called ‘Bonny Black Hare’.

They said 'why don’t you do it?' I was terrified but I did it. I went back the following week and they asked me to sing again and I was amazed by that. 

Mark Stevenson, folk singer

Mark's album can be purchased here

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