When Carl Woodford swapped Scarborough’s sunny shores for Sheffield’s steel walls to further his finger picking folk mastery he left his roots and where it all began. After beginning to ply his trade in progressive band, Magic Tree, he has now delved deep into the Steel City’s folk underworld as a solo artist in his own right and is now on a mission to find that elusive perfect sound.
As we meet in Sheffield’s Hunters Bar, he’s polite and friendly but doesn’t exude confidence the way his music does, he ponders his answers slowly and mumbles about various live gigs that have gone wrong and wonders whether he’ll entirely beat that bout of stage fright:
“I had a really nightmarish experience on stage last year, I don’t think I’ve ever recovered from it properly, every time I play I can’t help but think about it. There have been some really memorable ones though, last year at the Rude Shipyard was pretty special as it was so close, it was as if it was in someone’s front room.”
Confidence and stage fright haven’t seemed to be a problem in years gone by as his stripped back folk sound has led him to become a regular fixture at Scarborough’s Beached festival and Acoustic Gathering (a festival where the artist plays on a small podium in the middle of a lake while the crowd remains ashore.) As well as smatterings of gigs across the north, including the exceptionally intimate performance at Sheffield’s Rude Shipyard last summer as part of the Tramlines festival, he has also shared bills with some of folk’s elite such as Nick Harper and Vin Garbutt.
Throughout the interview Woodford spins tales of his youth, how his first band started and what has led him down this particular musical road. He’s a deep character and a total perfectionist, he talks of his guitar like it’s a living creature and pays the utmost respect to his instrument by the way he plays, a talent he’s taken over a decade to hone.
Much of the singer/songwriter’s songs are based around tricky finger picking patterns that make your own fingers bleed at the very thought but he has also become known for a strum and drum technique, something which has become somewhat of a highlight in his live shows. ‘Coloured Walls’ has become a particular favourite on the gigging front and showcases a series of abilities from the performer but when asked more about the song Woodford gives a nervous jolt in his chair. It’s a subject he’s not too comfortable discussing:
“My songs aren’t observations of things that are going on outside my own world so they’re quite difficult to talk about,” he bashfully explains. “I write these songs for me, not for anyone else so that’s probably why. With Coloured Walls, I kind of never really believed it could be a song, it came together over a couple of years, different bits at a time. At one point I was particularly thin on the ground for friends, so it comes from a difficult place. I don’t want to sound too negative, I’ve had a comfortable life.”
Woodford has got an intense style of play and is not necessarily on the easy listening side of folk, there’s a mould that has to be broken to see what shimmers gently beneath, much like a book that’s difficult to break into, but once you have you don’t want to turn the final page because then it’ll all be over. Immediacy isn’t something that seems to worry the Yorkshire born songwriter though:
“I’m not really in it for any kind of commercial success, I would rather make one perfect album, something that could have a lasting and influential effect, then I would be a happy man.”
As we talk more it’s clear to see that Woodford has a real love affair with music and talks of Bert Jansch, John Martin and Nick Drake, who are all clear to see in his own songs. Of more recent times Woodford has looked to Fionn Regan and Johnny Flynn:
“They’ve got this cutsie, boyish thing going on; it’s quite far away from what I’m doing but similar in many ways, maybe they kind of make folk cool again,” he muses but as we approach the subject of Simon Cowell’s pop empire there’s a moments silence before he replies:
“I don’t really know much about it, I think it kind of encourages kids to aspire to mediocrity when these people are essentially just meaningless puppets being told what to do,” he says, not fiercely but with a blank face, he just doesn’t care.
This is a man that doesn’t associate with mediocrity in any sense of the word and has spent many painstaking hours tweaking sounds and guitars, which at times can be a lonely pursuit:
“I don’t like relying on people too much, that’s why I play on my own I guess,” he explains before he adds: “I know what I want and I know what is right, which is what is frustrating about playing live, some people just don’t care enough, I always want it to be right and I’m very critical of myself in that sense.”
It’s difficult to know where to wrap this one up as Woodford is a one man story machine but as the haunting sound of the final bell rings around the pub we decide to call it a night. Who knows what the coming year holds for this singer/songwriter but as we depart Carl Woodford confides his desire to enter the studio and play a few low key gigs to the people who give a damn...sounds perfect.