Interview: Pete Roe

By on Thursday, 27th May 2010 at 12:00 pm

Pete Roe wowed me 2 weeks ago when he opened for Laura Marling at Iota (review here). So intrigued and impressed I was with this Bristol singer/songwriter that I just had to get inside that head of his and ask him some questions. Pete nicely obliged and wrote us from the road. Read on about his formative years as a musician, his thoughts on what makes a folk singer and how he became part of Marling’s live band.

Hi Pete. Where are you today and what are you up to?
Hello! I have just arrived in Denver with our touring party. I’m opening up for Laura Marling as well as playing in her band on this U.S. jaunt. I’m sorry to say there’s been very little to report. Lots and lots of driving. We’ve got an average of 8 hours a day at the moment. But spirits are good and all’s well.

When did you start playing guitar, singing, and songwriting? Were there any particular artists that were important in your formative years that spurred you on?
I’ve had a couple of starts I suppose you could say. When I was 13 I was really inspired to get better at playing piano because of Dr. John, largely from watching ‘The Last Waltz’, the Scorsese documentary about the Band. So piano was my instrument for many years, but hen when I was twenty or so a friend got me really in to Dylan, and after hearing ‘Blood on the Tracks’ I was hooked and started playing a lot more guitar.

Songwriting is something I’d always wanted to do. I started writing when I was thirteen or so. There’s some proper disasters lurking around from that time on some old cassettes.

Have you always enjoyed and played folk music? Or are there/ were there other music genres that have grabbed your attention?
My dad plays a lot of Irish folk music, and there’s always been music in our family. I’ve never really got involved in the Irish stuff. Blues was the main thing that got me going. Any music out of New Orleans really. Jazz I’ve dabbled in. Badly. But I always enjoy playing new types of music. I put together a bluegrass band a few years ago in which I played banjo. It was great fun and you always learn new stuff playing different sorts of music.

I read that you are from Bristol. Did growing up / living there affect the kind of music you play?
Bristol is a marvellous melting pot of music. People always ask me what the scene is like there, and I think they are expecting me to say its one genre of music. But it’s really not. The caliber of musicianship in the city in enormous. The PRS (Performing Rights Society) recently announced that Bristol is the most musical city in Britain in terms of musicians per capita. And everyone plays with everyone else which is really healthy.

I was really impressed with the songs from it you played at Iota in Arlington, Virginia recently. Have you enjoyed touring America?
It’s been great touring over here. Each place is different form the next. I’ve never seen this much of the country before either. Tell you what though our van is a squeeze. Ten people, suitcases, instruments, records and t-shirts all crammed in the van.

To me, one of the most important qualities in a folk singer is being able to tell a wonderful, emotional story through song and to make the audience feel those emotions. What is being a ‘folk singer’ for you?

You got it. I love stories in songs. It’s addictive too. I find it really hard to not write story songs now. One of my favourite story type folk singers is Chris Wood, an English chap. He has this marvellous song called ‘One in a Million’, about a young man working in a fish and chip shop. I won’t spoil the story. The song is about 10 minutes long but it never get boring – you really get invested in the characters. That’s what I like.

You play keyboards and guitar and you also sing as part of Laura Marling’s band. Did I miss any instruments? How did that ‘gig’ come about?

Jesse, the drummer of one of the first bands I was in moved to London a couple of years before I did and played a bit with Laura. When Laura needed a regular band, she needed someone that played piano, guitar, banjo and sang. I was the only person that anyone knew that could. Sometimes it’s better to be Jack-of-all-trades!

So your new EP ‘The Merry Go Around’ is coming out on 07 June. Tell me how you decided which songs would be on this EP, as I imagine it’s hard to choose from all your babies which to present to the world.
Well it was a tricky one. There were lots of other songs that I thought about putting on or maybe saving some for an album. But in the end, I decided to record my four best songs. And there you go.

Of the singer/songwriters out there today, who do respect most (besides Laura Marling)? And why?
I’ve just discovered Sam Amidon. He’s got a marvellous record called ‘All is Well’. I can’t recommend it enough. Gillian Welch I love, Joni Mitchell too. John Martyn’s a big influence. Other songwriters to look out for – Nathaniel Rateliff and Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell.

Thanks very much Pete. I really hope your EP is a success, because I really feel like Britain and the world needs to hear much more from you.
Thanks very much!

Pete Roe’s debut EP ‘The Merry Go Around’ will be released on Communion Records on 07 June. You can pre-order the EP from Townshend Records. Communion is hosting a special launch party for Roe at the Luminaire on the Kilburn High Road on 16 June; the party will feature Roe, Hot Feet, Alessi’s Ark and Pepe Belmonte. Advance tickets can be purchased here for £6.

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One Response

12:05 pm
14th March 2012

went to see Laura play at the Nottingham Royal Centre last night and Pete did a solo stint to open up the show. I have to say he was superb… I was so impressed I went straight round and bought the EP, which he kindly signed.

Thanks Pete… and good luck…. you deserve it.

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