The poster boy of folk

Sat in a grotty East End pub, should-be exhausted after a hectic day of promo on the back of recording and touring, Johnny Flynn still looks picture perfect. With his blond hair and blue-eyed wholesomeness, it’s not hard to see why he has been described as the poster boy of folk.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a folk music aficionado, or even a fan, you would be hard pressed to have missed the resurgence and prominence of the genre over the last two years.

Artists such as Mumford And Sons, whose recent album ‘Sigh No More’ reached the Top Ten, and Laura Marling, whose debut album was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize, proved that folk is now for the masses.

But rather than riding off the back of one another, whipping up hype and publicity by staging feuds and taking each other down in interviews, these new folkies collaborate and tour with one another.

Mumford And Sons were Flynn’s touring partners on a round-America trip in 2008 - Johnny blames them for his current loss of voice, having just returned from touring with them in Europe - tales from which sound more rock ‘n’ roll than folk adventure. And Miss Marling features on Johnny’s new album, ‘Been Listening’.

“We’re not treading on each other’s toes...I think we’re all doing very different things,” says Flynn of this seemingly idyllic shared work ethos. “I used to play fiddle with Emmy The Great, that’s where I met loads of these people that went on to be in these bands.... they’re just all old friends.”

Whilst this album is a truly solo effort, Johnny’s sister has in the past toured with him as part of Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit, the rest of the Sussex Wit being more old friends of Johnny’s, further adding to the image of a folky love-in.

“There is a big difference between the first and the second record. There are probably fewer boundaries in where we go with the sound. The feelings in the lyrics are sometimes purer to me - sometimes stripped down to just a feeling without a story around it, like a meteorite coming into the Earth’s atmosphere and crashing into the sea as the purest form of itself.”
Friends working together is a recurrent theme when talking to Johnny. He lives with old school friends and school is where he met his girlfriend. He talks with real affection for Bedales, the public school renowned for its liberating ethos and relaxed attitudes and famous for producing Lily Allen and Luke Pritchard of The Kooks.

“I met amazing and really inspirational people. You’re put in a place where you connect with ideas and people are allowed to be involved in their own projects. It’s an encouraging environment for artistic endeavors.”

He speaks warmly of the idea that there is a community of like-minded individuals, though is not so keen on the idea that he is seen as a shining example of this posh-boho educational system.  

“It’s really silly as far as I can see, it doesn’t have anything to do with the music or anything that I’m trying to do.”

Just in case you hadn’t noticed, Johnny takes everything pretty seriously. His shy mumblings give the impression of an introverted person, focused on his own world. Something he confirms when he speaks about the writing process.

“Writing is the place I imbue my emotional world. When writing lyrics it doesn’t usually happen so quickly, it’s distilling something, getting to the root of what I have to get out.”

With film star good looks, talent in abundance and influential friends and colleagues, whilst he may not have asked to be the poster boy of the folk scene it could be something he can’t avoid.

Words by Lois Newcombe
Photography by Brendan & Brendan
Styling by Ruth Higginbotham

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