Words both written and sung are an inspiration to Jack Arthurs. DAVID WHETSTONE meets the lone musician due to perform at a book festival
NOTE: As of lunchtime on 14 November this event, along with all other Winter Book Festival events at the Lit and Phil, have been cancelled. More information as we get it.
IN an article looking ahead to next week’s Newcastle Winter Book Festival, it might seem a little perverse to be talking to a musician.
But Jack Arthurs, whose new solo album Only Dreams Are True came out earlier this year, straddles the worlds of music and literature.
Born in York, he came to the North East in 1989 to study English at Newcastle University and then worked at the Wordsworth Trust in the Lake District with the late Dr Robert Woof.
A modern-day renaissance man, Dr Woof was a great influence. “With him,” Jack has said of his mentor, “everything was connected, literature, music, art.”
During a spell in London, Jack worked for the Poetry Society and for Granta, the literary magazine. Since returning to the North East in 2000, he has deployed his love of words in pursuit of a musical career.
In 2009, as a member of the four-piece band Greyhound, he talked to The Journal about debut album The Art of Seeing (a title taken from Aldous Huxley’s novel, Brave New World).
He and his colleagues likened the sound to Rush or The Police. Some might have heard the influence of U2 in its anthemic rock sound.
The new album is something very different, being a solo acoustic affair with perhaps more emphasis placed on lyrics than driving chords.
“A couple of years ago, I felt I wanted to write something on my own after many years of always collaborating with other people,” explains Jack.
“I wanted to try a different style and format to Greyhound. The songs in the band were very good for Louis’s voice (that’s Louis McTeggert, Greyhound vocalist).
“But I wanted to write songs for my own voice so there’s quite a different dynamic there.
“The combination of lyrics and music is very important to me. I’d say that what I was aiming for was a set of very personal songs with universal themes.
“I essentially wanted to write songs that were uplifting. Quite a lot of acoustic music is quite miserable.”
The title track urges the listener to “listen deeply to your dreams” for “they’re all that’s true”. The fantastic photograph of a peacock which decorates the CD’s inside cover reflects the track The Peacock Garden with its refrain: “Deep blue, glossed green and gold.”
Jack’s solo endeavour – produced, engineered and mixed by Sean Taylor and recorded at the Cluny Studios in Newcastle – has attracted some appreciative reviews in some surprising places, as well as getting an airing on Radio 3’s Late Junction.
Prog, which bills itself the world’s leading progressive music mag, has taken to Jack in a very big way.
On a sample CD given away with a recent issue, The Peacock Garden featured alongside tracks by Hawkwind, Pendragon and eight others perhaps more readily associated with prog rock.
Prog’s reviewer enthused about Jack’s “hopeful, optimistic tunes” that “brighten and warm the soul”. Music to his ears, as you’d imagine.
Jack can be heard singing songs from the new album at the closing event of the Newcastle Winter Book Festival on Sunday, November 25. It will be an introduction to an illustrated talk by Mo Foster, a renowned bass player and raconteur who has a fund of stories about some of the greatest guitarists ever to hold a plectrum.
His book, The Story of British Rock Guitar, was published by Andrew Peden Smith, director of the Newcastle festival and – it would seem – a fan of the Jack Arthurs sound.
During the 90-minute session at Newcastle City Library, you’ll get Jack’s songs and some of Mo’s priceless anecdotes.
Jack couldn’t be more thrilled at the shared billing. He says he started off playing the piano at the age of nine but he always felt the guitar was the thing.
“My first guitar was really cheap and acoustic.
“I couldn’t play it and that’s why I started playing an electric guitar because it was easier. But I’ve now returned to an acoustic guitar.
A bequest from a great aunt, Rosaleen Scott, enabled him to buy a better instrument and he duly dedicated his album to her.
Like many in Mo Foster’s book – which, says Jack, “shows that the early rock guitarists were pretty much making it up” – he is on a journey with his guitar. It could very well take them to a really good place.
There is more on Jack on www.jackarthurs.co.uk
Meanwhile Newcastle Winter Book Festival runs from November 22-25, following a programme of fringe events at Newcastle’s closure-threatened branch libraries throughout next week.
Headline speakers include veteran film critic Barry Norman, thriller writer John Connolly and the screenwriter Stephen Volk.
Themes include horror, erotica and crime.
Find the full programme on www.newcastlewinterbookfestival.co.uk