6 Questions with Southern Tenant Folk Union

Pat McGarveyAcclaimed and award-winning Edinburgh based roots collective Southern Tenant Folk Union take their name from a farmers’ association and showcase acoustic folk suffused with bluegrass energy and Celtic charm in an exciting live act worked around a single microphone.

‘there’s no better balance of American bluegrass pizzazz and Celtic folk harmonies than the patented brand knocked out by Southern Tenant Folk Union.’
(Alan Morrison, Sunday Herald)

Band founder, banjo player and vocalist Pat McGarvey answered some quick questions for us ahead of their TradFest gig on Saturday 9 May on musical influences, writing styles and themed albums.

Q1. So Pat, tell us about your latest album, released earlier this year.

It’s our sixth album, called The Chuck Norris Project and is an ambitious, cinematic sounding concept album with progressive political lyrics of the folk protest variety. It’s had great reviews in the press and been very well received. We’ll certainly be doing a few tracks from it at the TradFest concert, explaining how it came about and the personal and political message behind the eye-catching movie titled songs. 

Q2. How long have you been playing music /playing together as a band?

The band formed in 2006 in London and has been writing, recording and touring ever since January 2007 when our debut album was released. The core of the current line-up has been playing together since 2012.

Southern Tenant Folk Union

Q3. What is your writing process like? Does one person in the band typically write the lyrics?

The process is open to anyone who wants to write and letting the “best songs” be the ones recorded – of course it’s sometimes hard to get the perspective to realise what those best songs are!

I set the direction of travel with the sixth album but it was a pretty wide remit. On the lyrics, usually the song writer comes up with the entire thing, though in the case of the song we recently played live on BBC Radio 4‘s show Loose EndsSlaughter In San Francisco – Rory (Rory Butler, Guitar/Lead Vocals) had the chord sequence and melody but no lyrics. I wrote some just in case he couldn’t come up with anything and when I showed them to him, he liked them enough to record it that way.

Q4. What inspires you when writing music?

Literature, movies, the city around me as I walk – I tend to get ideas when I’m out of the house so I record them into my phone and work on them later. I mostly write songs and lyrics in my head first before picking up a musical instrument.

Q5. What other musicians have influenced you?

Argentinian jazz pianist & composer Lalo Schifrin – who wrote many movie scores like Bullitt, Enter The Dragon and Dirty Harry – is one my favourites alongside many more film soundtrack people. Then an eclectic mix of musicians from Sly Stone, The Chi-Lites and Barry White through to Sonic Youth, Pavement, Rush

6. What does Tradition mean to you?

It can mean whatever you want it to – for me it means working in a positive way, opening up a musical dialogue and taking influence from the past, then merging it with your own ideas and identity.

On a practical level, I find the beauty of the melodies and the rich evocative lyrics from the folk canon constantly inspiring and I feel it’s my job as a songwriter to enhance and add to that tradition, rather than close it off and suffocate it.

Catch Southern Tenant Folk Union live at Pleasance Cabaret Bar for their Soundhouse TradFest gig on Saturday 9th May, 8pm
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