Six questions with… Ewan McLennan & Sky Smeed

Two singer-songwriters from opposite ends of the Atlantic come together for a double bill at this year’s TradFest. A troubadour, balladeer and storyteller cut in the old style, Scottish singer Ewan McLennan received critical acclaim for his first album Rags to Riches, which won him the prestigious Horizon Award at the BBC Folk Awards. Sky Smeed hails from Chanute, Kansas and was raised on a musical diet of Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Van Morrison and Merle Haggard.

Tell us about your most recent albums.

Ewan McLennan: My most recent album was called Stories Still Untold, released in 2014. It has a mixture of traditional and self-penned songs on it. I’m playing a lot of the songs from this album, as well as from the previous two, in live performances.

The project I’m working on at the moment, released later this year, is an interesting collaboration with journalist and author George Monbiot. It’s a kind of concept album the two of us have been working on, with George supplying the concept and the bare sketches and me then working on songs that flow from that. More news on this one soon!

Sky Smeed: My newest album Drive All Night was recorded live in Lawrence, Kansas (U.S.). It was produced and recorded by Mike West of the band Truckstop Honeymoon. I’m working on another release for the end of this year.

Which other musicians have been your main influences? 

EM: In no particular order… Bob Dylan, Utah Philips, John Martyn, Dick Gaughan, Joni Mitchell, Martin Simpson and many, many more.

SS: Guy Clark, John Prine, Truckstop Honeymoon, Todd Snider.

What inspires you when writing music?

EM: All kinds of things; people, stories, politics, life around me.

SS: Reading books always seems to get the creative juices flowing for me. Some of my best ideas for melody come to me when I’m running trails in the woods.

Which bands/artists from the contemporary Trad scene, in Scotland or elsewhere, do you rate most?

EM: There’s so much brilliant music coming out the Scottish folk scene at the moment. I recently had the privilege of singing a song on the forthcoming album of Scottish fiddle group Rant – that lot are fantastic. Kris Drever and of course Lau are a big favourite of mine too. Any there’s lots more, it seems to be an exciting and vibrant scene.

Have you played TradFest before? Are there any other acts on the programme you’d recommend seeing?

EM: No, I haven’t been before, but I’ll definitely try to see some of the other music on when I’m there.

SS: I have not played TradFest before – this will be my first tour overseas and I’m honored to be able to play at this festival. I’ve been listening to Ewan online and can’t wait to hear him sing and play.

What does Tradition mean to you?

EM: My honest answer is that I’m still not sure. I’ve been thinking about it for quite a few years now but still don’t have a very good answer. I’ll let you know when I progress!

Ewan McLennan and Sky Smeed play the Pleasance on Thu 28 Apr. Book tickets.