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Calum Gilligan

Rising Folk: Calum Gilligan on Fatherhood, New Music and Long Drives

With an exquisite voice, lyrical maturity and guitar prowess, Calum Gilligan is set to reach dazzling heights. From winning Purbeck Folk Festival’s Purbeck Rising competition, to star-studded support slots and two headline tours, his intricate guitar playing and and artistry have proven his ability to command a stage and captivate an audience. Ahead of his upcoming performance here at St George’s, we caught up with Calum to find out more.

 

How did you first get into folk music? What influenced your sound and intention in these early stages?

Folk music wasn’t actually the first genre that I wanted to be involved in. I knew I wanted to be a musician but I wanted to be in a pop punk band. I just wanted to be in a three-piece, pop-punk, fun band scene and I did a bit of that as a teenager. But then I started playing more and more acoustic guitar and solo music.  It took until university until I began to discover what my Dad had been playing for me for a couple of decades by that point—Irish folk, American folk, Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie—the folk revival of the 60s. The lyrics and melodies of folk music spoke to me much more than bouncing around on a skateboard.

How do you feel your songwriting has progressed and developed over the past few years? What has inspired this and helped you develop?

Obviously at the start, I was very much trying to emulate people like Bob Dylan. Then I realised after a couple of years that I could start to write songs about my own experiences and less about other people’s. And then lockdown was challenging for so many people and was in its own way for me. However, I was very fortunate to be furloughed from my day job which meant I had a lot of time on my hands to write, so I spent a long time playing with where I was going. I’d already got into the folk scene a bit but then I had the chance to push it further.

Then in 2021, I met someone who is now my wife and we have two children—that’s a big inspiration—that massive, life-changing, scary thing. There are a few songs on the album that I released last year that are directly inspired by that—the anxieties and excitement and buzz of something new. It’s an incredible adventure—incredibly challenging and incredibly beautiful. It’s the hardest and best thing in the world.

How do you find the music scene in Liverpool and how has this helped to shape you as a musician?

I moved to Liverpool for the music. It struck me as the music city in the UK—almost more than anywhere else. At the time it felt like that was where I needed to be. I wasn’t really describing myself as a folk musician—I was still writing a lot of Country, Bluegrass and Americana. I formed an Americana duo and played with a lot of vocal harmony. A lot of the people you meet in that scene are also in the folk scene—almost more than the Americana scene.

Moving away from Scotland made me miss my Celtic roots and that inspires a lot of my songwriting. So I tend to look to be inspired by Scottish and Irish music—which is also part of my heritage as a lot of my family are Irish. Basically, I feel that wherever I go, I miss where I came from.

Your first EP has a lyrical depth and a songwriting style of someone far later in their career. Personally, I find So Long so incredibly beautiful it gives me goosebumps – for me, it brings to mind the likes of Kris Drever with the warmth and songwriting prowess of songwriting greats like Sandy Denny. Can you tell us a little more about the narrative of this EP and what influenced your songwriting process?

It was an end point and a starting point—it was a way for me to tie up the evolution of university to moving to Liverpool to there and those song represent those different stages of my life. Some of those songs were written way before the EP was released and it was important that the EP represented all of it which is why it’s called Maybe Half a Lifetime. You don’t know how long you’re going to be here but that felt like half a lifetime of work.

We adore your latest album and can’t wait to hear many of these songs live at St George’s. What drove the narrative of this album and how was the recording process?

I actually had a message from the producer and engineer of the album—Rich Bond—who summed it up really when he said that it was one of the most beautiful experiences. It was intense, with only three people. All of the songs from 2020 onwards deal with loneliness and isolation, love ending and love beginning and impending fatherhood—that was the main influence and the recording process was so gorgeous and wholesome because of the people involved. It’s not a complicated album—it’s very stripped back and mainly guitar. It felt very special to record it—a really wholesome experience.

You’re currently in the middle of a nationwide tour. How do you find touring and bringing your music to these nationwide audiences?

I love touring! Last year was my first tour ever and I was set on it being a headline tour. But if you’ve never toured, no one knows who you are! But that didn’t cross my mind and it was a really lovely experience and this time has built on that. This tour has been beautiful—just really, really great because I realized that playing with other people and maybe doing more co-headlines and spending time with people who you like as musicians—you’re still playing on your own but you’re not alone in the process. You’re sat with your pal before and after and can have a little boost! But honestly, I also love long drives! If I was playing in Glasgow and someone told me I had a gig tomorrow in Southampton, I’d love it!

We couldn’t be more excited to welcome you to St George’s for the final leg of your tour. What can our audiences expect?

You can expect a lot of songs from the EP and form the album. You can expect some folk numbers that I’ve been working on and some different instrumentation than what you may hear on the album. For instance, I’m bringing a bouzouki with me. I want to expand what I do and make it a little bit more varied.

Moving into the new year, what are you looking forward to and what can we expect from you next?

New music! I’ve got a new single which will be released in the New Year, with even more new music to follow. I’ll be playing more gigs up and down the country and hopefully another tour in the Autumn. So a lot of things going on and a lot of plans!

If you could have one desert island track, what would it be?

It changes every day… Although I can’t get the last song I was listening to out of my head so it’s got to be god, oil, money by Tankus the Henge.

Get your tickets to see Calum Gilligan live at St George’s!

Words by Louise Goodger