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Interview: Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys

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Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys, a British folk group, released their second album Pretty Peggy in October, eliciting praise from contemporaries like Seth Lakeman to Radio 2’s Mark Radcliffe, who called them “one of the most exciting and energetic young bands on the scene at the moment”.

Their frontman Sam Kelly originally hails from East Anglia, to a family of Norfolk dairy farmers, and his experience on season 6 of Britain’s Got Talent pushed him into the spotlight. Since then, he has been hard at work recording and touring the country, which Sam says hasbeen a great learning curve for me, a bit of an intensive crash-course in tour management to be honest. It’s fantastic touring with the guys but is occasionally like looking after a bunch of hairy geese, and with ten people on the road including our tech team it was a bit of a challenging logistical exercise for my poor brain!

They’ve been up and down the country, visiting locales that vary from bustling urban centres to more picturesque venues. Despite the great number of stops, Sam admits that “my favourite venue to play is always Norwich Arts Centre. It is a hometown gig for me and was the first venue we ever sold out, so it’s always great to return there and see my friends and family. My poor mum still insists on putting everyone up though, even as the band as exponentially increased in size, so this time there were two people sleeping in the kitchen and one on the landing.”

The band have been touring non-stop since the release of their first album, The Lost Boys, which featured a smaller roster of band members and a more traditional sound, as opposed to the folk-rock twist they’ve applied to more recent tracks. In comparison to their first album, Pretty Peggy is a lot more produced, and Sam says that the experience was great fun.

"It’s the first time we’ve ever recorded a full album in the studio, so it was brilliant to have the freedom to be creative and try things out. We had the run of the place and engineered and mixed the album ourselves, so there was a lot of experimentation going on with sounds and instruments. We also all stayed at the studio for the duration of the recording, so there were a lot of very late-night recording sessions!”

The Lost Boys, which originally consisted of Sam, Jamie Francis (banjo) and Evan Carson (percussion), has grown over the years to include Ciaran Algar (fiddle) and Graham Coe (cello), as well as Toby Shaer (flutes and whistles) and Archie Churchill-Moss (melodeon). On the band’s evolution, Sam states that “it’s been great to watch: my songs have developed and grown a lot and are now much closer to how I imagined them when I first started working on them, and that’s largely down to the guys adding their varying perspectives into the mix. We’re all fairly young in the band too, so we’re all learning and developing as musicians and people all the time, and it’s great to be together on that journey.”

Considering how much the band have changed since their inception, the reception of their latest release has been overwhelmingly positive. Folk Monthly declared that “If there’s a better folk album released in 2017 I look forward to hearing it”, and Louder than War stated that “the notion of the tricky second album gets blown out of the water”. Sam reveals that “the response to the album has been mind-blowing, really. It’s such a strange thing putting something out into the public eye that you’ve been coveting and nurturing for a couple of years, and then just going ‘Right, here it is people! What do you think!?’ But people have been so positive and supportive about it; and although I don’t want to make albums to try and please anyone, it is a great feeling when people enjoy what you do.”

His favourite song from the album is ‘The Shining Ship’, which features an echoing, discordant cello that backdrops a melancholic tale of loss.

“It’s my favourite is because I had absolutely no idea that it was going to turn out like it did. Because it is so precious and expensive, we always make sure we are using every minute of our studio time wisely, and so I usually make sure I have all the software templates ready before we go into the studio, so the minute we get in we’re ready to go. However, with ‘The Shining Ship’, I had no idea where it was going to go so didn’t do any preparation. We just recorded Jamie’s banjo and my guitar and then let all the other guys add their parts and ideas to the mix, and eventually ended up with this huge, haunting soundscape.”

“It was such a natural and organic process that taught me a valuable lesson as a producer - which is that you don’t always have to be meticulously prepared to get the best results, sometimes you just have to let the music flow out naturally.”

As a result of signing with Navigator records, the band were able to release music videos for the singles from Pretty Peggy. Of this experience, Sam says that “all the recordings we’ve done before this have been very DIY, self-released things so the budget never stretched to doing a proper music video for any of the tracks. So it’s been great fun to record three very different videos for this album. For the Reivers video we even all got our acting hats on for some very dark, broody shots. I can definitely see a few of us in the next series of Poldark.”

Finally, I asked Sam what advice he had for any young people who have yet to discover the joys of folk music. Drawing from his youth, he exclaimed “go to a festival! I went to Cambridge Folk Festival as a 16 year old in 2009 and it completely changed my life. Now that we’re playing loads of festivals, I’ve brought a lot of my old school friends along to a few, and they’ve all gone from not knowing what folk music is to being die-hard folkies by the end. Folk music is supposed to be experienced live, and it’s not just about the music but equally about the people you meet, the stories you hear and the memories you create.”

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