The world of folk music used to be associated with hairstyles rivalling that of Jesus himself, but in recent years the genre has had a major image overhaul. Enter, Al Lewis.
Influenced by the likes of Bob Dylan and Damien Rice, Al Lewis is the fresh new face of Folk. His Welsh twinge combined with elements of country, gives his music its individual flavour and genuine quality, which has undoubtedly helped him achieved so much since his televised ‘Song for Wales’ debut in 2007.
Born and bred in the town of Pwllheli, North Wales, Al found himself drawn into the path of music and song writing in particular. Growing up listening to the likes of Cerys Matthews, he had no idea that only a few years later, he would in fact be performing on stage with her.
When I asked how his musical journey began, he explained: “I was at university, and like every student I was coming to the end of my course thinking what do I love, what’s going to make me get up in the morning and want to do my job, and it was music.”
It was this passion for music that led to Al packing his bags and moving down to London in the hope of making a name for himself: “I got a few day jobs and just tried to gig every night of the week,” he said of his lifestyle in London. “That’s the beauty of living there; you can find a gig just about anywhere”. However, his first big break came about a little closer to home.
“I was doing a gig in the back room of some grotty pub in Cardiff, and in the audience happened to be one of the producers of the Song for Wales competition. He came up to me at the end and asked if I wanted to submit one of my songs for the show. I was a bit dismissive to begin with, but it turned out to be a really good thing because I came second and won £5,000”. It turned out that this was to be a catalyst for Al’s career, and he began to be noticed by radio stations and fellow musicians.
He released his first Welsh album in 2009 entitled ‘Sawl Ffordd Allan’, and the following year released ‘In the Wake’ which entered the Amazon top 10 folk album chart alongside the likes of Tracy Chapman and Ben Howard. Of course, Al didn’t stop there. He released another Welsh album ‘Ar Gof a Chadw’ in 2011, and his most recent, entitled ‘Battles’ was released this year. His inspiration he says, comes from everyday life. “The things that happen, the people you meet, relationships you go through all shape my music. I try and make it so my songs are accessible to everyone”.
The title song off the ‘Battles’ album is a personal favourite to perform of Al’s. “It sums up a lot of the things you go through in any sort of career. It’s never easy but you get more satisfaction out of life when you’ve had to work a little bit harder to get it”.
No stranger to hard work, Al has performed alongside Jools Holland at Kew Gardens to an audience of around 8,000 people, and gained a personal invitation from Welsh songbird Cerys Matthews to perform with her at her Bangor show. When I asked how this personal invitation came about, Al replied with: “I think she’d just heard of my music because Wales isn’t that big, and the pool of musicians coming from Wales is even smaller. Everyone in the music scene tends to hear about each other”.
Currently touring universities across the UK as part of the Coffee House Sessions, Al Lewis is reaping the rewards of his hard work. “The reaction of the crowd is probably my favourite part of performing, when you see a few people mouthing the words, that’s pretty cool.”
To conclude our interview, there was just one more thing I had to find out. What was the most embarrassing song on the great Al Lewis’s iPod? “Probably The Hoosiers, Goodbye Mr A” he muttered.
You can listen to Make a Little Room from Al below…
Coffee House Sessions is a brand new touring circuit that provides music artists exposure to the student market via daytime performances in university coffee shops combined with extensive campus media.
Consisting of 40 universities from across the UK, Coffee House Sessions delivers two separate acoustic shows a day for the artist over a 10 day period and provides promotion through student media outlets such as student newspaper, student radio and student TV from each university.
With the use of the highly interactive website, new music fans can keep up to date with all the latest touring artists as well as interact, discuss and download new material.
Launching September 2013 and curated by Huw Stephens from Radio 1, Coffee House Sessions is an exciting promotional platform for both breaking and established artists, and the first project of its kind that brings live music back on to university campuses via a truly engaging format.