Guitarist and singer Nick Mulvey is trying to explain his sound to Clash.
“It all starts from the right hand,” he reveals. “The pattern of the right hand gives you the space you need to create the rest of the music.”
It’s this space and rhythm that makes Mulvey’s music so tantalising. His fingers flutter over the strings at lightning speed, bringing with them energetic and interesting chord structures that comprise the foundation of his excellent songs. It’s as mesmerising to watch as it is hear.
Mulvey shies away from the pigeonholes of genre, and it’s easy to see why, with an eclectic collection of influences coming from West African music, dance and folk. He started with the classics – Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits – along with hip-hop and dance before discovering sub-Saharan music 10 years ago.
This concoction, along with the likes of Philip Glass and Steve Reich, and his days as hang player in the Mercury-nominated Portico Quartet (they lost out to Elbow), has morphed into a textual tapestry: minimalist, percussive, but ultimately great song-writing partnered with his smooth Cambridge-twanged vocals.
It’s an impressive sound that’s already seen him support the likes of Willy Mason and Lianne La Havas, with a Laura Marling tour coming up.
“I need to have that sense of intimacy in my songs and playing that’s intuitive,” he says, supping a beer in the east London sun.
“I used to study songs like Lennon’s ‘Jealous Guy’, which has what I call the lemon and sugar – the toughest part to get right, like that little bit of harmony that brings it all together, but it makes it the sweetest. And people like Nick Drake – I just think about what it would be like to get to his level. But then I bring in these West African sounds, like Gnawa from Morocco. It’s music based on rituals. They just manage to create this sense of place and time with minimal rhythms.”
Simplicity is key to Mulvey’s music and he picks his collaborators carefully – Seb Rochford and improv cellist Hannah Marshall being two on EP ‘Fever To The Form’, produced by Dan Carey (Steve Mason, Bat For Lashes). Carey’s also lined up for the debut album, due in early 2014, so we can expect great things from that right hand.
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What: Rhythmic West African-inspired guitar folk
Get 3 Songs: ‘Fever To The Form’ (above), ‘House Of St Give Me’, ‘Lonely Moon’
Fact: Mulvey lost a toe while climbing a bird hide rope ladder in flip-flops. “I slipped and tore the blighter off.” Ouch.
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Words: Gemma Hampson
Photo: Neil Bedford
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