Ffred Jones is a rising Welsh singer-songwriter who graduated from Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts in 2006 where his fellow students included the likes of Eugene McGuinness and Nancy Elizabeth Cunnlife. Last year he released an EP recorded at Rockfield studios and made a memorable appearance SWN 2008. We recently met up with him after he totally wowed us at a ‘Space Lounge’ session recorded at Cardiff’s Space Studios.
You’re a very accomplished guitar player. How long have you been playing and how did you go about it?
I first started getting into music when I was about 12 or 13. My sister is a bit older than me and she was into Blur, although I was more of an Oasis guy. I wanted to give it a go and asked my folks for a guitar. They said no, but a year later I asked again and finally agreed. I got a teacher, Matt Sage, straight away but the first thing he told me was that the guitar was set up horrifically badly. So he took all the strings off and sent me to the shop to get it set up properly. He is an awesome guitar player, primarily Jazz.
So did you start singing straight away once you started playing guitar?
Secretly! Once I started playing I began to sing along to songs such as the Stereophonics. I got rumbled by my sister and I was mortified. However, she said I wasn’t that bad so I got some singing lessons as well. I got a bit of jip I school for that, but once I started getting quite good that soon stopped. My singing wasn’t great to start with and it’s taken me a long time to get my voice feeling and sounding how I like. It’s only in the last few years I’ve been really happy with it. When I was at college there were a lot of singers doing these crazy things with their voices such as falsetto flips (a technique whereby the voice jumps an octave higher to kick into falsetto). I started messing around with my ‘head voice’ and found using things like that helped me sing high really easily.
You went to college in Liverpool how did you decide to go there to study music?
I was going to study Psychology and Philosophy but my subject teacher Sophie James said “no you’re not, what are you doing?!?” I applied to various colleges, but Liverpool incorporated performing arts and included plenty of singing and playing. It was set up by Paul McCartney its kind of the Brit school, but less so. It’s not that big about 500 people.
Is it a bit of a crazy hot house of activity?
Definitely! Everyone’s into something and it’s a really good melting pot. We got taught the whole range of musical techniques, including song writing. Our lecturer for that was Gary Marx who used to be in the Sisters of Mercy. It was a bit bizarre as he would tell you to go and write a song and then come back and perform it for the class. For instance one week we had to go and write a James Bond theme. So we sat around talking about what made them work and then the next week we had to come in and play your song to the rest of the group.
I played in a band with Eugene McGuinness most of the time I was at college called Carmen Vega. We were pretty good, but Eugene wanted to go his own way. I wrote some songs while I was there with Nancy Elizabeth Cunnliffe. I also worked on a few projects with Matthew Murphy who went on to be in the Wombats.
You came back to Wales after college.
I did move to Manchester for a while, but for various reasons decided to come back to my home for a while and in hindsight I’m glad I did. The Cardiff/Newport music scene is really friendly and really good.
How does Newport differ from Cardiff?
It has a really good metal scene and all things heavy, but not so much for chilled out singers like me. There are some open mike nights, but they can be variable to say the least.
Cardiff is quite different. I’ve met some great people on the scene such as Rowan Ligget who runs nights at the Gate and 10 Feet Tall the nights he runs are really good. I really like the guys from ‘Jam with RoBina’ who are based in Pontypridd. They are quite a bizarre duo, but the singer can sing like there is no tomorrow
What sort of songwriters do you admire?
I was really into Jack Johnson, but he’s let me down lately. Benjamin Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie and I’m always going back to Dylan. I’m not really influenced by anyone in particular just an amalgum of people. Some people have said they can hear Coldplay in my work which at first I didn’t get but I have listened to their music a lot so it might be in there in a subtle way. I also like the Kings of Leon. I saw them a the CIA a couple of years ago and that was a really really good gig.
How do you go about writing songs such as ‘Midwives & Mortuaries’?
Most of the time I’ll strum some chords, maybe in a different time signature, such as ¾ time, sing some nonsense and then when I get a line or two things follow from there. I’d been watching some ‘end of days’ type film The song was about you start with the midwife end in the mortuary, that was the theme of the song. I’m not the sort of person who sets out to write a song about a particular subject.
How was the SWN festival?
It was cool to be asked rather than having to approach them myself. There was some really diverse music at the festival, but with Huw Stevens you have to expect that. It was a really intensive session all over the city all weekend. I played at the Glo Bar which was great. It’s a really nice venue. I would love to play some more festivals in 2009, the Green Man Festival would be good.
What sort of venues do you like to play?
10 Feet Tall is a great little venue and it has a real stage which when you sit down to play like I do that really helps. I did my EP launch in Buffalo and that was an awesome night. The Space Lounge at Space Studios that was really memorable. That evening is what Ffred Jones is really all about.
Tell us about the EP
I decided to record it at Rockfield which I know is quite expensive but I had a bit of cash and the studios are really lovely. They had accommodation for 16 which was a bit more than we needed! We recorded it over 2 days, some of the tracks were recorded live. I had a real phobia about singing in live in the studio and went all dramatic, but it turned out fine.
You play most of the time by yourself with just one person on percussion. Any plans to expand to play with other musicians?
I usually play with Adam on Percussion, but we occasionally have a violin player and bass. I enjoy keeping it fairly raw, but if things develop we will probably expand the band with Adam switching to drums and calling up various musicians I have in mind.
Future plans for 2009?
Plans for 2009 include looking for a publishing deal which is looking promising at the moment as there is a company interested in me who will be coming to see me play in London. So fingers crossed for that one.
I am also planning to put on a charity event with my sister in March for the Prince’s Trust where I’ll playing along with various other bands.
Ffred’s EP is available from his website and is also on iTunes. Keep a watchful eye on our gig guide for details of Ffred’s forthcoming gigs. Ffred Jones is definitely a Welsh singer with a bright future.