The deeply traditional and the highly personal often intersect in the songs of David Nigel Lloyd. He has performed in folk venues in the British Isles, Canada and the US. Accompanying himself on octar and guitars, DNL was an Official Showcase Performer at the 2011 Folk Alliance International Conference in Memphis, TN. With five critically acclaimed albums to his name, he is currently at work on four projects due for release in 2018 and 2019. Born in Mombasa, Kenya in 1954, he now lives in Northern California.
To join the “strongly individual musical and poetic mind . . . at work here,” [David Kidman/beGlad] please, sign up for DNL Calling, his mailing list, to the right. You’ll get three free mp3 song-downloads for doing so.
Me? Acid Folk? Taking the Litmus Test
by David Nigel Lloyd
Yes, in 2016 I was described as “an iconoclastic loner of Acid Folk.”
Spyros Hytiris of the Greek National Radio station on Corfu was interviewing me for Magic Mixture, his weekly two-hour music magazine program. He had offered his description as if it was a given. Something I knew well about myself.
I couldn’t help but flash back then to 1967. I remembered how, when I was 13, I wanted to run away to India to become a sitar player. A fleeting thought.
Spyros and I resumed our e-mail Q & A in preparation for his November 2nd episode, “ΣΥΓΧΡΟΝΗ Acid Folk” (“Acid Folk in the New Millennium”). Half of the program, bearing the subtitle “Folk and Beyond,” was devoted to my 5th album, Rivers Kings and Curses. Of note: Acid Folk pioneer Robin Williamson, co-founder of the Incredible String Band, is among the album’s guest musicians.
“Lloyd,” the British magazine Folk Roots once wrote, “uses traditional tunes and themes where it suits his purposes.” Riffing on that for my 2015 bio, I added: “The olde Anglo-Celtic pantheon of demon knights, faerie queens and divine drunkards are often found wandering the deserts, mountains and boomtowns of California where [I have] lived for 35 years.” I called myself a Non-Traditional Traditionalist.
But . . . there were always songs that didn’t fit the description. On Rivers Kings and Curses, I sing a honky-tonk lament in which a Bronze Age Irish berserker pursues me through the hot and dusty streets of a Southern California oil town [“Cúchulainn in Bakersfield”]. I also sing a faux jazz ballad [“The River Thames on Fire”] about trying to license my second album, An Age of Fable, to a UK label in 1988.
The whole Ugly Duckling notion of my being an Acid Folkie who never knew it, brought 1967 back into sharp focus. There was an upstairs spare room in our home. It was stacked high with strange record albums. Periodically, over the next few years, I would raid the room in order to feed the little suitcase record player in my bedroom.
This was our diet. For starters: classical Hindustani music from Ram Narayan, Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar. There were field recordings from Peru and Indonesia made by David Lewiston; and electronic realizations of The Tibetan Book of the Dead and Les Fleurs du mal by Pierre Henry and Ruth White respectively.
I found albums chock-full of whaling songs, sheep-sheering songs and outlaw ballads: marvelous stirring stuff. There were future classic Acid Folk albums by Pearls Before Swine, the Incredible String Band and Karen Beth; free jazz from Sun Ra (and his Arkestra!); country blues from Big Bill Broonzy; Classical guitar mastery from Ernesto Bitetti and Rey de la Torre. And then, there was the weird stuff.
All this music spoke to me of something broken, haunted and distant. I abandoned all plans of becoming a biologist. All I wanted to do from then on was to listen and respond. I taught myself to play guitar and to write songs.
In 1974, I met Robin Williamson in a Toronto record shop. He and I talked about songs and poetry for 20 minutes. “Keep in touch,” Williamson urged as he headed back to his hotel room. He might as well have said— Go to work.
A year later I was in Los Angeles with a notebook full of original songs beginning a recording project that would take me into the LA Punk / New Wave scene, as far from Acid Folk as one might imagine. Except that at least a quarter of our very loud music stubbornly if unconsciously referenced that upstairs spare room.
And of course, anybody who mentioned Acid Folk in 1978 would have been laughed out of skinny-tie hipdom.
Not surprisingly, when that whole scene collapsed in the early 80s, I went acoustic. Not knowing that my grandfather Tom had been a textbook version of a Lancashire traditional singer, I began to dip into the indigenous music of the British Isles. Perhaps I was homesick. Perhaps I liked how well it went over with audiences. Perhaps I liked how well I understood those old old songs.
But, why —I was asked— do you not treat traditional material traditionally?
I’m a Non-Traditional Traditionalist —I replied— That’s why. Surely.
Early in the 1990s, Spike Stewart began work on one of the strangest feature films ever made: Shakespeare’s Plan 12 From Outer Space. He asked me to rewrite the music to Twelfth Night’s seven songs. I knew what he needed. Without even thinking about it, I returned metaphorically to that upstairs spare room. I wrote all the music in one afternoon; recorded demos that evening; and sent them off to Spike next morning. They are all in the film. So am I.
Who am I kidding? I am an iconoclastic loner of Acid Folk.