It was November 2014 when I first chanced upon virtuoso guitarist and singer-songwriter Elliott Morris, his engaging playing and personality during a short set supporting Paul Carrack at Preston Guild Hall (reviewed here) making a big impression.
I first interviewed Elliott in the summer of 2016, as he looked to spread the word ahead of the release of his debut LP, Lost & Found subsequently landing in 2017, followed by The Way is Clear in 2019, his star steadily rising.
Then came the pandemic, but while the regular live engagements were halted, this travelling troubadour – ‘half-English, half-Scottish, raised in Wales and Lincolnshire’ – remained busy, determined not to lose momentum, online lockdown-era streamed shows supplemented by guitar tuition and a little ‘noodling’ in his home studio in South-East London.
And the result is Something Worth Fighting For, due out on September 1st, further showcasing his ‘signature acoustic percussive technique, swooping soulful electric lines and explosive, distorted slide-guitar solos’, and Elliott’s songwriting and vocal abilities, its genre-spanning guests including the afore-mentioned Paul Carrack (Ace, Squeeze, Mike + The Mechanics, Eric Clapton) on Hammond organ.
As it is, Paul’s son Jack Carrack (drums) features in Elliott’s band, along with fellow mainstays Henry Webster (fiddle) and Elliott’s brother Bevan Morris(double/electric bass), their contributions on the new record complemented by those from Michael Manring (bass), Gráinne Brady (vocals/strings, also co-writing with Elliott), and Adrienne Nye(vocals).
On a 10-track album also featuring co-writes with Jack Shaw and Andy N. Taylor, Elliott promises a ‘celebration of love, hope and friendship,’ one written and recorded during and after lockdown, initially in his spare room, ‘a bit of gritty angst thrown in for good measure,’ the songs hopping between blues rock and folk, plus those soulful playing and slick acoustic guitar moments his fans have come to expect.
It was too soon for me to delve too deep into the record when we spoke, but I was already sold on the instrumental ‘Tonnau’, inspired by the Welsh coastline, apparently fast becoming a crowd favourite at live shows, described by Elliott as ‘a big chunk of fuzzy-Celtic-electro-dance-stomp-rock’.
“Ah, tonnau means waves in Welsh. It’s about those things I was missing in lockdown, being in those places where you feel that sort of grounding. Not to say I don’t feel at home in London – it’s my home and I love it to bits, I’m very lucky in the part of London I am to have that green space, and I can’t imagine what it would be like living in a tower block in the centre of town. And London did become very peaceful – you’d go out into parks, and it would be so quiet, and you’d be like, ‘Oh, wait, I remember why it’s this quiet, and why there are no planes going over.’ It was weird.
“But I grew up in Carmarthenshire, lived there 10 years, and didn’t go back as much as I wanted to.
Then, around 10 years ago, I got an email from a guy called Mike who runs a pub called the Pentre Arms in Llangrannog, and remember getting there, thinking, ‘I’ve been here before.’ It was deja vu but it was more certain than that. I spoke to my Mum and Dad, and they said I went there on school trips. It was just very circular to end up back there, gigging, and that was one of those I would look forward to in the diary every year I play there.”
In fact, Elliott had the Pentre Arms lined up for his next show when I went to press on this feature.
“There’s also an instrumental on my last album, the closing track, ‘The Pentre’, written about my gigs there. I’ve played there so many times – solo, as a duo with Jack, and us two with my brother as a trio … and we’ll have Henry as well this time.
“That track reflects that journey when you’re on the way there. Pentre means village in Welsh, it’s got this real community feel, and it was another of those places I missed in lockdown. And tonnau means waves in Welsh. Besides, you can only have one song called ‘The Pentre’!”
“What’s mad is that ‘The Pentre’ is a song we’ve played together probably over 100 times, yet Henry’s never been there. It will be really nice to finally play it on that stage.”
There’s plenty of catchy riffs, infectious rhythms and ear-worm choruses across the new LP, from an artist that’s grafted out something of a reputation on the acoustic scene, honing his craft from Orkney to Jersey, Belfast to Clonakilty, including headline shows as far afield as Germany, Holland, Ireland and Canada. Then there are all those major venues where he’s supported Paul Carrack, further supports including those with Frank Turner, Andy McKee, Seth Lakeman, Lau, Damien O’Kane and Ron Block, Albert Lee, Big Country, The Levellers, Ed Sheeran, Cara Dillon, and Eddi Reader.
Elliott was in Hither Green last time we chatted, but tells me he’s now ‘about half a mile up the road’ in Lee, ‘the other side of the tracks … under the bridge, a little closer to Blackheath.’ And he also gives guitar lessons at a school in Blackheath on afternoons, as well as teaching privately, online from home (something he feels wouldn’t even have been a thing pre-pandemic, but has continued despite the lifting of lockdown).
“That was really good. I don’t know what I’d have done otherwise. In those early days when people were kind of finding their feet with all of it, I’d log on for a lesson with one of my students – I teach students of all ages, from complete beginners to those doing their grade eight, and adult learners that have come back to the instrument – and they’d be surrounded by the rest of the family, because I was an outside face coming into their home! I’d have parents going, ‘Can we hang on a little longer after the lesson so I can do a bit?’ I’d be like, ‘I can’t, I’ve got another student!’ But I’d end up dialling back once their kid had gone to sleep, and they’d grab their child’s guitar, have a lesson themselves!”
The promo video for the new record was shot in an idyllic spot on the Isle of Skye, a regular stop-off for Elliott, one he was more than happy to take up the offer of performing at, post-virus restrictions.
“Having that long pause, people had either booked you prior to the pandemic or got in touch, saying, ‘When things can happen again, please come and visit.’ It was very odd dipping your toes back in the water, and I didn’t actually know how to book a gig anymore!’ Even this summer, so many festivals are still honouring 2020 lineups. If you email them, they say, ‘We’re still owing people gigs booked 18 months before the pandemic hit.’ For a while I couldn’t even begin to fathom how I would book tours or structure this the way I used to.
“The flipside is that it’s more flexible than it used to be. You can book at shorter notice, people still happy to come, because we’re in this sort of honeymoon period – we’ve missed it for so long. Although they’ve never heard of this or that guy, they’ll take a chance on them, see what’s what. And there was a gig on Skye where they contacted me, mid-lockdown, and said, ‘Please come up and see us.’ I booked that at the beginning of the year, off the back of finishing recording the album. I spent a couple of days there, and that (video) was recorded at the end of this little shingly beach, outside one of the venues I was playing (the Stein Inn, Waternish).
“They realised it’s quite far from London, so said, ‘Stick around a bit. I wanted to make myself a bit more useful than just doing the gig itself, and thought, ‘This place looks stunning, it’d be rude not to film here! So we did that and another couple of things we’ll put online these next few weeks.”
It’s been six years since we last spoke, and since then there have been three LP releases. How do you feel your recordings have changed over that period?
“I would say this one is certainly a natural progression from the last two. I feel it’s a bit ballsier, more powerful and gritty in places. I guess there’s a perfect storm thing happening, in part, between the fact I was wanting to experiment and come up with something new and fresh, but at the same time kind of borne out of necessity. I didn’t want it to be extremely explicit. It was recorded at home, but part of the parameters of recording this was that I needed to do something, so how am I going to make this possible? The subject matter and I guess my frustrations were then reflected in a slightly more DIY sound.
“I honestly wasn’t expecting it to be album worthy. It was just, ‘Let’s just make some noise, try and do something again.’ When things were going back to normal, I spoke to Mattie (Foulds), the producer, and said, ‘Can we see what’s here, and mix it?’ And he felt it didn’t sound like a lockdown album or iPhone notes. I mean it wasn’t iPhone notes, but you run the risk of it sounding a little too ‘homemade’ when recording in your spare room for the first time! Luckily, according to Mattie, I passed the audition!
“At the same time, I think there was a perfect storm between the subject matter mixed with the parameters of recording at home and a progression to want to be a little louder, a little bigger in sound, and I think some of that was missing playing with other people. I was like, ‘When I get back on stage, we’re gonna make so much noise, this is gonna be great!’”
As well as regular solo live streams, mid-lockdown, Elliott also kept himself busy by putting music on in care homes, additional needs schools, and so on via the Live Music Now charity.
“Luckily, I live very near to Henry (Webster). We’d only done one proper gig before lockdown, then the charity got in touch, said schools are going back, but don’t have anyone visiting. We can make it safe for you guys to meet up and perform livestream concerts, streaming into schools. That kept us fresh, and we also wrote an album as a duo that we’re going to record very soon.”
What’s more, after coronavirus restrictions were lifted in Summer 2021, Elliott’s band filmed a recording session in the bedroom of Jimi Hendrix’s late-‘60s Georgian flat in Brook Street, Mayfair, West London (opened to the public five years earlier after Heritage Lottery funding, along with the flat next door, where G.F. Handel lived and composed for 36 years), something he also shed light on.
“That was lovely, another of these mid-lockdown ‘what if’s. We’d been talking to them (the Handel House Trust), and they said, ‘Come and do some recording.’ We then got an email in June saying the museum was opening again, then closing from September for an enormous re-set (it re-opens next Spring). It’s Jimi Hendrix’s flat, left as he would have lived there. We were invited to film some videos, recorded a few songs, and it’s phenomenal.
“The magnitude of where we were didn’t really sink in while I was there, because we were recording, but afterwards we put some of his records on a vinyl player there, built to his spec, and just being in that space, then seeing videos of us playing there, that was very special – essentially going from writing and recording songs in my bedroom to writing and recording them in his bedroom. So yes, I guess the first time I recorded and played live with Jack and Henry for 16 months was actually in Hendrix’s bedroom! That still feels crazy saying it now, but at the time it was just the next step. It was what was possible at the time. How mad to think that the way it was possible to make music together and share it with people at that point in time was to record it in Jimi Hendrix’s bedroom!”
This LP campaign was very much an indie enterprise, it seems, and I see you’ve carried on with a crowdfunding initiative, despite being previously involved with the now defunct PledgeMusic direct-to-fan platform. Did you lose money back then?
“I lost about a grand, which wasn’t nice, but some bands lost £30,000 and never made that album, never recovering from that – not just financially, but being so disheartened, your entire fan-base getting behind you and remaining sympathetic but also having been burned by it and therefore understandably hesitant next time around.
“Luckily, my first campaign was absolutely fine, I had a really good campaign manager who loved it, and that’s kind of what you pay your commission for – having someone on your side, to hold your hand through a process that might be relatively new. I’d released EPs before, so knew the work going into it and what it was like to record in a studio, so it wasn’t completely alien, but it was nice having someone to help you talk to your audience, how to ask for funding or present yourself.
“With the second album, I needed less help, but the campaign manager changed about halfway through, the contact getting a little looser. Then – and I regret this so much – they managed to pay me twice for part of the process, which was thousands of pounds. I had this stupid honesty to send it back and say, ‘I think you’re wrong here.’ And they said, ‘Oh yeah, thanks. So sorry about that.’ Then the company folded, and the final amount of about £1,000, to cover the postage, unfortunately I never got back. It was awful, but I was able to fulfil every order.
“And here I am now with Indiegogo, and it’s the best way as an independent artist to get those pre-orders. And I don’t want anyone to feel like their money could be at risk and they wouldn’t get the product.”
As for Paul Carrack’s contribution, did your link with his son, Jack come through Paul, or was it Paul setting you up with Jack?
“A bit of both. I did two full tours with Paul and was the ‘go to’ support guy if they didn’t have anyone. He has a lot of say in who he chooses. Quite rare for a headliner. So I’m chuffed he calls on me!’ Jack played those two tours, we started playing together as a duo, and I remember arranging Lost and Found and saying to Jack, ‘I feel it needs something like what your dad does here,’ And he was like, ‘Why not just ask my dad?’ I didn’t want him to be like, ‘Oh, so that’s why you wanted to jam’ because that totally wasn’t the case! I love Jack’s playing! But he said, ‘why would you need to look for anyone else?’
“Paul’s very, very kind with his time and when we got to recording parts it would just be exactly what the track needed. And with this album, with me recording at home then people sending their parts, Jack recorded his drums at his dad’s studio and while he was there, Paul recorded his.
“I was up in the studio with Mattie, mixing, when Paul’s part came for a tune called ‘Come Back to Me’, which begins as more of a sort of Fleetwood Mac thing, kind of R&B bluesy thing, then rises up and is a bit more bit more rock‘n’roll. I remember Mattie going, ‘There’s nobody in the world that could play on this track better than he does! You’ve got the guy here that plays organ for Eric Clapton!’ When you’re in a studio, going through takes, there are bits where you’re like, ‘We should probably take that out’, or ‘They overplayed on that’, or ‘This fill’s slightly out of time.’ But when you get a tape from Paul Carrack, you drop it in at the start, click play, play it to the end, and it’s just spot on!”
(As it happens, four days after this feature landed, and eight days after we spoke, Elliott was back in tow with Paul Carrack again, called on late doors to support him at Southend-on-Sea’s Cliffs Pavilion. I’d like to think it was all down to the powerful influence of a WriteWyattUK plug, but can’t be so sure.)
Then of course there’s your brother, Bevan. In fact, all your core bandmates are clearly integral to all this.
“Yeah, in lockdown, it was so hard to knuckle down and write anything when there was no gig on the horizon. I was feeling starved for inspiration and kind of lost that sense of direction. But that was okay because everyone had, and I guess I did a lot more improvising and playing guitar for fun, just nonsense noodling, really good for exercising that guitar muscle, but at the same time very loose.
“Every so often, I would record a voice note or little idea and maybe ping it to my brother, or Jack or Henry, saying, ‘Is there anything? Is this anything?’ And because it was an exploration and I didn’t have gigs on the horizon a lot of the time, I was like, ‘Have I heard this before? Does this sound like me? Does it fit with my set and other stuff I’ve written?’ But then I told myself, ‘There is no set at the moment, there’s no gig, there’s no trying to sneak in a new song amongst the old, so just write for the sake of it!’.
“And it wasn’t until coming out of that, going, ‘Okay, I’m going to gig again,’ that I found this folder on my computer, and realised there was a whole album there. I recorded all of it as a scratch demo, sent it through to Jack, Bev and Henry, the core band, and said, ‘Does this work together? Is this an album?’ And the general consensus was, ‘Yeah, let’s get this down!’
For all the latest from Elliott Morris, fresh from recent UK dates with Henry Webster and Jack Carrack at Stroud Brewery Bar and the Pentre Arms, Llangrannog, then a trip to Germany with Henry, Jack and Bevan Morris to play B&B Fiddler’s Inn, Neuruppin (Friday, August 26th), including forthcoming dates, latest news and release details, plus Something Worth Fighting For pre-order links (the album comes out to pre-order backers on September 1st, with a full digital album release on December 2nd), head to www.elliottmorris.co.uk. You can also keep in touch with Elliott via his Facebook page.
And for this website’s September 2016 interview with Elliott Morris, head here.