Music interview: Jeanes finds his niche at last

At the age of 50 Russell Jeanes might not have expected to find himself being raved about as a new unsigned talent but, having caught the ear of BBC 6 Music's Tom Robinson and Cerys Matthews, the singer songwriter from East Morton is enjoying his spell in the limelight.
Russell Jeanes' EP has been played on BBC 6 Music.Russell Jeanes' EP has been played on BBC 6 Music.
Russell Jeanes' EP has been played on BBC 6 Music.

The surprise rush of interest has been generated by an EP of pastoral folk songs, called Sleeping Leaves, that Jeanes recorded with an international cast of female singers that he found on the internet.

“I used to write all sorts of electronica when I was younger, I used to be really into Kraftwerk and early Human League, things like that, as a lot of people were when I was that sort of age growing up,” he says. “But I always really liked a lot of acoustic stuff as well. I grew up listening to Simon and Garfunkel and people that my parents used to play when I was younger; I secretly always liked that sort of music as well but it wasn’t cool and trendy to say that you liked that when I was growing up. I wrote that sort of stuff as well but I didn’t tell anybody about it. It was more the electronic stuff that I was pushing and I used to send that out to John Peel back in the day but never really got anywhere with that. Then, as I’ve got older and little more self-assured, I thought ‘I really love some of the acoustic stuff that I’ve done and I’ve got the confidence now to have a go at doing it’.”

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Ten years ago, after the birth of his second son, Jeanes began to dust down some of his old songs and poems and set about doing something in the vein of Vashti Bunyan, Linda Perhacs and Nick Drake.

“I had a friend who lived by York railway museum and I used to go over to his house and we’d sit down with an acoustic guitar and work out some guitar patterns. Although I can play guitar a little bit I’ve always been a keyboards man on my electronic stuff, so I worked with him on my guitar patterns and honed them into something then uploaded them to Soundcloud with me singing over the top.

“By chance I found this lovely girl singer called Catherine Hershey, who’s from Paris. I clicked on a link, heard one of her songs and thought ‘This is absolutely amazing, this is the kind of singer that I want to sing my songs’. I never envisaged me singing them because I’ve not got that much of a singing voice. It’s OK but not what I wanted. I had this pure female, really crystal clear voice in mind that I wanted to sing my songs and her voice was perfect.”

Following some email correspondence Hershey agreed to sing the songs Simple Jayne and Barley, Hops and Yeast, recording the vocals in her apartment in Paris.

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After “hundreds of hours” of internet research, Jeanes also came across US singer Emily Grace Zornado and Léa Decan, a Belgian vocalist based in Paris, who sang respectively his songs Smiles With Her Eyes and Trees Hug Bees.

The songs themselves were inspired by Jeanes’ fondness for the Yorkshire landscape. “I’m a nature lover,” he says. “My kids are always taking the mickey out of me when I go out on walks and I’m pointing out this, that and the other. It might sound a bit naff and a bit twee but what I’ve tried to do with the songs and the music is to really capture some of the magic I see within the natural world.

“Two books that really inspired me were The Secret Life of Plants and The Secret Life of Trees. I wouldn’t say that I go around tree-hugging or anything like that but if you’re ever out at dawn walking through the woods and that first morning light as it comes through the trees and the rustle through the leaves, it’s a magical thing. I’m a fisherman and being on a riverbank early in the morning, the trees are rustling and the swans are coming into land on the water on the lilies, it’s a magical thing, and that’s what I was trying to capture with the words and the music.”

With minor embellishments of birdsong and sounds from the natural world, Jeanes began uploading the songs to the BBC Introducing website. They were quickly picked up by Yorkshire DJs Alan Raw and Jericho Keys, and then BBC 6 Music’s Tom Robinson and Cerys Matthews.

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Another enthusiast, Helen Meissner, has now released the EP on her label Folkstock Records. Jeanes, a self-employed graphic designer and videographer, hopes to follow Sleeping Leaves with a single featuring a male vocalist. “The songs are similar but different,” he says. “They’re probably a bit more like Bon Iver or somebody like that, still in a similar vein but with strings and acoustic.

“I was hoping to release a single and then maybe another EP and just see where it goes from there.

“There’s been a lot of interest,” he says, pointing to a recent contact he’s had in the USA. “I’ve been played in Germany and a few other places across Europe, and Canada. It’s an interesting, exciting little journey, really.” or

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