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root salad f16

Braithwaite-Kilcoyne The man with too long a name talks to Tim Chipping


Despair. “And yet neither of my parents are particularly big Leonard Cohen fans! I’ve never heard either of them play Leonard Cohen songs. In fact, Leonard Cohen seems to be something my mum would actively dislike. She’s always having a go at me for singing miserable songs and that seems to be Leonard Cohen in a nutshell. It’s a curi- ous thing.”

ohen isn’t a completely new face. For some years he’s been one third of the band Granny’s Attic with George Sansome and Lewis Wood. At the risk of giving a backhanded compli- ment, we don’t recall being bowled over by a virtuosic box player back when the group were nominated for the 2014 BBC Young Folk Award. Have you been practis- ing ever since?


“Well, I’ve been to uni all that time I suppose. I did a music degree at Leeds uni- versity and spent a lot of time with Pete Coe as part of that course, and I’ve learnt a hell of a lot from him. Notionally he was a melo - deon teacher but we spent more time learn- ing tunes together and a lot of songs too.”

hey don’t play them like they used to, do they? The old tunes. These young people just don’t do English traditional music the way it used to be done. Except this one. Emerging from the West Midlands with a box style rarely heard since the glory days of Trailer and Topic records, Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne was this year’s quiet hit of the British festi- vals. And it looks as if he’s here to stay.


“I’m a melodeon and anglo concertina player and a singer, and I play mainly English traditional songs and tunes,” Cohen explains by way of a formal introduction. “That’s mainly what I do.”

Given his dexterous, ornamented tech- nique (he plays like he has ten fingers on each hand) and an evident fondness for the industrial ballads, one might assume Cohen came from a folk family where it was only a matter of time before he chose his dynastic instrument.

“No, it wasn’t a folk household at all. I took up the violin when I was six but that wasn’t due to pushy parents or anything. They were offering lessons at school and it took my fancy. And I found the stuff I was

enjoying the most was the simple folk tunes. And so I started learning those; got involved in a young person’s folk collective in Herefordshire called Tunerights, and that got me my first ever trip to a folk festival – which was Bromyard. That was the first time I ever saw a concertina, and I was hooked. So I got a concertina when I was about twelve and it was downhill from there.”

So you really had no exposure to the traditional arts before then?

“Well I was speaking to Brian Peters about this a couple of months ago and he did some of the music – on concertinas and melodeons – for Spongebob Squarepants, which was the cartoon of my childhood. So he would’ve been the first box player I’d ever heard. I do remember when I was learning my first couple of simple tunes I was thinking, ‘this sounds familiar’. And now I realise why – it was because it was on Spongebob Squarepants.”

A fine tradition of subliminal folk indoctrination that began with Bagpuss. Peppa Pig really needs to up her trad game.

If you’re wondering about the name then yes, he is named after the Prophet of

“I was predominantly a tune player until I was about seventeen. I was very shy, I wouldn’t have dared to sing in public before then. But I remember the very first time I sang in public on my own was also my first solo gig. I had a little spot supporting John Kirkpatrick, and he’d been encouraging me to find my voice.”

And is that also where you learned your legs-planted-far-apart melodeon stance? “Maybe it is! A few people have said that. I think it’s a very good melodeon stance.”

But why this music? Why these songs? “That’s my bag. That’s what I really

enjoy. I’ve got a lot of those old LPs. And one of my biggest influences early on when I’d just started on the concertina was seeing Spiers & Boden. That was what persuaded me to take up the melodeon as well – see- ing John Spiers. He’s a spectacular player, still one of my biggest heroes.”

We’re conducting this interview in Sid- mouth during FolkWeek. Given people’s enthusiastic response to your debut album it’s possible you could be playing here for the rest of your life. Is that an exciting thought or a thoroughly depressing one?

“I can’t see myself leaving folk music.

It’s what I love. I can see this being some- thing I do till I die.”

You can hear a track on this issue’s

fRoots 66 compilation.


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