Feature: John Smith – My 5 Biggest Influences

Photo Credit: Rose Cousins

Welcome to TFFT’s latest feature, ‘My 5 Biggest Influences’…

We’re talking to some of our favourite upcoming and established artists, and delving into their greatest influences and inspirations, to see how bands, records, tracks, friends & family, hobbies and even environments have impacted on their work and music

Our latest guest is the sensational John Smith, who releases his brand new album Hummingbird, on 5th October – more about the record below, but first, here are John’s 5 Biggest Influences…

My Father & Brother

They got me into music right from the start. They both have huge record collections; we listened to Muddy Waters, Led Zeppelin and Paul Simon downstairs; in my brother’s room it was Tom Waits and Nick Drake. Later on my dad gave me the Bert & John cassette and I became a folk musician.

Tom Waits

I have several songwriting heroes; Neil Young, Randy Newman, Jackson Browne…yet still, Tom Waits cuts into me like a knife every time. Play me a better song than Train Song and I’ll eat my shoes!


I love the place. Each year I go to Glasgow for Celtic Connections and to Ullapool for the guitar festival. Occasionally I get to visit Edinburgh or head into the countryside. I always come away with a new song and a delicious hangover.

Astral Weeks by Van Morrison

I was somehow surprised to find out that so many people rate this album as the best ever. Not because it isn’t the perfect masterpiece; but because I have had so many beautiful experiences with it, that it feels like the key to a world that is somehow all mine. I don’t know any other record that makes me feel that way. I still go through really intensive periods of listening every day and deciphering its mysteries.


I love being on planes. Sometimes for work I have to fly every other day, but it never gets old. Somewhere between the drone of the engines and the potential for oblivion there’s a unique chance to write something in the notebook that will later become a song. Driving is completely different; being in cars is a downer.

The recent album announcement of Hummingbird was also accompanied by a personal message from John which you can read below…

‘Ever since my teenage epiphany at the altar of Folk Music, hearing Nick Drake, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn for the first time, I have been a devotee. The six strings of my guitar have granted me access to a sacred space between things, the unconscious interweaving sensations that allow us that gentle buzz on hearing a good folk song.

I’ve been immeasurably fortunate to open for and even play with some of my heroes and influences in the folk world; John Renbourn, Davy Graham, Martin Carthy, Norma Waterson, Nic Jones, Joan Baez, Wizz Jones, John Martyn, Danny Thompson, Martin Simpson and Paul Brady.

Their work and their generosity of spirit has been a constant reminder that I must keep playing, recording and touring, no matter the cost. There is always work to be done in the service of good music.

It was with this in mind that I returned to Sam Lakeman’s Somerset studio in March of 2018, two years since recording ‘Headlong’ in that same place, to commit six of my favourite folk songs to tape, alongside one cover version and three original songs.

With my guitars and notebook, I sat for a week and dug into these songs, some of which I have performed hundreds of times, but never recorded. I always chose instead to concentrate on my own writing. If I didn’t record these songs now, representing the Folk Music that I love, I felt I was going to regret it.

The tracks quickly took on their own shape in Sam’s able hands. I invited several good friends to join me in this process: Cara Dillon, John McCusker and Ben Nicholls. Each a giant in their own right, they offered subtle and deeply nuanced performances to what I feel are my most restrained recordings so far.

Sam and I adopted the motto ‘less is more’. We all know that a Folk Song’s clarity of purpose is exactly the reason why it has been played in pubs, living rooms and concert halls for hundreds of years.

I made this record for myself, for my heroes and for you.

John Smith
Somerset, May 2018’

Forthcoming tour dates are as follows…

04 Oct – Aberdeen, The Lemon Tree
05 Oct – Ullapool, Guitar Festival
10 Oct – Cork IE, Coughlan’s
11 Oct – Cork IE, Coughlan’s
12 Oct – Limerick IE, Dolan’s
13 Oct – Dublin IE, Unitarian Church
14 Oct – Bangor NI, Studio Theatre
17 Oct – Chipping Norton, The Theatre
20 Oct – Whitby, Musicport Festival
21 Oct – Liverpool, St George’s Hall
22 Oct – Gateshead, Sage Gateshead
24 Oct – Leeds, The Wardrobe
25 Oct – Sheffield, Picture House Social
26 Oct – Thames, Ditton The Ram Club
30 Oct – Newbury, Arlington Arts Centre
01 Nov – Bury, The Met Arts Centre
02 Nov – Scunthorpe, Cafe Indiependent
03 Nov – Halifax, Square Chapel
04 Nov – York, The Crescent
07 Nov – Middlesbrough, Town Hall
09 Nov – Bristol, Rough Trade
10 Nov – Plymouth, Barbican Theatre
11 Nov – Dartmouth, The Flavel
12 Nov – Exeter, Phoenix
14 Nov – Southampton, The Brook
15 Nov – London, St Pancras NEW Church (Bloomsbury)
16 Nov – Brighton, Unitarian Church
17 Nov – Guildford, St Mary’s Church
20 Nov – Paris FR, Le Point Ephemere
21 Nov – Leuven BE, 30CC
22 Nov – Waregem BE, De Schakel
23 Nov – Beveren BE, Cultuurcentrum Ter Vesten
24 Nov – Evergem BE, Cultuurcentrum Evergem
28 Nov – Zurich CH, Bogen F
29 Nov – Leopoldsburg BE, Cultuurcentrum Leopoldsburg
02 Dec – Berlin DE, Kantine am Berghain
03 Dec – Munich DE, Ampere


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