Interview with Michael J Tinker

Michael J Tinker picFolkWords recently met up with singer-songwriter Michael J. Tinker and talked to him about his planned album project ‘Songs for the Voiceless’, designed to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.

FW: How did the initial idea for project come about?

MJT: “Basically it sprang from my wild imagination. I’ve been singing the song ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ by singer-songwriter Eric Bogle for some while. The song tells the story of a young soldier maimed at the Battle of Gallipoli during the First World War. It also includes the melody and a few lines of lyrics of the widely known Australian ballad, ‘Waltzing Matilda’

“The strength Eric Bogle’s song is its vivid descriptions of the pointless destruction and waste at Gallipoli and as my great granddad was at Gallipoli there was an immediate personal connection. The original idea came to me in 2012, so as 2014 is going to be the centenary I thought what an opportunity to create a meaningful album.  I suspect there will be a lot going on around the centenary so it occurred to me I’d better get organising before everyone else started organising ahead of me.”

FW: Can you tell us which artists are involved so far?

MJT: “At the moment Jon Boden has contributed a track. Then there’s Gilmore & Roberts, The Young'uns, Tom Oakes and Ian Stephenson of KAN have all agreed to join in, and of course there’s me. Andy Bell has agreed to produce and Haystack Records will distribute the album. The aim is to have an album of 10 to 12 songs sourced through material from the vast wealth of poetry and songs that surround The First World War plus original work from the participating artists.

FW: Will the album feature songs about the well-known battles or events?

MJT: “The working title so far is ‘Songs for the Voiceless’. There are lots of opinions about the war. Time has changed a lot of opinion. Was it glorious, were men killed for nothing, were the generals idiots, did they care about the men, was it a disaster? Whatever the results of the war and what people think, what matters is what happened to the people. I want the album to be about the people.

“The song ‘The Yeoman’s Son’ is about how a mother felt on hearing of her son’s death. It’s not just the loss of a son, it’s about all the questions that come up after the event. Who is going to do the work in the fields? Who is going to bring in the harvest? The song is more than her receiving the immediate news. It’s what happens next. In some families all the children were killed. The losses extended to entire villages and the social and economic impact was in many cases catastrophic.”

FW: So there won’t be any ‘jolly off to war’ or 'anti-war' themes?

MJT: “I actually want to make the album from a neutral point of view – not from the perspective that war is glorious nor that war is wrong. I want to concentrate on the people and what happened to them. I want to cover the impact across all walks of life - soldiers, civilians, young and old, doctors and nurses whose lives were forever changed. I want to tell their stories whatever the themes.”

“Folk music is filled with songs that tell stories and I retain a constant passion for such songs. To tell the stories of people that cannot tell their own tales or bring life into unheard stories is a definite driving force behind the album.”

FW: Do you think the centenary will bring a resurgence of interest in the war?

MJT: “The government is putting money into projects and the Imperial War Museum is running a number of events and exhibitions. It’s certainly going to be well profiled and there’s bound to be considerable media coverage. I don’t know whether there will be a public resurgence of interest in the war or whether everyone will care. With the album it’s not that I want to appeal to everyone. Not everyone likes every album but maybe we can tell some unheard or untold stories and give voices to those who have none.

“I don’t think we should forget the war or its impact. It was such a huge cataclysm - it saw the collapse of the British Empire, dramatic changes in warfare and an eventual re-drawing of the maps of Europe. And if you look at the mistakes made in parcelling up places it set many of the wheels in motion for the Second World War. I think we should learn about it and I think younger generations should realise what it meant to those that lived through it and afterwards.”

FW: Do you anticipate using any of the familiar First World War songs?

MJT: “We could certainly think about using some of the themes from those old songs. Many of them reappeared in the Second World War, indeed many of them still resonate today. I was talking to Tom Oates and he was thinking about using bagpipes to bring some themes in that way. I’ve been reading a book called ‘The Twelve Days of the Somme’ and that lists a number of songs the soldiers sang to keep their spirits up. If it works there’s no reason why we can’t re-visit them and perhaps include just an echo or two.”

FW: What’s your schedule for the album?

MJT: “Were going to schedule recording during early January 2014 to fit in with everyone’s work and other commitments. We’re looking to release the album in early November to coincide with the centenary. We have a launch planned in Manchester on Friday 7th November 2014 followed by a week-long touring schedule.”

“Recording an album is expensive so I’m going down the Kick Starter route to build the album on donations. All the money donated will go towards paying artist and studio fees. The idea remains the same: ‘to help to give a voice to the voiceless’, so if the project can raise the money we need that would be fantastic. There’s more information about 'Songs for the Voiceless' on my website:"

FW: Thank you Michael, we wish you much success.



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