Folkster Johnny Flynn: On the road but grounded

Photo: Steve Gullick/Wikimedia Commons

Although it has been three years since Johnny Flynn last released an album with the Sussex Wit, the London-based folkster has been far from idle.

Since the release Been Listening in 2010, Flynn has starred in a Shakespeare Globe Theatre production of Richard the Third; performed in Twelfth Night at the Apollo Theatre in the West End; composed the soundtrack to American indie film A Bag of Hammers; and he has been filming alongside Anne Hathaway in Kate Barker-Froyland’s new film Song One, which is in cinemas next year.

To top it all off, he got married to Bea Minns and became a father.

Last week saw the release of Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit’s third LP, Country Mile, and the band has just embarked on a European tour which includes a date in Whelan’s, Dublin. You’d have to wonder, how is Flynn not absolutely exhausted?

“I guess I’m pretty tired,” he says, “but I think I’m just at a point where I’m kind of learning to slow down a bit…It’s kind of invigorating. I like the challenge.”

Flynn seems to be making the most of the whole experience.

“I just recently went from filming in Switzerland to going on tour in America – doing a night shoot and then flying through the day to New Orleans and then going on stage,” he says.

“It kind of seems almost worth it to have both experiences. I’m sure I won’t get to do that again so I’m kind of taking some risks at the moment.”

It’s an exciting time for the multitalented 30-year-old.

Naturally, such a stretched schedule poses a difficulty for negotiating time with his wife and son.

“I feel heartbroken about leaving my son at home. [But] I love being on tour and I love playing for people and it’s just how it has to be. It is hard.”

While on tour in the States three years ago, Flynn suffered from severe panic attacks. The birth of his son seems to have grounded the young father and given him direction creatively as well.

“There’s fundamental change in everything that I’m doing and where my concentration is…It’s been really inspiring. It’s like another point of focus other than yourself, which is a relief.

“The level of compassion that rises in you as a father [influences everything]. I feel myself connected to things with a fatherly energy now, which is nice. And it’s strange because I saw that strong element in my own father and kind of wondered how he became like that. He had five kids so I guess that was quite strong in him.”

Flynn’s father (stage actor Eric Flynn) died in 2001. Although he doesn’t belong to any religious organisation, Flynn found comfort in spirituality.

“I guess there’s always been a kind of spiritual dimension to my life. At least for the last 10 or 12 years – since my dad died. I feel like I [have] grown confidence with engaging with it, and it’s always been there while I’ve been making music. But it seems okay now to talk about it openly.”

Flynn says that spirituality is closely connected to creativity: “You’re summoning something from nothing into being, drawing it up from your subconscious.”

The songwriter also draws influence from literature and has often cited Shakespeare as an important figure in his lyric writing.

For Country Mile, the award-winning travel writer Robert Macfarlane was very influential.

“He writes amazing books about going on journeys in the wilderness,” Flynn says. “I’ve always been obsessed with this idea of being in the wilderness and being in nature and relating to it and where that puts you.”

Flynn says that finding Macfarlane’s writing and philosophies was “a huge relief”.

“It was encouraging really to come across his books,” he says.

Although the two have never actually met, Flynn has crossed paths with the author before: Macfarlane has listened to Johnny Flynn’s music on some of his recent travels and mentioned the songwriter in the acknowledgments of one of his last books.

“It’s a nice correlation because I just discovered his books at the same time. It seems like a nice meeting point,” Flynn says.

Johnny Flynn plays Whelan’s next Wednesday. Is there anything he’s looking forward to when he comes to town?

“I’ve had great nights in Dublin – and great daytimes too!” he says. “In Dublin I usually try to head to one of the traditional sessions. There’s a pub called the Cobblestone, somewhere on the outskirts. There are a few places that I’m always recommended to go to.”

“A lot of the time [on tour] you have to head straight off in the van,” he adds, “but I try to get to a gallery or go for a walk. I’ve got friends that live in different places so I like hanging out with my friends and their kids. I’ve got loads of godchildren, so quite often I try and do kid things. It’s nice. I like seeing the world this way and getting to travel to different cities and see friends and meet people.”

Johnny Flynn plays Whelan’s tomorrow (October 16). Tickets available from Ticketmaster.

The Country Mile is out now.

Photo: Steve Gullick/Wikimedia Commons

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