Blair​ Dunlop: Blending tradition and innovation in folk music

From the creation of his single 'I Wanna Be Running' to its visually striking music video, directed by Hiccup (Haley Bishop & Ciaron Craig), Blair​ Dunlop provides insights into his creative process and the stories behind his songs
30 March 2024

Embark on a captivating conversation with Blair​ Dunlop, a modern folk virtuoso who seamlessly blends tradition with contemporary sounds. In this exclusive interview, modern folk virtuoso​ Blair​ Dunlop, shares his thoughts on the folk scene’s evolution, his musical influences, and his unique approach to songwriting.

Explore what sets Blair apart as a guitarist and songwriter in the folk genre as he delves into his inspirations and the profound influence of folk legends on his music.

From the creation of his single I Wanna Be Running to its visually striking music video, directed by Hiccup (Haley Bishop & Ciaron Craig), Blair​ Dunlop provides insights into his creative process and the stories behind his songs.

Gain valuable insights into Blair’s outlook on the future of the music industry, including emerging trends and the growing role of independent artists.

Certainly, my voice is much stronger and more assured now, and I’m less bound by the idea that I should fit into one of the UK folk scene’s niches

Blair, your music has been described as “a vital bridge between Brit folk’s first and latest flowerings”. In what way do you perceive your role in bridging the traditional roots of British folk with its modern resurgence?

Honestly, while I’m influenced by traditional material, I don’t necessarily see myself in that mould right now. I think there are people doing more to preserve the tradition than me, my new record is fairly far removed from those stylings aside from some narrative based storytelling in one or two songs.

What would you say distinguishes you as a guitarist and songwriter within the folk scene?

I guess it’s not for me to say really. We all stand on the shoulders of giants, to quote those folk legends… Oasis. Some people have said that I have a witty turn of phrase, so maybe something like that? Guitar-wise, I see myself through the lens of the great players who have inspired me, so I’m not sure I’d see myself as distinct from them, whereas I guess lyrics have a more tangible sense of individuality.

​Could you walk us through the creative process behind your single ‘I Wanna Be Running,’ from its inspiration to the creation of its stunning accompanying music video directed by BIFA-nominated writer Hayley Bishop and cinematographer Ciaron Craig?

It’s a song I actually wrote on mandocello (a bit like a giant mandolin) which sets it apart from the other songs on the record. I wrote it as a form of catharsis, to try and make sense of a difficult period for me. What’s nice is that the production from the producer, Jim Moray, and subsequently the video from Haley and Ciaron, have given it a lighter edge and I think it really suits the energy of the lyric. The video came together in just one day, albeit a very long day! Most of the creative input came from them, I’m much more a sonics guy than a visuals guy.

How would you describe the differences between Your upcoming album ‘Out of the Rain’ and your 2018 release ‘Notes from an Island’?

I would say that this one is more cohesive. Maybe it’s more personal and less political than the last one, too. I sing better on Out of the Rain, and it’s been nice to play mandocello and banjo on it.

Since your debut album ‘Blight & Blossom’ in 2012, how does your forthcoming album ‘Out of the Rain’ represent a shift in your musical evolution?

To me, it’s a million miles away from Blight & Blossom, but I’m not sure how much of that is tied to my own journey in life. Obviously I’m a different person to when I was 19, but I can’t really say how that’s reflected in my music. Certainly, my voice is much stronger and more assured now, and I’m less bound by the idea that I should fit into one of the UK folk scene’s niches. Songwriting hasn’t changed too much, maybe I’m happier to say less now, where I wanted to always prove a point and try to be clever earlier in my career. I guess I’m less earnest now!

If given the opportunity to tour alongside any musicians, past or present, who would you choose to tour with​?

That’s so tough… I mean a dream of mine would be to work with the great MF DOOM, sadly deceased. Jackson Browne would be a bucket list tour as well, that’s a more obvious one and I would like to think his audience would be a good fit for me. There are so many, though. There’s a Canadian singer songwriter called Kathleen Edwards, that’d be cool, she was the soundtrack to me early 20s.

In just three words, how would you describe the essence of your music?

Bangers on bangers

What message or feeling do you hope listeners will take away from experiencing your music?

I hope they feel better for listening to it, however that may look to them. I reckon even the melancholic ones have a joyfulness to them, so I hope people can feel that.

What transformations do you envision for the music industry in the future?

What industry? That died years ago! Haha. Well, for independent artists, at least. I think less selling music, more selling clothes. Fans creating their own content. Musicians getting second and third jobs. Although, I feel that there will be a rejection of the commodification of music, as we crave the human interaction that we are denied from social media, and I hope there’s a shift back towards getting in a room with people and sharing musical experiences like that. The record industry is fully done though, we need to learn how to monetise the stuff around the music, not the music itself.

How would you describe your perfect day?

Lie in, brunch out (love cooking but I can never be bothered to cook first thing), maybe a spicy hash. Then, watch some early kick off Serie A, Fiorentina destroy Juve in their own back yard. Head to the park, sun’s out, kick ups on the lawn, maybe some chill 5 a side – immaculate vibes, cold drinks. Then get back for the evening kick off, cook something native to the game that is on TV, maybe a paella, to fully immerse myself in the game. Betis destroy Sevilla in their own back yard. I haven’t mentioned music yet! Ok, at some point in the afternoon we have popped into town to buy a guitar for my friend (have no money, but love spending other people’s money for them), so we are trying all different kinds of guitars, amps and pedals. Then, for the evening, head out to some crazy underground car meet like something off Need for Speed Tokyo Drift and nerd out over twin turbo RX-7s, then EITHER head back to play some FIFA with my mates OR head to a rave, completely depending on whether I’m experiencing existential anxiety that month or not.