Pictish Trail

From Green Man festival to Depeche Mode and Vic Reeves, Pictish Trail’s Johnny Lynch reveals his foremost influences

Illustration: Joel Benjamin

WELSH MOUNTAIN SPIRIT

“Green Man has changed my life. The biggest audience I play to every year is here, and I honestly don’t know if I’d still be doing music if it wasn’t for the festival. Twenty years ago, it felt as if a loose group of friends had managed to pull together something unlikely but incredible, during a dial-up internet age of message boards and rudimentary chat forums – not at all like today! The sense of togetherness that was born at those first few gatherings was absolutely transformative.

“The confidence boost we felt, especially when The Fence Collective [Fence Records artists] was coming together, gave us the motivation and the sense that what we were doing was right. The fact that folks knew we even existed and were excited to see us was all we needed. The organiser, Ben Coleman, has been so supportive throughout, and made such a difference to many people’s lives, that I thought I’d write a song dedicated to the event, called ‘Green Mountain’. Maybe it can become a hymn, performed each year!”

FEELING THE FUNK

“Of all the inspirational live sets I’ve witnessed over the years at Green Man, among the most memorable and exuberant was the Alexis Taylor-led tribute to [pioneering Nigerian funk musician] William Onyeabor. They performed with a big all-star cast that included Money Mark, as the hitherto unknown Atomic Bomb Band – and boy, talk about harnessing the collective spirit of the performance! People realised they were witnessing something genuinely one-off, and it felt electric.

“It reminded me of how exciting music can be when it’s a little bit off the cuff and not rehearsed to death – that’s definitely one of the things I try to capture as Pictish Trail.”

EVOLUTIONARY MODE

“What a band Depeche Mode are. Fletch’s sudden shock passing really affected me, and I’ve been listening to their albums a lot lately. There’s something untouchable about the early Vince Clarke era – those incredible melodic synth hooks of his and that primal approach he had of using synths like a rock band uses electric guitars.

“But the way they transformed themselves into something so different from their formative period knocks me out. Just think about how they managed to evolve to the point of creating ‘Songs Of Faith And Devotion’ – a weird gothic gospel masterpiece! How the hell did they manage that?”

BIG NIGHTS OUT

“Vic Reeves’ genius is to be both cerebral and surreal, but also daft and universally connecting. He and Bob Mortimer have been a huge influence over the years. There’s such a massive undercurrent of self-deprecating humour running through what they do – a prevailing element of life in the north-east of England, where they’re from – and it’s so endearing, fluent and real.

“The ideas on shows like ‘Big Night Out’, ‘Bang, Bang, It’s Reeves And Mortimer’ and ‘The Weekenders’ are so complex and well thought-out. They manage to capture the elusive ‘energy of the demo’, something many musicians aim for, but seldom achieve. Vic and Bob have that in spades, and it often goes unnoticed.”

ISLAND LIFE

“Moving to the Isle of Eigg in the Inner Hebrides has been life-changing in so many ways. It’s a ‘green’ island in every respect – fully off-grid, community-owned and entirely self-sufficient. Everyone there wants change to happen and contributes to this incredible collective spirit. Each household has a daily 5kw energy consumption limit, for example, so sustainability and environmental sensitivity is a very conscious and real thing.

“I’m incredibly proud of the fact that the last Howlin’ Fling festival I ran there used up a grand total of £19 worth of the island’s electricity supply, which all comes from renewable energy. Are we the greenest festival in the country, or just the most cheapskate?”

CHARTING NEW ROUTES

“Running the Lost Map label from Eigg is as important to me as making my own music as Pictish Trail. The imprint actually started at Green Man back in 2013. Fence Records had just collapsed – in a really catastrophic way that was quite heartbreaking, in all honesty – but in the aftermath, the Fence artists gravitated to Lost Map, so naturally that gave me the strength to carry on.

“Lost Map is about friendship, mutual respect and being inspired by different approaches and unique musicianship. Every time I listen to an album we’ve released, like Ed Dowie’s ‘The Uncle Sold’ – a beautiful and bizarre art-pop record – it inspires me and feeds what I do, musically. The same goes for the other Lost Map artists, like Alabaster DePlume, Rozi Plain and an exciting synthpop duo called Free Love – all of them are such a privilege to work with.

“I run the label with my best pal, Kate Lazda, and let me tell you, being able to do that is the most joyous thing in the world.”

Pictish Trail’s latest album, ‘Island Family’, is out on Fire

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