Orkney-based singer songwriter Jo Philby has a loyal following. Her fans love her folk, roots and country influenced songs that tell her stories of the sea and island life. And visitors to Shaftesbury Fringe 2019 are in for a treat. Jo is performing an impromptu, and unplugged, gig tonight (Friday) at the Grosvenor Arms at 8.30pm.
Jo’s 2009 debut album ‘Saltwater and Stone’ met widespread acclaim. “That was my first album back in 2009,” said Jo. “I’ve done two since then. The second one was recorded out in Nashville and the third one recorded back home in Orkney, ‘Stand By The Shore’ features some of my own songs for the first time.”
Despite living in Orkney, Jo is not heavily influenced by the island’s own music. “Orcadian music is more tune-based. I listen ta lot to Americana country, like Alison Krauss. The songs I’ve written are inspired by the land around me and the stories of folk songs where the men go off to sea, leaving their weeping, wailing women at the quayside,” she said.
Jo’s visit to Nashville gave her a new perspective on music. “The reason I went out there was the guy I recorded my first album with from Orkney relocated to Nashville and set up a studio. He said to me, ‘why don’t you come out and record?’ He played the guitar and we went to Downtown Nashville. I just was ensconced by what I heard. It definitely influenced me to try some different styles of songs because I’ve been very much a folk singer. I’d say I’m rootsy with a bit of sprinkling of Americana, now.”
Jo lives on a Scottish island but she says she doesn’t feel cut off. “Not at all. Orkney is the hub of the universe. It is so amazing. There’s eclectic music with so many different styles. It’s thriving, you just would not believe it. The venues that we have in Orkney are incredible for music. I’ve lived there for 17 years. It’s my home now.”
Jo has a strong connection with the Shaftesbury area. “My parents retired here about twenty years ago. I’ve been coming down for gigs each year and I have played at the Shaftesbury Arts Centre and at Wimborne. I’ve got a really strong connection here and there are lots of people that follow my music, which is lovely.”
Tonight’s pop up gig is a surprise for Jo. She kindly accepted an offer to fill a gap caused by a performer cancellation. “I’ve come down for a holiday to see mum and dad and not to do music.” Jo said she wanted to play at Fringe with Elaine, with whom she performs. “I thought I could do my unaccompanied singing because that’s how it all started for me and I never want to leave that because it’s quite special to me.”
Jo will be ‘unplugged’ tonight. “It’s all un-accompanied singing with some chorus songs. It would be good to hear people’s voices to help me out. I will probably do about a 40-minute set of some of my own songs and some traditional songs,” she said.
Jo says she feels quite free and liberated at the prospect of doing an unplanned gig. “I was at The Potting Shed and I heard a lovely duo this afternoon. I wish I was doing something. I called into the HQ and James Thrift said, ‘Do you happen to be free tonight and have you got your gear?’ Being a singer and unaccompanied it means I could do something anywhere. I’ve got plenty of songs. It’s going to be nice to take my time and tell people about the stories of the songs. It’s nice not use a microphone because there’s something magical about that. The room is lovely acoustically,” said Jo.
Jo Philby performs at The Grosvenor Arms Hotel at 8.30pm tonight, Friday 5th July.