‘Johnny’s Gone to Hilo’ is a second single from composer and folk artist Roly Witherow ahead of a forthcoming EP set for release later this year. Roly’s rendition is a characteristically inventive yet mournful interpretation of the traditional sea shanty. The single also features guest backing vocals from celebrated East Anglian folk singer, Nick Hart.
A prolific composer in the world of film, TV, and theatre, Roly’s credits have included Channel 4’s On The Edge, 2015 BIFA nominated film Gregor and David Hare’s The Permanent Way. His debut folk album ‘Ballads and Yarns’ attracted a slew of highly favourable reviews in the UK media and beyond.
As a folk musician and singer, Roly’s influences include Pete Seeger, Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger, A.L. Lloyd, Richard Thompson, Nic Jones, Pete Bellamy, John Martyn, Shirley Collins, Dick Gaughan, Lisa O’Neill and Will Pound.
Of the new single Roly says:
“Johnny’s Gone to Hilo is a sea shanty originating from the sailors of the nitrate trade off the Pacific coast of South America in the 19th century. Hilo likely refers to the Peruvian port of Ilo, and whilst the tone of the shanty varies a great deal in all its different versions and iterations – from drinking song to lament, I thought the melody of the song lent itself best to a sorrowful arrangement with guitar, harmonium and two voices. The backing vocals are provided by acclaimed local folk singer Nick Hart of the Nest Collective, who, raised in a family of morris dancers, is renowned for his evocative voice that is rooted in the folk tradition.”
“The recording of the harmonium with all its noisy stops, billows and pipes was a particular challenge for producer Joe Garcia, but, with some ingenious microphone placement, he managed to capture the instrument’s unique and idiosyncratic sound with tremendous accuracy and warmth.”
Speaking on his five-track EP, set to be released in Winter 2021, Roly added:
“The forthcoming album is a very new direction for me. If my first album, ‘Ballads and Yarns’ had an experimental bent, stemming from my experience as a film composer and combining traditional songs with electric instrumentation, spoken word and elements of world music, this new album has a “back to basics” approach, focussing on the song itself in its most minimal form. The vast majority of the songs are for just acoustic guitar and voice, and the recordings have a very live feel to them, realised in large part by the expert production of Joe Garcia of Joe’s Garage, in Bristol.”
“This new album also has quite a playful, innocent and childlike quality to it, influenced in part by the children’s songs of Pete Seeger, Ewan MacColl and A.L. Lloyd, but also by my experience of recently becoming a father. One of the songs on the album ‘Ernie’s Song’ is dedicated to my son. The album is a combination of traditional songs from the British Isles and further afield, and originals, such as this first single ‘The Bird and the Frog’. There are also some collaborations on the album, including with renowned local folk singer Nick Hart. The album in general touches on themes of rural vs urban life, family and growing up, love and love lost, nature and animals, industrialisation & mechanisation, death and religion.”
What they say:
“Witherow’s resonant voice sits beautifully against a spacious guitar arrangement” – The Times
“mixes up art-rock, atmospherics and folk on his personal project” – The Guardian
“a modern yet classic celebration of the art of folk music” – Folk Radio UK