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Why award-winning producer Ethan loves being a part-time troubadour

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: June 28, 2013

Ethan Johns is best known as an award winning producer, but as a solo artist he is touring his debut album If Not Now Then When

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Ethan Johns leads what could be described as a double life. One day he's in the studio recording with one of the biggest musical artists on the planet, and the next he's driving himself and his acoustic guitar to play a low-key solo gig in a village hall.

But that's exactly how this acclaimed producer, singer, songwriter, guitarist, family man and all-round deep-thinking good chap, likes to roll.

This week, for example, he has been working with Sir Tom Jones (he also produced the Welsh singer's most recent albums – the blues and gospel inspired Praise & Blame and Spirit In The Room); next week he continues his ongoing sporadic tour, beginning way down West at the Mount Pleasant Eco Park at Porthtowan.

It's been less than a year since Ethan, whose name appears on the credits of an extraordinary roll-call of records by major artists from both sides of the Atlantic, chose to finally reveal his own talents as a singer, songwriter and accomplished musician to the world, at the age of 44.

Renowned as a Brit award-winning producer of great intuition and diversity, his eclectic contribution also includes albums by Ryan Adams, Ray LaMontagne, The Vaccines, Kings of Leon and Laura Marling – he's responsible for her sublime new LP Once I Was An Eagle, released in May.

Ethan's own acclaimed debut long player, If Not Now Then When, is a rich, mellow, thoughtful and beautiful collection of 10 rock-tinged, bluesy country folk songs.

It was produced by Dominic Monks and Jeremy Stacey (whom he describes as "the best drummer in the world"), and mixed by his celebrated producer father, Glyn Johns, in Los Angeles. Released on his own Three Crows record label as a limited edition 12in heavy duty vinyl with gatefold sleeve last November, it is now available in a variety of CD and digital formats.

Its black and white cover shows a back view of Ethan, guitar slung over his shoulder, backstage, taking a peep through stage drapes into a modest auditorium. The reverse shows what he sees, which is every musician's nightmare – one man and his dog standing there alone.

Thankfully that's not a scenario he has faced in real life as he's embarked on this first serious foray into the world of solo performance, and he's finding it all rather addictive.

At the end of last year he set off around the country playing short sets and holding Q&A sessions at independent record stores, including Totnes, Newton Abbot and Barnstaple. In February he played at Exeter's Phoenix.

Next week he's back in the Westcountry to play an eco park, a village hall and a small arts centre.

"I'm really enjoying getting off the beaten path a bit," says Ethan.

"We have found some pretty neat places to play this time."

He is delighted to have just booked a date in September at the Electric Palace at Bridport – the kind of venue he thinks every town should have.

He's also raving about an old factory building at Kendal in the Lake District that's been turned into an arts centre.

"I love those interesting kind of places where people are really doing something rather than just talking about it.

"There's a lot of doom and gloom about and, obviously things are bad, but there are a lot of people who are taking comfort in the fact that if they think there is something missing in their community, they can change it.

"It makes me smile and feel good that people are not willing to sit down and accept the version of life that's being sold to them. That really is the best of British, don't you think?"

Ethan has spent enough time out of this country to appreciate it. As a child he spent a lot of time living in Los Angeles when his record producer father was working with artists like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Faces, Bob Dylan, The Who, Led Zeppelin and The Eagles.

He has fond memories of spending time at the beautiful old Spanish-style home in Beverly Hills.

As an adult Ethan lived out there for 15 years; he regards it as a second home, and he will be returning there to record some tracks for his next album at Ryan Adams' Pax Am Studios.

"Working with Ryan is always very relaxed; we were just on the phone talking about me making another album and he said why didn't I come out and do it with him. That's a great invitation," says Ethan. "He is a really old friend, I respect him a lot, he has a great studio and I'm very lucky and very grateful that he is going to help with the record."

But for now his focus is on the UK and the current tour.

"I love travelling, I love playing live and I like to see the world and what is out there; it feels like going on holiday for me," he says.

These days the one thing he isn't happy about is leaving home for too long. He lives in Wiltshire with his wife, the photographer and visual artist Jennifer Tipoulow and their two daughters, aged four and eight. The couple met in LA – she was originally from Canada – and they settled in England three years ago.

"She is an extraordinary woman; 15 years on and she still blows my mind. My dad once said the only thing I had got right in my life was marrying her," he laughs.

So, in between exploring he'll get home as much as he possibly can.

"That's the most important thing. I'm going to be there when my youngest starts school in September – it's a crucial time for her," he says.

Ethan Johns brings his For the Sake of the Song tour to Mount Pleasant Eco Park, Porthtowan on Tuesday, July 4; Woolacombe Village Hall, Woolacombe, North Devon on Friday, July 5 and Calstock Arts Centre, Calstock, South East Cornwall on Saturday, July 6. Visit ethansjohns.com.

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