I wish we had caught a performance with this young lady but having met Banjo Jen at Leek Blues & Americana Festival for the first time we decided to send her an interview via email. We don't know who took the photos from Leek Blues & Americana Festival but thank you very much.
Q - How long have you been writing and performing?
I started teaching myself the banjo (from scratch – I’m not an experienced musician!) about 6 years ago, then initially I just started playing rhythm as part of the string band for the Feet First Appalachian dance team who I’d danced with for years. Then when I moved to Sheffield in 2015, I joined a band playing country covers and during this time my friend and bandmate Ash Gray encouraged me to start singing (I was terrified as I always refused to sing in front of anyone). I’d started writing some of my own songs during this time, and by 2016/17 I actually found the courage to start singing and performing my own stuff as ‘Banjo Jen’ (the nickname I was given when I moved to Sheffield!). Q - If you could invite the people who have influenced you in your music career to a dinner party, who would you invite?
At the head of the table would obviously be the king and queen – Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton! Then there’d also be Bob Dylan, Frank Turner, Dave Pirner (of Soul Asylum), and a whole host of kick-ass female Americana artists like Margo Price, Mary Gauthier, Eilen Jewell, Brandi Carlile, Rhiannon Giddens and Sarah Shook. And a few musical friends who were instrumental in getting me brave enough to perform – Ash Gray, Sarah Sharp, Gemma Gray, and my fab bass player Johnny Griff. Q - If you were to take one well known song and put your own country twist on it, which song would you choose?
I absolutely LOVE disco music, so maybe the Gloria Gaynor classic ‘I Will Survive’, or ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’! Though I’m not sure how successful a banjo version of disco would be, ha!
Q - If you had the chance of performing anywhere in the world, Where would your dream venue be?
I know most people would probably go for the big venues, but I love telling stories about the songs and seeing people’s faces, so I’d love to play in one of the famous intimate listening places - the Bluebird Café would have to be top of the list.
Q - If you could collaborate or duet with anyone in the world, who would you choose?
No contest – Dolly.
Q - What is your favourite thing to do when you are not performing?
Hanging out with good friends and good beer.
Q - What excites you about the British country scene?
All the new festivals that are springing up! It really seems like there’s a growing audience in the UK for country music. Also the fact that there is a wide variety of styles – I tend to generally prefer the ‘rootsy’ Americana stuff to the more commercial ‘pop-country’ style, but there are artists playing a whole range of styles within the scene, which is great as there’s something for everyone.
Q - Tell us the most unusual gig you've played, be it the venue or the situation you found yourselves in.
I played at an event in Leeds where most of the adults were really far away in the background drinking, and the only people near the stage listening to my songs (of whisky, cheating, murder etc) were the kids …and I was listed in the programme as ‘Bango’ Jen! So maybe that should be my persona if I start a business as a children’s entertainer! Q - The British country music scene is growing fast. Each artist having their own take on what country music is to them. How do feel that our music stands up against the music coming out of America at the moment?
I don’t think you can really compare the two scenes as the British one is so tiny compared to the US, which is obviously the home of country music and has huge industry infrastructure in place for that genre. But there are some amazing British artists around, who definitely ‘stand up’ to American ones in terms of talent – but getting the level of exposure a US artist might have is always going to be hard as there just isn’t the huge variety of events and large-scale interest over here. Yet!
Q - Where do you see British country music in 5 years time?
I hope that it continues to grow and that the new festivals and the increasing radio airplay means that the audience keeps expanding. Music supporters like yourselves and the AMA UK are already helping to increase awareness, promote the genre and give artists a platform (thank you!).
Q - What do you feel is the greatest achievement of your musical career to date?
I suppose the obvious answer would be getting to showcase at Red Rooster and The Long Road festivals last year alongside big names in the scene – I couldn’t believe it when I got selected, and I couldn’t believe it when I was there. But in truth, whichever venues I get to play or whatever music I release, the greatest achievement will always be one moment - getting up in front of some friends at a party, whist literally trembling with fear, to sing a couple of my own songs in front of people for the very first time. That was 6th Feb 2016, and it will always be the most important achievement because if I hadn’t faced the fear and done that, I couldn’t have done everything else since.
Q - Where can we find you on social media?
I’m ‘Banjo Jen’ on everything
YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/banjojen