Singer/songwriter hero to thousands of Greenbelters, Ireland's Iain Archer has now relocated to London. He spoke to Andrew Long.

Iain Archer
Iain Archer

Laid-back Irish songsmith Iain Archer has spent the last couple of years rising from 'who's he?' status to a position where he is now well known both in the Christian circuit and in the secular roots scene. At Greenbelt particularly he's a star attraction with frequent festival appearances building up a big following for his moody, poignant, evocative songs of personal introspection. He was a natural to participate in the recent Greenbelt tour.

After two albums with Sticky Music Iain has recently released a mini album on his own label, Secret Words, entitled 'Revelation Bell', which is distributed by Elation. Originally from Bangor in Co Down, Iain spent three years at university in Belfast and then lived in Glasgow for a couple of years. He now lives in London, a very different city to Belfast. "It's incredibly different and takes a bit of getting used to," says Iain. His travels have done nothing to affect his accent, which is as Irish as a pint of Murphy's in a field of shamrocks, "I'm really enjoying London, I'm enjoying the pace of it, I'm enjoying the people and what's going on. A lot of people from home have got quite a negative attitude about it and they'll ask me, 'What the heck're you doing over there?', but once you're here and you get into the swing of it, you're into it, even if you are a laid back Irishman."

Iain's move to London was motivated by a desire just to be in that circuit for a while. He sees himself as very much the sort of person who is always moving on, always pushing forward and of course it is a handy place to be when gigs are available and you're right there in town.

As a songwriter Iain has been noted for his craftsmanship. Mojo magazine called his '96 album 'Crazy Bird', "The best mid-70s Bruce Cockburn album that Bruce Cockburn never made, with six-string virtuosity to match." But for Iain songs happen in different ways. "The general task of songwriting is to really get a feel for a melody and a structure and pretty often the ideas just start to happen naturally because I find the music just inspires the lyrics, but sometimes I'll get a really strong lyrical idea that will inspire its own melody. There's no set way. Sometimes I'll have these lyrics that have been sitting around for months and I'll have this melody that's been kicking around in my head for months and the two will just come together."

Iain often finds that, because he is Irish, people expect him to write songs dealing with the problems in Northern Ireland but he has purposely avoided doing that. "It would be pointless for me to write another Ireland peace song unless it happened and I felt in my heart that I should do it," he explains. "I don't feel any pressure to make any reference to what's going on at home at the minute."

Iain is very happy with his growing relationship with Greenbelt. "I love the festival and I love playing it. I've had an amazing response from people at the festival which never ceases to astound me and I've never taken that for granted because it's something very special and Greenbelt has very much taken me under its wing and supported me and I value that immensely. It's also given me the freedom to do things like that, to play Mainstage and to lift up an electric guitar and rattle out a load of songs that people weren't really expecting to hear. It's just great to have that support."

For many artists Greenbelt can be the pinnacle of their year in terms of album sales and the chance to make useful contacts. Iain's attitude is different to that. "Those things don't really matter that much to me. I'm much more excited about going there and experiencing the community and the feel of the place, the inspirational music that you hear and the incredible arts that you get to experience. For me those are the things that I look forward to, seeing God in all sorts of different ways."

Iain played three dates on the recent Greenbelt tour, a tour which also included appearances from Halcyon Days, Why?, Split Level and Dan Donovan. They were a real mixture of gigs, each having it's own highlights. "Darlington was a really young crowd, very early teens which was a different experience for me and it was a great crack for me to gear the set around that. The second gig in Manchester was completely the opposite, mid to late 20s and that was great as well but it was a great contrast from one night to the next. And then we did Warwick and that was a beautiful gig, it was really special, it was in a really big old church and the acoustics were fantastic."

When Iain spoke to Cross Rhythms in 1995 he expressed a desire to find a church where his questioning would not provoke adverse reactions from people who may be insecure in their faith. On reflection he sees himself at that time as very much an "angry young man", whose eyes were in the process of being opened. He doesn't apologise for that but now feels more comfortable in himself. "I have found a place where I have the freedom to come and go and to think and to express. A church nearby to me where I go when I can, and I enjoy going there. They do things a little differently and I kind of feel that I fit in there in some shape or form."

Iain will, of course, be at Greenbelt this year, Sunday night late on the second stage with a band. Another set definitely worth catching.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.