We may love the dirt, the grime of London, the capital’s villains and naughty paths but at times we crave a virtuous bliss, to slip away from the seething, hard-pressed streets. Buried deep within London’s musky metropolis are a group of musicians cradling acoustic guitars waiting to escort you to your city rapture. They’re part of London’s most exciting new night, Stroke Your Beard, commanding folk and thrill. With Somerset’s own Ali Warren at the helm; he’s got ready-to-roll grass, a roster of deadly talent and an intoxicating passion for all things folk; Stroke Your Beard cogent flavour cannot be ignored.
We caught up with Ali himself to discern piece by piece what makes Stroke Your Beard so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so good.
How did Stroke Your Beard Start? What’s the inspiration behind it?
It all started in the West of London in a little known pub called The Rocket. I’d been running a night called Humble Pie for about six months which was going really well and starting to gather quite a following. I’ve been putting on nights since I was in Taunton so I really wanted to try and expand the evening to something bigger and try to bring the acts, including myself to a wider audience.
When I first moved up to London I was playing gigs here there and everywhere but soon found that sadly, a lot of people weren’t to be trusted, especially london promoters. They weren’t out to push the scene or find something new, they generally just want you to bring as many people as you can whilst they sit on their arse and take in all the profit for themselves, giving you nothing. If you brought the people, you get another gig no matter what your music was like. The thing the pissed me off the most was their obvious lack of promotion whilst you had to do everything for them. This I found ridiculous, so as a rebellion Humble Pie was born.
This is the inspiration that Stroke Your Beard was founded upon and since then i’ve never looked back! I was approached by Dan and Adam, both very good friends of mine separately and at exactly the point. It was incredibly co-incidental that they came to me at this time but we soon saw we all wanted the same thing and decided to go in on it together. The original idea was to have it at The Rocket but we decided to chuck a line out to other parts of London and see what happened. The result is that three friends with a love for folk formed a company together based on values we saw fit and luckily enough we’ve stuck together and had a bloody good laugh whilst we’re at it! The most exciting thing is in the music that we’ve discovered, there are so many talented artists that deserve a bit of recognition and it’s our pleasure to be able to work with them. It is them that make the nights a success.
Where’d the name come from?
The name was a wonderful stroke (excuse the pun) of luck! We’d been trying to think of an appropriate name for ages and were all in agreement that “beards” were generally associated with folk and blues music. Adam went back to Brum one weekend and on passing the idea around his friends one of them showed us a little animation he’d done a while back called “Stroke Your Beard” – It was perfect!
What’s SYB’s mantra?
Our Mantra? I would say it was simply to be honest. In the media/arts industry you are encouraged to “network.” This in turn comes with a lot of empty promises and a hell of a lot of bullshit. Just be yourself, be honest and have a laugh. If your not having fun then you know that you aren’t going about things in the right way!
Why choose folk?
When thinking of folk music it’s very easy to just picture english or american men and women playing guitars. I love “folk music” as it’s a celebration of peoples roots from all around the globe. London has shown me a vast array of what I have now come to know as folk music and I love being able to share this with everyone. It’s the stories I really love, everyone has a story to tell and I am more than ready to listen.
How do you feel your folk nights are fairing up against the club scene at the moment? Do you think it’s a challenge or is folk stronger than ever?
I think they both attract a different audience and although there is obviously some overlap, they don’t seem to get in the way of each other. There’s a massive dance and club scene which is amazing, dub-step has exploded over the last year or so and it’s great to see people getting into it but with that the folk scene has definitely got stronger. It’s such a different vibe to general band nights and I think people appreciate a change in atmosphere. When I first got up here I thought “clubbing” was just a part of being a Londoner but when you get used to the city you realise theres something for everyone…….even grumpy, hairy folk lovers like myself.
Is London the place to be?
Yes and no. I love London, there’s always something going on and it’s certainly the central hub for music and arts but, if your a musician and you think coming to London will give you your big break then i’m afraid you are very much mistaken. It takes a lot of work and ingenuity to make yourself heard and stand out from all the other thousands of people trying to do the same thing. I would never look back but if your not willing to put the effort in you may as well stay at home.
What would be your ideal venue/dream artist to play your night?
Oh there are so many! I’d love to get Eric Bibb to play. This is something we’ve been looking to do for a while. It would be an honour to get Bert Jansch down and a modern artist such as Joanna Newsom would make my night complete. I think a “Last Waltz” type show at the royal albert hall would be the greatest show I could ever do.
What’s the future for Stroke Your Beard?
Well the dream is to eventually set up our own Label. We could do it at any time but we want to build the nights and fan-base before going ahead with the idea.
Why should we come to your night?
A very good question! Well if you haven’t been before you have nothing to lose, you never know, you may even enjoy it! We always have a lot of new artists to check out………..that and we have 40 square metres of fake grass which we use to make every venue look like a garden!
Who’s your top 3 folk artists to check out at the moment?
Just check these guys out……Rosie May, Blank Jack, Davy Renny Jackson, And The Bear
John Mcivor Glossa.
By Erin Kubicki.