Popular local performer Chris Millington's songs focus on the sea, local history and his own experience. Tony Glynn caught up with him to talk people, places and the release of his third album.
THOSE familiar with the music of Chris Millington may assume he is North Devon born and bred.
His music lives and breathes the sea and rural landscape, his lyrics reference local areas and historical events, and his demeanour is as windswept and interesting as his dreadlocked, sea-battered hair.
Yet the Combe Martin-based troubadour, who is also a philosophy of religion lecturer at Petroc, has come a long way to find his feet round these parts.
Having been born in the urban hub of Manchester and then moving to the mining valleys of South Wales, he's something of a roaming minstrel at heart.
"Wherever I live I pick up on what that place is built upon," says Chris.
"I'm a lover of history, I love to find out what the people of the area are all about. That's my inspiration.
"In Manchester I wrote about the city, and in South Wales it was the miners. But I'd always come on holiday down here as a kid, so I did know a bit about the area anyway."
As well as the obvious historical references in songs such as Doubloons, Jewels and Ivory – which focuses on a Rapparee Cove shipwreck tale – Chris writes about his personal experience. The landscape, however, always remains central.
"The theme for my last two albums was the sea," says Chris, "and I've carried this on with the latest album.
"The difference is that now the sea is used more as a metaphor for my own life. The sea is still the main theme, but the songs are about me."
Besides music and history, Chris has another occupation: his full-time job. Lecturing in philosophy of religion, he is among a number of musical staff teaching at Petroc, including Canyon Ryde's Phil Lively-Masters.
In the past he has been known to bring the tools of one trade – musical instruments – into the workshop (the classroom) of the other. But despite this, he makes a distinction between music and lecturing: "The two are quite separate really. There are musicians who I teach, and if they're doing a gig I like to go and see it. But I don't bring instruments into classes as much as I used to.
"But I'll be doing some music courses at Brannam's campus and I'm looking forward to that."
It may be hard to imagine, but Chris has not always been the free-spirited folk balladeer we see today. As a child he sang in a choir in Manchester Cathedral, and when a bit older did a bit of backing singing for Take That – whose clean-cut pop is about as far from the rugged folk sound as you can get.
Nowadays, he is of course very much his own boss and plies his trade in his own time. In fact, besides performing he doesn't even have to leave his house. Sail Against The Wind was recorded, start to end, from the comfort of his home recording studio in Combe Martin.
"I wake up each morning and I've got supplies, I've got my mics and my guitar and I just play.
"I've got no Wi-Fi or TV so it's great, music is what I do with my spare time – I just listen, write and record."
As idyllic as it may sound, however, hibernation is not an option for Chris. Besides all the recording he is, of course, a seasoned performer and a familiar sight at folk and acoustic venues and festivals across the UK. He's a musical pirate without the theft and pillaging.
He's shared the stage with other seasoned performers too, and a highlight this year was supporting the mighty Steeleye Span in Truro and playing recently alongside acoustic duo Show Of Hands.
Next year will no doubt see Chris continue to roam, write and perform but – despite having just finished one – the musician is already planning a new album for next year.
"I'm writing and recording the album at this very moment," says Chris.
"The last album has been a real learning curve for me, trying out new stuff and new instruments. So I'll carry on in the same way and see what happens."
Despite being a busy man with his days as filled as ever, music will never fail to muscle into his life.
There's no detailed plans to let this happen, just a strong wind, sturdy sail and a well-constructed boat.
The Sail Against The Wind launch party is at St Anne's Chapel, Barnstaple on Saturday, December 14, 8pm.
Tickets, £5, from www.chris millington.com/cdlaunchtick ets.htm.
To buy the album and details, visit www.chrismillington. com.