Earlier this year, 22-year-old folk musician Julian Langer began his recovery from cancer by starting work on his first album. Now the album, entitled simply Julian Langer, has been released. Tony Glynn caught up with him.
IF the saying “Every cloud has a silver lining” applies to anyone it applies to Julian Langer. Those who have been affected by cancer, be they sufferers or loved ones, will know something about how it felt for Julian when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. But the 22-year-old musician from Barnstaple, who underwent treatment last year, used the experience as a force for good. In fact, it led to the writing and recording of his first solo album.
“While going through the treatment I started writing songs,” says a reflective Julian. “Any spare time I had was devoted to writing and practicing. The album was actually a product of having cancer treatment.”
Having been a songwriter from an early age, Julian had been in a band as a teenager, but his main role was that of drummer and occasional guitarist who “could strum a few chords”. While undergoing treatment, however, he discovered a burning desire to hone his skills as an instrumentalist:
“I’d been in the company of classical musicians and wanted to be more than a singer-songwriter,” says Julian. “I spent a lot of time learning tunings, percussive techniques and so on.
“I don’t know if it improved by music, but it improved my musicianship. The result is the album which I recorded later.”
Although he could write and sing before being able to play, Julian’s starting point in creating a song is the music, not lyrics.
“I’m dreadful at writing about a particular subject,” he says. “The more I think about the lyrics, the worse they are.
“I’d describe my music as folk or roots acoustic, and these songs are stories or journeys, as opposed to rock which concentrates on particular themes.
“When I’ve finished a song I don’t have a need for the lyrics to grab anyone. It’s not about one element, it’s about the experience of the instruments and whole feel of it.”
After the ordeal of 2012 came a bright new start for 2013. Julian, happily, completed his treatment and marked the beginning of his recovery with the recording phase of the album. Between February and April he put the tracks down in his home studio, and then – as his health improved further – began to get out into the open and perform to the public.
Since March he has played numerous gigs and festivals (including Folk Off Cancer at Torrington’s Plough, which he organised) in a one man band scenario consisting of guitar, harmonica, banjo, stomp box and even didgeridoo. Moreover, he’s got plenty more planned for 2014 and has been building up quite a following. Not bad for someone whose base was a hospital bed not too long ago.
One of the songs fans may have heard him play is entitled Lamorna, and the track is Julian’s first foray into video. This can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqxDBmwgBvI
The song has a special significance, Lamorna being the Cornish beach where his grandfather’s ashes were scattered.
“We filmed at Baggy Point, as that’s the closest to what Lamorna means to me,” says Julian.
“But doing the video was weird, I found it particularly awkward singing to camera. I had to stop a few times, take a few seconds and have a mini-meditation!”
Those who know Julian may understand why this was the case. As he says, he’s all for being “in the moment”, and so the contrived business of acting out a scene is no doubt difficult for him. Making music is not something he likes to plan.
“It’s like you’re wandering round searching for a slide, and when you eventually find it you fall down and slide perfectly.
“It takes ages to find the beginning, but when you do the rest is really quick – you just go with the flow.”
Going with the flow he may be, but in Julian’s case this certainly does not mean waiting for things to happen. As well as the album, he has very recently completed a Christmas tune – his own version of Pogue’s classic Fairytale Of New York – and it can be found here: https://soundcloud.com/julian-langer/fairytale-of-new-york-cover. Listen out for some eastern sitar vibes and alternative lyrics to the yuletide yarn.
He also has a new album planned for 2015 which will include songs he already plays live. Some of these are instrumentals in the Mike Dawes, Thomas Leeb vein. For all the details check the Julian Langer Facebook page.
To buy the album, entitled Julian Langer, visit julianlangermusic.tumblr.com.