In association with Gulbenkian, Folk In The Barn presents
Will Varley’s musical journey has been astounding. From busking in London and his home town Deal, via a 500 mile solo trek along the South Coast with his battered guitar on his back playing to anyone who would listen and composing as he went, to The Royal Albert Hall and his own sell out show at Islington’s Union Chapel. Inside ten years he had a record deal, awesome stage presence and the hard-earned, word of mouth reputation.
In March 2015 Will Varley walked out on stage at the Royal Albert Hall, shortly after signing a record deal with independent music champions Xtra Mile Recordings. For the 28 year old folk-singer however, the road to The Albert Hall began in the early 2000s whilst aimlessly busking around London with a fake id, writing hundreds of songs and playing two or three open mics a week.
In his early 20’s Varley moved to Deal, Kent enticed by cheap rent and great pubs. There along with a number of musicians he helped set up Smugglers Records, a collective of like minded independent musicians who help each other release their own music and run a late summer festival.
In 2011 Varley recorded his debut album ‘Advert Soundtracks’ with Smugglers, and then set out on the road and walked a hundred and thirty miles with a guitar and tent on his back. Starting the walking tour at London Bridge he headed south east, strolling through the rolling hills of the Kent Weald singing songs to whoever would listen. He slept in barns, camped at the side of canals and played gigs in the corner of crowded pubs. By the time he strolled back to Deal, word of his album had begun to spread and he had many a story to tell.
A second walking tour followed the release of ‘As The Crow Flies’, which saw Varley travelling 500 miles along England’s South coast, with a guitar on his back, entirely on foot. After the tour Varley played a sold out show at London’s Bush Hall. Extensive tours with the likes of Beans On Toast, Frank Turner, the Proclaimers and his long term hero Billy Bragg helped to introduce Will’s music to a whole new audience. His third album Postcards From Ursa Minor’ propelled him with rocket fuel into new territory and fourth album Kingsdown Sundown followed only a year later. Instead of the inherent hopeful sound of Postcards, he pared down the songs to a sombre, skeletal tone. ‘To Build A Wall’, ‘Something Is Breaking’, ‘We Want Our Planet Back’ and ‘We’ll Keep Making Plans’ tell the tales of a world in crisis, and the efforts of ordinary people to carry on. While his crowds got bigger and his songs were being embraced by peers and fans alike, Will still wrote what he felt. And people understood. These songs made even more sense as they hung in the air at the beautiful Union Chapel in north London, a sold-out, hair-raising and triumphant show. But Will couldn’t dwell on that set of songs for long either. In bringing the exhilaration of the unfamiliar into his fifth album Spirit of Minnie, Will took the opportunity to record the album in autumn 2017 with producer Cameron McVey, who has worked with trip-hop luminaries Massive Attack and Portishead. Making this decision will undoubtedly be another unforgettable milestone.
His appeal is in how he turns his hand to the heartfelt, the comic, and the philosophical and relates it back to every single person that hears him and is understood. He is the definition of a modern storyteller steeped in tradition.
Varley’s live performances have become more and more anarchic over the years. Audience interaction, surreal improvised comedy between songs and chaotic stunts like playing two songs at the same time are now more often than not included in his shows, though he will just as quickly deliver a melancholic and heartbreaking ballad or a fiery protest song as he will a shaggy dog story or an amusing talking blues.
I first saw an inspired Will astonish a packed late night open stage at Coldham Common campsite at Cambridge Folk Festival around 2012. It was clear he had a very special something and we’ve been friends and following him ever since. In 2017 he toured for the first time with a full band but for our concert at the Gulbenkian it will be just Will.