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The accidental musician  

Jack Badcock, lead singer of Dallahan, told David Hennessy about his first solo album, the historical figures who inspired some of the tracks and why being a musician is like going to Hogwarts.

Jack Badcock has toured extensively on four continents, predominantly as frontman and founding member of renowned world-folk band Dallahan.

The Herald say of him: ‘Badcock knows how to make an impact with his clear articulation, melodious phrasing and astute way of relating a narrative.’

This week he unveils his debut solo album.

Jack was born in Co. Kilkenny, raised in Yorkshire and now hails from Glasgow.

Known for his soulful, stand-out tenor voice, and enigmatic, thought-provoking songwriting, he released an EP – The Driftwood Project – in 2021, which was nominated for Original Work of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards while in 2022 he was commissioned by Celtic Connections to write, arrange and perform a prestigious New Voices concert at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall, writing new songs and rearranging older ones for a large ensemble of musicians.

You have released albums before but this one is different being your first solo one, how does it feel?


“It’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself, but it’s all the more gratifying.

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“You’re not sharing in the tribulations so you’re kind of bearing it all on your own shoulders but at the same time, you’re not sharing the glory so you get all the highs and lows amplified.

“So it’s exciting but it’s scary.”

What made you want to name the album, Cosmography?

“I went through a lot of names and everyone hated that one.

“I just thought it works so well because usually what inspires me are really big ideas in terms of humanity’s place in the universe and the collective human experience and big, wider arching sort of human historical concepts.

“I thought the title works so beautifully because Cosmo means world and graphy is writing, so it effectively means writing about the world.

“It made sense.”

It’s certainly a reflective record and the mood is set with the opening track, Life in Three Dimensions..

“That song in particular is central to that idea and that theme.

“It’s about humanity, finding collective meaning in our finite- or not- time on this universe, ‘Why are we here? What are we going to do with our time?’”

History is something that inspires you, isn’t it? We can see in the song The English Samurai about the story of William Adams.

Adams was the first Englishman to reach Japan, in 1600. He became recognised as one of the most influential foreigners in the country at that time – a Western samurai known in Japan as Miura Anjin.

He excelled in his role as an advisor to the shogun on trade, naval matters, and anything involving Europeans. And when other survivors from his ship eventually sailed home, the shogun demanded that Adams stay. Despite having a wife and children back in England, he made the most of his new life in Japan.

The English Samurai is based on an imagined letter to his wife in England.

“I like history.

“You can dive in and find obscure people that aren’t necessarily really famous historical figures but they’ve led these amazing lives.

“I’m a lover of traditional music, Irish and Scottish folk songs and that’s often a way in which stories are written in folk music: They’re stories about a person and their life.”

I can understand why his story- an English man who found himself in Japan- spoke to you as you have moved around so much in your own life..

Do you call yourself Irish, English, Scottish or a combination of all three?

“It depends on where I am.

“I tend to say Irish, though quite often if I’m away with the band I will say Scottish for the simplicity of being part of the collective: ‘We are Scottish’.

“You don’t want to go into the whole story when you meet every single person on the road.

“But for obvious reasons I don’t think I ever say I’m English.

“Ironically my mum is English.

“The reason I’m exposed to traditional Irish music at a young age was because my mum plays Irish music and that’s why I was born in Ireland and grew up there.

“My mum moved there at a young age to pursue Irish music.

“She fell in love with Irish music and consequently made an Irish son.”

Another song inspired by history is The Ruin.

“It’s stolen from an old medieval poem.

“It’s an old poem written in Old English that was discovered in Bath and I was so profoundly moved by the fact that this thing itself is an artefact of history but what it’s doing is looking further back still at the Roman history, and it’s looking from the Dark Ages.

“You can imagine that it might have seemed quite sh*t to live in sort of medieval Britain, and you have the ruins of the Roman Empire that must have seemed like a better time, a better age.

“We don’t know who wrote it. It’s an anonymous writer.

“I basically stole the poem.

“Because there are various translations into modern English, I kind of spliced them up, made it rhyme, added my own words and kind of tried to harness what I thought was beautiful about that poem into my own version.”

Another song based on a poem is The Ghost of Leland Birch.

However we know who wrote this poem, it was your own cousin, Michael Creagh.

“That’s right.

“Yeah, I was visiting my dad in Dublin a few years ago and he received a text from this cousin of his that I wasn’t really aware of.

“He kind of persuaded him and it was like, ‘Let’s drive out to Laois’.

“Tea and ham is the way I describe it on stage.

“It was a family party with tea and ham.

“We drove over and we knocked on the door and I always say it was the most Irish day ever, because the door was answered by some young cousin lads of mine, and it was 40 or 50 or a million cousins, aunties, nephews, all this.

“It was just fabulous.

“Of course, everyone knew who I was because they’d all seen me when I was a baby.

“It was just fantastic.

“Ham and tea became whiskey and ham, and just whiskey.

“And we were all sharing songs and it was fabulous because it was kind of just a discovery of a new entire iceberg of a family.

“And Michael, one of my cousins, is a poet and he shared some of his poems with me.

“I thought they were great so I said to him there and then, ‘I’d love to put music to these and we could kind of consider it a sort of collaborative work’.

“And he was delighted.

“Leland Birch was the poitin distiller and sort of local legend and the poem was Michael’s way of commemorating him.”

The track How You Raise a Child was Jack’s response to seeing some serious events unfold in the world.

“The point I’m labouring really is that inequality exists and it should be addressed in public policymaking in a way that it isn’t enough.

“Children don’t choose the backgrounds they’re born into, but it seems the background children are born into seems to be the biggest thing that will define their opportunities in life and where they’re likely to end up.

“I wrote that song in a fit of rage.

“It’s a really middle class way to express your rage, isn’t it? To write a song.

“But that’s the point.

“I’m privileged to have come from a family that not necessarily had a lot of money but taught me what my opportunities could be in life and offered me the support to try and do what I wanted to do in life.

“And for me, that was pursue music.

“I was thinking about kids in America. Your ethnicity plays such a big part in what your opportunities are and how you might be treated by society and various other things.

“Inequality exists and I think it is based on your birth and that should be the single most important issue that people in power should be addressing.”

What provoked the rage that led to you writing it? Was it something you saw on the news?

“Yeah, it was in the middle of COVID.

“George Floyd had just been murdered by police and all these protests and riots were happening around the world.

“In Glasgow as well, the protests were going off.

“COVID laws, of course, meant that it was illegal to protest.

“There was just this sort of animosity in the air from all angles and everyone was flustered and angry.

“It was kind of within that political environment that my mind sort of just went down this rabbit hole of rage that I needed to kind of express in song.”

You said it yourself and I had noted it down, it is ten years since Dallahan released their first album, does that seem strange to say?

“It does seem strange.

“There are a lot of memories and I’m very, very thankful for it.

“As a job, it’s just fantastic.

“When you look back on the years and the places you’ve been, all the people you’ve met- It is just fabulous.

“It’s like Narnia.

“I always used to say doing this job is like being a student at Hogwarts: You discover you’re a magician, you can go and do this thing and you meet all these other witches and wizards and you go off on this massive journey that goes on for years.

“It’s magical. Absolutely magical.”

What have been the particular highlights of the ‘magical’ journey so far?

“Dallahan have done so many things.

“Back in 2016 we went to Nepal to do a sort of collaborative thing with a band called Kutumba.

“The British Council got us over and it was to celebrate 200 years of British-Nepalese relations, a sort of post-colonial thing, I think.

“We performed at the embassy.

“We performed for Prince Harry: Mixed feelings in the band about that one.

“I mean I’m still glad I had the experience but there’s a part of me that likes to think I would have turned it down.

“But I could never turn down the experience.

“And then we did more of a public festival performance with Kutumba and the Katmandu Circus.

“It’s just fabulous because you do a lot of travelling but the beautiful thing about this job is you might go and travel somewhere as a tourist and you’re gonna go to ‘these places’ whereas when you go for work as a musician, you go to the absolute back waters and middle of nowhere towns that you would never think of going which is great because you see the real sort of underbelly of wherever it might be.

“You go to absolutely random little towns where they’re not used to a Scottish accent or an Irish accent and so that was the kind of experience we had in Katmandu because we had the band with us Kutumba and they were the local boys.

“They were taking us out to the equivalent of favelas: The corrugated iron, really densely populated areas on the outskirts of the city.

“And taking us to meet people and see things.

“Really the most spectacular experience, possibly of my life.”

You were a finalist in the BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year award, was it always going to be music for you?

“I was very lucky and I didn’t know.

“When I was 18, I left home and I went to Edinburgh just because I had an uncle who lived in the centre of Edinburgh and he had a spare room in his flat.

“I f**ked up my college A levels so I wasn’t gonna get into university.
“I needed to just go somewhere and just try and settle into a city, see if I liked it, and I loved Edinburgh immediately.

“I was on the dole when I first arrived and I was just trying to find a job and then I met Ciaran, my bandmate, Dallahan banjo player.

“Edinburgh’s got a big tourist scene so there’s all these little pubs that are quite happy to pay for acoustic traditional music and they call them sessions. Not dissimilar to what Temple Bar is like, I guess.

“I just went to a couple of sessions to kind of try and make some friends in the town.

“And before I knew it, I was getting quite good at playing trad guitar and playing with Ciaran, we started getting these weekly pub gigs.

“I just took myself off the dole and registered as self- employed and then that was it.

“I was just accidentally a self-employed musician.

“And then since then, I have just tried to do bigger and better things and try and make it a really meaningful career.”

What do you think you would have done if music had not come along?

“I wasn’t that worried about it at the time.

“I didn’t have to worry about it.

“Now I do.

“Now my greatest fear is that it all comes crumbling down and I have to find some other job.

“That is my greatest fear.

“It gives me the absolute fear to think about that.

“Now that I’m actually forced to question that, I haven’t got a clue.

“I worked in an Amazon warehouse during the COVID years and I was sh*t at it, and I hated it.

“If anything, that experience made me never ever doubt what I want to do with my life.

“It made me go, ‘Right, you need to do music and you need to never stop doing music and you need to make sure that it keeps paying your bills and you can keep doing it’.” 

It must have seemed like a very real possibility that it was crumbling down when things were locked down due to COVID and nobody knew when it was going to end..

“It was horrible.

“I was very lucky.

“In Scotland we have the arts funding organisation Creative Scotland, and I applied to them to record an EP so I would have something creative to do.

“It was just five tracks but because I was working in Amazon, and because the laws kept changing, it took a long, long time but I pieced together an EP with lots of guest musicians and it was called The Driftwood Project.

“That kind of drip fed me a bit of musical work and creativity in that really dark period which was very fortunate.”

And that was the start of your solo project. Now you are about to head out on your first solo tour, what is that going to be like?

“It’s scary again.

“It’s gonna be hard work but it’s going to be great.

“It’s gonna be the first time I’ve ever really sort of gone out and done a tour of this scale.

“It’s going to be tough, but I can’t wait. I can’t wait.”

Cosmography is out on 3 May.

Jack tours the UK throughout May, he plays London’s Green Note on 19 May.

For more information, go to jackbadcock.com.

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