For this next instalment of Digging Deeper we invited Paul Hillery to tell us about his adventures in the world of Folk Funk and Trippy Troubadours. Paul is a hugely respected collector of private press obscurities, lost loner folk, strange musical fauna and intricately played floral powered wonders. Known in collectors’ circles for his deep digging adventures and his immersive mix series on the Folk Funk & Trippy Troubadours blog (FFTT), Paul has gained a reputation as the go-to man for compilers and labels seeking information pretty much unavailable anywhere on the net.
He recently released his FFTT compilation on the ever excellent Re:Warm records and it has become a firm favourite here at Mr Bongo HQ. To dig deeper into this rich seam of lost treasures and obscurities we also asked if he’d be up for contributing a mix in our Record Club series. He’s a Selector / DJ of some pedigree, having played alongside The Polyphonic Spree, Arthur Lee & Love, Bonnie Dobson, Spiritualized, 4 Hero, Happy Mondays, Simian, The Bees, Julian Cope, Courtney Pine and many, many more. So, being the top gent he is, a sublime 2hr mix was promptly delivered and is now available for all to enjoy:
Hi Paul, please can you introduce yourself and gives us a bit about your musical history?
My love of music didn't stem from my parents that's for sure. We did have a record player at home, it was one of those sideboard cabinets jobs with the turntable inside and a heavy lid. Apparently I was fascinated with it and nearly chopped off my right thumb when the lid came crashing down on my 3-year-old hand. 50 years later I still have a scar. My parents only had a few records, Elvis, Brenda Lee and Alan Freeman's ‘History Of Pop - 40 Famous Hits That Made Pop History’. That Freeman comp was my introduction to a lot of musical genres; Gene Vincent And The Blue Caps, Johnny Otis And His Orchestra, The Kingston Trio, Adam Faith, Ricky Valance, Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames, The Animals, The Beach Boys, Manfred Mann, The Yardbirds, Bobbie Gentry, as a young kid I loved that album, it was a proper compilation bouncing around all over the shop and was the springboard for my ever growing love of records. When I was 9 or 10 my sister brought home a copy of ‘The Motown 20th Anniversary Album’ which I hammered!!!
I was always desperate to play the guitar, but it never happened. Instead I performed on stage at middle school with a guitar made of cardboard which was the height of uncool so desperate was I to be in a band. I eventually gave up trying to be a guitarist and records took over. At the age of 12, I decided I was going to be a DJ and called my imaginary night the very Balearic 'Club Tropicana’. My love of cardboard emerged once more as I got my cousin Scott to help me build a 6-foot palm tree out of old crisp boxes which I was planning to use as a prop to play records under.
What drew you into the world of folk funk (and trippy troubadours)?
Folk Funk and Trippy Troubadours came about around 15 years ago. I'd always loved that type of music but couldn't really play those types of records out at the gigs I was booked for. I tried but my home town just wasn't the best place to do this.
I did support a lot of bands though and began to play records under the name 'folkadelica' - I imagined mixing ‘Screamadelic’ with folk music. I eventually ended up as the support DJ for The Polyphonic Spree on their UK tours and I’d play a lot of folk-funk and sunshine pop but I hadn't honed in on the sound yet.
I was part of the vergygoodplus forum after being introduced to it by my friend James ‘Bodger’ Clark. That place introduced me to so many knowledgeable and lovely people, Sie Norfolk, Towny, Rhys Jones and Barney Harsent to name a few. I loved the annual Xmas CD swap that we did and hearing those gave me the confidence to start doing something similar with the records I'd collected over many years of digging.
I loved the folk-funk comps that had been released in the mid-90s, Pete Reilly & Tim Hayward’s ‘The Folk Funk Experience Volume 1’ (1995), ‘The Mighty Mellow (A Folk-Funk Psychedelic Experience)‘ (1997), and John Stapleton’s series of compilations on Harmless which all seemed to go hand in hand with the trip-hop scene at the time.
I never saw myself as a polymath or that knowledgeable and was always filled with insecurities about not knowing enough or as much as some of the collectors on VG+ so I made up my own genre and called it 'Folk Funk and Trippy Troubadours'. It gave me license to add whatever I deemed to fit into the mix, taking in soft-rock and loner folk along the way. And because I had made it up - no one could tell me I was doing it wrong.
What was the impetus behind starting the FFTT blog?
Mixcloud was a turning point. I had the folkfunkandtrippytroubadours blog on Wordpress where I uploaded tracklists and had links to downloads of mixes I’d host, but it was all a bit clunky. With Mixcloud I could host my mixes in one place and it was free to use. Although Soundcloud was getting more hits at the time you had to pay a fee after a couple of uploads. I‘d also added a YouTube channel to share single tracks rather than whole mixes.
After suffering a breakdown and struggling with my mental health I eventually stopped DJing out and this gave me the freedom to buy records just for me and without having to worry about pleasing a Saturday night crowd who had no interest in listening to a Bridget St John 45.
After a while, I heard about a Facebook group which had been started using my Folk Funk and Trippy Troubadours title. Someone posted on YouTube about how much they loved the Facebook group. I had no idea it existed. I was a bit worried at first as I'd built up the Folk Funk and Trippy Troubadours name in hopes of one day releasing a comp. Les Fisher was the admin of the group and a smashing chap and we agreed to let it remain. I come off social media quiet regularly but the group is there permanently and it created a community of like minded music freaks.
Did you always have an ambition to put out a compilation of the FFTT sound?
For sure!!! It was always a dream to get a compilation made. I'd pick up compilations over the years and I'd ask myself how did they get to do this? How do you get to the point where someone will believe in you and your choices and say let's do it. I didn’t live in a big city, I was hardly a well known name and I was rarely DJing out so it seemed like a pipe dream.
How did you connect with the Warm guys?
Micky was always very supportive of what I was doing with Folk Funk and Trippy Troubadours and contacted me asking if I’d consider doing a series of compilations with Warm.
‘We Are The Children Of The Sun’ was already in production but no-one was aware that it was happening.
After talking with Micky and liking the idea of a long running series I started to piece together some records that would encompass the 12+ year journey of Folk Funk and Trippy Troubadours.
I wanted to avoid doing a folk-funk compilation as the guys in the 90s had already been there. I’d written an article for Stamp the Wax which was ‘A brief history of Folk-funk’ and did my definitive top folk-funk tracks - https://paulhillery.co.uk/a-brief-history-of-folk-funk/ - I felt to have a truly unique folk-funk compilation I would have to include certain tracks and licensing them would be impossible, so I couldn’t see how a true definitive folk-funk comp could happen. A Folk Funk and Trippy Troubadours series could!
Are you working on volume 2 of FFTT?
The original plan with Warm and ‘Folk Funk and Trippy Troubadours’ was a series. So I wanted Volume One to be a taster and not the main course. I left tracks out to be used in the follow-ups. We have just started talking about moving Volume Two forward.
Your ‘We Are The Children of The Sun’ compilation that was released on BBE has been a firm favourite in the office and amongst our customers, how did that one come about?
The wonderful and knowledgable Tony Higgins got in touch with me about my mixes and a Folk Funk and Trippy Troubadours t-shirt I'd put on my blog. We started talking and he put me in contact with Peter Adarkwah at BBE. I pitched 'We Are The Children Of The Sun' as a concept, explaining it as a means of being able to travel by music without leaving your home. Music was how I coped with my depression, anxiety and my isolation and this was just before the whole world went into lockdown, and then every one was thrown into isolation, for a while anyway.
I didn't want 'We Are The Children Of The Sun' to be a genre-led endeavour and to be honest it was hard to pitch to BBE what I wanted to do exactly. So I did them a mix and they said yes. It came out beautifully and I'm so grateful for the opportunity and to be able to share my selections. We set to work on the follow-up as soon as we'd wrapped the first compilation, which was a real confidence boost. Production delays have meant the release of the follow-up has been put back. It’s due early 2023. The third volume for BBE is being put together at the moment.
Tony Higgins has been such a great mentor and a source of sage advice and positivity.
How would you say the two compilations differ musically, or are they connected?
The BBE compilations are much more genre-fluid and have a Balearic outlook and would probably be classed as more DJ-friendly, whereas the Folk Funk and Trippy Troubadours are probably more esoteric and I'm hoping will become a real collection and a genre of their own. I want all my comps to do what that Alan Freeman comp did for me and spark off in different directions.
Where can people hear you DJ?
Online these days and I’d say I was more of a selector than DJ. I like the music to be the hero and very much like being second fiddle. I struggle with confidence and anxiety so rarely leave home let alone go out and DJ. I loved playing support for bands as no one was there to see me, I was just there to set the mood. I loved that and felt no pressure at all. I played every Lunar Festival and love that lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon slot. I’d like to play a few more festivals but I don’t have the right connections - anything chilled with no gurning faces covered in powder. Loved playing Manchester especially Refuge with Chris Maude, Luke Una did a wonderful job there. I enjoyed playing Spiritland at Merchant Tavern and Kings Cross, but I had to cancel my last booking there many years ago due to my anxiety. I haven't played out for years. I've been on crutches for the last 3 years and doing a 4-hour set just isn't physically possible for me. Plus the anxiety issues mean I struggle in general. It’s a pain in the arse. It’s been pretty hard these last 8 years but the music has been my constant mood stabiliser and works better than any of the medication they offer.
How and where was the mix recorded? (Equipment / location)
A while back I stopped recording mixes live straight from the deck. I’d always been a vinyl DJ - I need the stimulation of the sleeve artwork to kickstart my memory. I struggle with 45s as I can never get my brain into gear and have crap memory recall. I ended up moving regularly and never seemed to have the space to have both decks set up. Then a friend dropped one of my 1210s as he carried it out of a pub which left me with only one working deck so I had to adapt to a new way of recording mixes.
It took me years to do but I went through every album I owned and recorded the tracks that I may want to use in a lossless format. I tagged each track, FF, XIAN, CHILL, BAL, JAZZ, LONER, CONT, LOVE etc - it's all very anal. I then have those tracks in iTunes and in different folders all named and divided into playlists. Sorted in the same way any vinyl junky collates and stores their vinyl. Now every new 45 or LP that comes through the door is given the same treatment. Listen, record, tag and file.
So I have around 3000 tracks that I have recorded but haven't processed that sit on a backup disc waiting to be cleaned up and outputted and I have 17000+ songs that have already been processed that I can choose from. I've used nearly 2000 individual tracks so far in the 116 volumes of the Folk Funk & Trippy Troubadours mix series.
I use Audacity to record and take out the odd pop and click and then Garageband to commingle the mixes. It's why my mixes lack the segue finesse I'd wish for, as tweaking the pitch to beat match isn't straightforward. I was never that great at mixing, but I was okay and got by. I never really did the seamless dance floor venues anyway so I wasn’t that bothered to learn to scratch and mix properly.
How did you discover these tracks?
I used to love going digging for vinyl. I'd spend hours in basements and on dusty floors in the hope of finding just one 45. I spent years and years doing this. Every holiday or place I'd visit I'd spend half the time hunting for shops and secondhand places where vinyl might be hiding. Trips to America would be spent hauling suitcases of vinyl back on the flight home.
The sort of music I dig now can rarely be found in the wild in the UK and definitely not in Northampton. My knees are knackered and the crutches make digging hard so I do almost all of it online now. There is a great local shop, Vinyl Underground, but oddly enough it’s up 3 flights of stairs and not underground at all. I can’t get up the stairs unfortunately so if I order from them I have to pay for it to be shipped so I just look online for the best deal on new releases.
When the £ was worth something and shipping was cheap I'd take many blind punts on vinyl from all over the world. It was the same as any charity shop hit - most would arrive and be listened to and be absolutely awful, but every now and again you hit a diamond. If I order from further a field I always try and look through the sellers inventory and pick something to add to the order that’s very cheap, just looks right, you know it may have the right musician or recorded at a certain studio at the right time, has an engineer who I’m aware of, or has a flute on it.
The problem is the music I want to buy is getting more popular and some sellers have turned this once golden vista of cheap unknown beauties into a marketplace where prices are more aligned to Northern Soul records. It’s really very annoying. I always loved sharing something that you could find for a couple of quid but it's just getting harder to do. I’ve seen records that have never sold for more than $10 being re-listed at $300 it’s obscene.
How did you go about programming the running order? (Is it tempo, mood for example).
The running order evolves. I'll start with a mood track. From that mood track, I will create what I call a SHELF folder and place suitable tracks into that folder. I then move some to a folder I call BOX. All the tracks will have come from the original tagged folders I spoke about earlier. I then cherry-pick and place tracks into a PICKS folder from this folder I'll start to put the MIX folder together based on what feels right to me, and sometimes the mood track isn’t even in the final cut.
I have around 20 mixes taking shape at any one time - all in the process of being moved from folder to folder. Some take months to finish.
Hang on I can hear a steam train . . .
Any personal favourites in the selection? Anything you want to highlight?
Nick Harrison's ‘The Loner’ is an all-time favourite ever since I was a kid in the 70s watching Adam Faith in Budgie on a black and white telly. I absolutely adore that track and I'm hoping to license it one day and get it on a future release, I think that would make me very happy.
Where do you record shop?
Discogs is probably where I buy most stuff. eBay I used more for punts before the prices went bonkers. There are some wonderful independent sellers out there that find some wonderful vinyl and sell them at affordable prices - Growing Bin, WIWWG, Holywax, Séance Centre, Perfect Lives, All Night Flight, and Picnic are just a few.
Which other compilers / DJs are you a fan of and why?
Peter Beaver has a wonderful ear. Danny Mclewin must have the best record collection out there, we almost did a compilation together but the stars didn't align. I listen to Alan McKinnon's ‘Duvet Rustling Jazz’, lovely man. Chris Coco is still a favourite from way back to the Blue Room days. I try and listen to Kev Beadle's ‘Mind Fluid’. Balearic Mike's tips are always top. Hampus Gunnarsson has impeccable taste. I tune into Laura Coxeter & Patrick Forge, both have been very supportive of Folk Funk & Trippy Troubadours. Cerys on Sunday morning always has something to make me smile.
In truth, I try hard not to listen to other people's mixes as I don't want to compare myself to them, I end up beating myself up over how much better they are than I am. It's a horrible personality trait but I'm so pessimistic that if I listened to loads of other people I just wouldn't bother doing anything as I'd think what was the point. Plus listening to other people ends up with me wanting to spend a fortune on even more vinyl.
I’d like to highlight two comps that came out this year that I thought were just smashing ‘Down & Out’ - Compiled by Bruno Halper & Samuel Strang for NTS and ‘With Love: Volume 1 - Compiled by Miche’ on Mr. Bongo - both have tracks I’d have loved to have comped but they beat me to them!
What have you got coming up?
'We Are The Children Of The Sun' was released on BBE early this year and it sold out on vinyl and is being repressed. That was so wonderful to hear. My first attempt and it sold out, I was blown away by all the lovely things people had to say.
We also re-issued the Monica Rypma album 'Classifieds' which I think is such an underrated album that everyone should own. BBE did a fantastic job with Frank Merit mastering. It is beautiful and ticks everything Balearic. Monica is a really loving person and it was so nice to hear how genuinely happy she was that people would be listening to her music again. It still seems to be under the radar for some reason.
A follow up ‘Once Again We Are The Children Of The Sun' will be out on BBE in early 2023, the production delays have been a nightmare.
With BBE we also have a re-issue of a privately pressed album by a band called Forest that came out originally in 1978. The re-issue will have 6 previously unreleased tracks on, think Tim Buckley jamming with Mother Earth. Finding the OG was expensive and rare so it’s great to be able to re-issue it so people can get a copy and also the band can get paid. It’s a gatefold with full sleeve notes.
Then we have the sublime and long-awaited re-issue of Will & James Ragar One. One of my favourite all time albums it’s been remastered and the artists said it sounds better on the repress than the original. It’s released on BBE in 2023. Nice Gatefold cover with sleeve notes and there is a 45 re-issue too!
'Folk Funk and Trippy Troubadours Volume One' is out now on Warm and I'd encourage everyone to go and buy it. It’s a lovely gatefold sleeve with loads of notes about each artist. Volume Two should joyfully skip along behind it soon enough.
I'll be looking for more opportunities to re-issue a few more albums along the way too. Lots of guest mixes coming up and always willing to do more.
I'd really like to do a truly chilled folk loner compilation so if anyone wants to talk about doing that with me please get in touch.
Many thanks to Paul for taking the time to answer our questions and sending us the wonderful mix. Make sure to follow his blog, his mixcloud and keep an eye out for the forthcoming releases he mentioned.