His first dash into the world of folk music came around the age of 14 when Shepley Spring Festival started up just around the corner from his home – indeed “the next field” as he says. The Holme Valley is an area where the folk tradition still exists and in some ways thrives. His best friend's father was a well-known traditional singer and was performing, so the two of them plus a few mates went along to see what it was all about.
The chances are that anyone attending a folk festival this summer will probably have seen Jack Rutter making an appearance somewhere along the line. Perhaps best known as the final name in the young traditional and mainly instrumental group, Moore Moss Rutter, this is the year that Jack has progressed from being well-known as a guitar player and one third of a group, to a multi-instrumentalist solo artist with a CD of his own and a string of bookings. There have also been a number of collaborations that has meant that, at times, he seems to have been everywhere all at once.
Jack's early background did not suggest he would become a folk singer or a guitar player at all; indeed his early career was as a drummer and in all sorts of bands - punk, rock, and he also drummed for the school orchestra. His early love though was really jazz, and AC/DC, though at that time appreciation of heavy metal was standard amongst young people of his age. What was unusual, though, was that Shelley School was a hot bed of music, with a talented teacher who encouraged students to follow their own route.
His first dash into the world of folk music came around the age of 14 when Shepley Spring Festival started up just around the corner from his home – indeed “the next field” as he says. The Holme Valley is an area where the folk tradition still exists and in some ways thrives. His best friend's father was a well-known traditional singer and was performing, so the two of them plus a few mates went along to see what it was all about. He found the natives were very friendly, and thanks to festival organiser Nikki Hampson he did a couple of songs and tunes at an open mic session. He also came across bands like the Peatbog Faeries and Waterson:Carthy and found them both exciting and interesting – a lot of people come across folk music like that, and Jack was just as easily captivated.
Another major influence at this time, which helped form the young Jack's musical tastes, was Huddersfield Library. Like many such institutions then, there was a good collection of folk CDs in the music section and Jack's appetite for these was unlimited. He took out all the classics of the seventies and, as you might expect, the top guitar players such as Nic Jones and Martin Carthy featured high on the list, but he also listened to a lot of Martin Simpson and cites both Martins' styles as a major influence on the way he plays himself. At this point in their lives before going to university, many young people would embark on a gap year, packing a rucksack and making their way into exotic places often across the far east and beyond. Young Jack did it differently. His guitar skills were sufficiently good enough to get him a place deputising at first and then playing with one of those Irish dance groups that was cashing in on the worldwide success of Riverdance, and he played his way across Europe - undoubtedly excellent practice for someone who was to become a touring musician and great fun for a young man just starting out.
In 2008 came a chance meeting with the first and second names in the trio, Tom Moore and Archie Churchill-Moss. The three met in one of those breeding grounds of Northern England which has seen the birth of many a singer, musician and band - the Youth Stage at Beverley Festival. Guided by Sam Pirt, who seems to have a knack for introducing the right people to each other, they sparked off each other and started collaborating. They continued the relationship at Folkworks and in no time became a young band with a tremendous talent for modern sounding arrangements. They took old tunes and blended them with their own compositions in a hard-to-define style incorporating a number of influences. They became serious players on the festival scene.
The height of that early fame came when they won the very prestigious award for young musicians at the BBC Folk Awards in 2011. This was a major boost to the career of Moore Moss Rutter because the prize included an appearance at Cambridge Festival, with a filmed interview for Sky Arts, and another gig on the main stage at Fairport Convention's Cropredy Festival which introduced them all to a much bigger audience. At this time, Jack started at Newcastle University. There is an automatic assumption that he did the folk degree, but this would be wrong. Jack spent his three years there studying hard – of course – for a degree in Countryside Management, the rural environment being a major passion of his. Naturally, there was just the odd evening retaining his musical skills and occasionally improving them in the regular sessions in the city. Jack also learned the skills of time management because there was some straining to be done when it came to fitting gigs in and managing academic work!
Another big boost to Jack's career came four years ago with an invitation to join Seth Lakeman's band and complete another series of tours around Europe – though in much more comfort than he had done in earlier years. This raised Jack's personal horizons. Playing in a band with such high calibre musicians inevitably raises your own game, and Jack began to think about a CD of his own; unadorned, and with no electronic marvels hidden away in the grooves, so to speak. Jack was now a fully-fledged member of a couple of quality bands, but he was known only as an instrumentalist and was hardly doing any singing. So Jack was encouraged by Seth's bassman, Ben Nicholls, who originally suggested recording a demo CD as a source of fun and enjoyment. A few songs came to mind and in no time at all there was more than enough for a fully-fledged CD.
Choosing the final selection of material was comparatively easy. Jack currently lives in an area that abounds with interesting open spaces, with abandoned brickworks and ganister mines, with woods, and with what until just a few years ago were working rivers. Given his academic background, it was not unreasonable to expect the chosen songs might come together on many a walk around the local hills and valleys. It may not directly relate to the songs chosen for the album, but talking to Jack it's clearly there in the background.
The other local influence is that in that area there is still a lot of singing; one of the major homes of the Sheffield Carols is only a short walk from Jack's house. So that rural influence, whilst not entirely at the forefront of his thoughts, certainly coloured his thinking - hence the title of his solo CD, Hills. As well as inspiration from his rural surroundings, Jack is quick to acknowledge the advantages of the modern performer. There are now vast collections online, accessible at the click of a mouse, and whilst the seeking out of old vinyl can sometimes unearth treasures in charity shops, Jack readily admits it takes a long time to mine a gem. The mouse is quicker. Another local influence, and also a good friend, was Joe Rusby who recorded the CD. Jack had an idea in his mind to emulate those early heroes and denizens of Huddersfield Public Library Music Section - Jones, Simpson, Carthy and others - and record something that was plain and unadorned.
On the CD he is accompanied by his own guitar, bouzouki and duet concertina, but there are no overdubs and each song on Hills is as sung and played by Jack and recorded by Joe. Jon Boden said: “A truly captivating singer of traditional songs, Jack Rutter’s new record feels like one of the classic folk albums of the 70s.” This is a very apt description and exactly the sound the singer and producer were aiming for. It sits easily as a whole album and not just a collection of songs. As well as touring the solo album and playing at festivals, Jack has just finished a tour with Greg Russell – “The Ginger Beard Tour” as Jack described it - and that went down very well across a wide range of venues.
Jack thought a double-header collaboration looked like it might be a load of fun, and it proved to be exactly that. Jack hasn't given up on Moore Moss Rutter (although he has to remind people of that occasionally), but this solo effort means musical plans have widened considerably. Ever in demand, he has also been invited into another project, a band with Sam Sweeney to launch Sam's record, The Unfinished Violin. This is already in rehearsal and going really well so far, and there are gigs in December for this one.
For a young man in his twenties, Jack seems to have lived an intensely full and interesting life so far. So try to catch him somewhere on his many travels.
by Dave Eyre
Printed in Issue 126 of The Living Tradition - December 2018
Photo by Elly Lucas