Americana troubadour Ryley Walker’s psychedelic folk is more reminiscent of the sun-kissed ï¬elds of Woodstock circa 1969 than it is of England in February. Nonetheless, Walker is set to play Oxford for the ï¬rst time on Thursday of Fifth Week.
Hailing from Rockford, Illinois, the singer-songwriter will play at The Bullingdon alongside folk legend, double-bassist Danny Thompson. Thompson has previously played with Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and Bert Jansch, marking him a pedigree of the folk scene. In turning his attention to 26-year-old Walker, who excitedly tells me that “the honour to play a whole set with Danny is overwhelming,” Thompson highlights the younger musician as one to take note of. And I beg we listen: these long-standing folkies know what they’re talking about.
At End of the Road Festival last year, I was surprised to see Walker ï¬rst on the bill on a sunny Friday afternoon on one of the smaller stages. Walker writes to me as he waits to board a ï¬‚ight at an airport, his touring schedule constantly keeping him on the move. He reminisces about that late summer afternoon in a ï¬eld with peacocks wandering around the site: “I remember driving a long way to get there from Amsterdam and immediately eating a giant sandwich when I got out of the van. The crowds and staï¬€ were lovely people. I had so much fun.”
In many ways, the setting of this performance seemed to encapsulate Walker’s sixties psychedelic-folk sound. His lush, soulful voice croons over warm guitar melodies on ‘Primrose Green,’ the title track from last year’s album which was ranked fourth in Uncut’s Albums of the Year 2015. Speaking of his record’s successes, Walker simply says, “People had a lot of nice things to say which got me around the world and a lot of free drinks”. He seems to embody the laid-back “it’s all about the music (and the booze)” vibe.
With materialistic, dirty, modern music festivals often seeming far away from Woodstock or the Isle of Wight Festival of 1969, it is intriguing to hear what such a down-to-earth musician, who seems at one with the folk ethos he has long been inspired by, thinks of current festival culture. “The right festival gig can be a smash, especially if lots of friends are playing. Both [gigs and festivals] have their ups and downs,” says Walker.
Again, we hear Walker’s expected ‘hippie’ attitude. But the Rockford native hasn’t played in Oxford before, and is just as thrilled about the idea of playing to a new crowd.
Walker enjoys a sweaty city club as much as he enjoys having rolling green hills as his backdrop. He’s a versatile performer wherever he goes and performs. Simply, he tells me, “I just like to play.”