Johnny Flynn: Stirring Up 'A Larum' A 25-year-old singer-songwriter, Flynn makes music that seems to draw equally from William Shakespeare and Bob Dylan: He has the ear of a poet and the mind of a storyteller. Flynn has just made his American debut with A Larum.
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Johnny Flynn: Stirring Up 'A Larum'

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Johnny Flynn: Stirring Up 'A Larum'

Johnny Flynn: Stirring Up 'A Larum'

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Johnny Flynn is a descendant of Shakespeare and Bob Dylan. His command of words shows he has the ear of a poet and the mind of a storyteller. The 25-year-old South African-born Brit is making his American debut with the album "A Larum." Here's a bit of the song, "The Wrote and the Writ."

(Soundbite of song "The Wrote and the Writ")

Mr. JOHNNY FLYNN (Singer): (Singing) I soon forget what was never there; it was a rationed dust. All that's left is a song I've sung and breath I take and then the one I must. If you're born with a love for the wrote and the writ, people let it show (unintelligible) stands clear they heed to your heart and not to your (unintelligible). Don't say the letter when you (unintelligible) in my ear.

LYDEN: Johnny Flynn joins me now from London. Hello. How are you?

Mr. FLYNN: I'm good. How are you?

LYDEN: Fine, thanks. So, where does the title of the album come from? A - and then there's a space - Larum?

Mr. FLYNN: Well, apparently, it's a word that was the origin for the world along. And I saw it - probably first saw it used in Shakespeare text as a stage direction. It sometimes has a larum off, meaning there's some kind of ruckus or noise going on offstage. So, I quite liked the idea that the noise happening offstage was this album.

LYDEN: Until fairly recently you were acting on the stage, more than playing music and writing music. You toured with an all male Shakespearean theatre troop called Propeller. Was there any sonnet or any play that really found its way into sort of the consciousness behind your own writing?

Mr. FLYNN: Yeah, definitely. I've been particularly affected by characters in Shakespeare's plays that have held the kind of (unintelligible) voice of the play or even of the (unintelligible). Maybe like first day in "Twelfth Night" or even "Hamlet." There's always those kind of luminary figures that seem to speak the truth. And the whole place seems to be around them anyway.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. FLYNN: (Singing) Fell far from grace, so far I couldn't see no underground. I was not far from the tree. We're all digging if you want to know. Fixing, digging far too slow, far too slow.

I guess I started writing poetry and stuff and then decided to try to set it to music. And I wanted the lyrical aspect to be in the tradition of lyrical verse but then to be about other contemporary issues.

LYDEN: You have a song on this CD called "Hong Kong Cemetery." And I think that alludes to your grandfather and sort of larger rambling of your family.

Mr. FLYNN: Yeah. That was written when we were on tour with the play actually. We went to Hong Kong and although I'd never met him - my grandfather, because he died in 1952 - I visited his grave, which is in Hong Kong Cemetery, which is this incredible place. I guess it kind of goes (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of song "Hong Kong Cemetery")

Mr. FLYNN: (Singing) There are 10,000 graves in Hong Kong Protestant Cemetery. Every one of them says fought and died and the rest might be history. Walking there I cried for my (unintelligible) I never knew shade to be so refreshing.

The song's are kind of musing on what it's like for my father at the time of his death. And it's a generational divide and just skipping generations.

(Soundbite of song "Hong Kong Cemetery")

(Soundbite of song "Shore to Shore")

Mr. FLYNN: (Singing) I am the bus driver, give me some grace. You never see me and you don't know my faceā€¦

LYDEN: Johnny Flynn, you're obviously drawn to writing and the itinerant life. Would you tell me the story behind this song, "Shore to Shore?"

Mr. FLYNN: Yes. Well, it was a tragic accident that I read about in the newspaper and kind of kept, you know, did that thing of cutting out the clipping. This girl called Blessing was hit by a No. 12 bus - it's the same bus route that I used to get when I lived in South London. And her father happened to be a bus driver of a No. 12 bus several back behind the actual bus that killed his daughter.

And he heard about it on the channel air of the buses and sent his other daughter down to see if all her siblings were okay. Because it was near the school where they all went. And of course she went and found out that it was her sister.

(Soundbite of song "Shore to Shore")

Mr. FLYNN: (Singing) I've been waiting an hour and the bus hasn't come. I've been cussing my car for the lack of the sun. I've been ruined by destiny, lowered by the (unintelligible) and the upshot of this is are we going to be late, to be late, to be late?

It was quite a shocking story to read about and I was trying to kind of place it with it or work out how I was supposed to place a tragedy like that in our heads and in our sense of how the world works in terms of our faith and compassion, stuff like that.

LYDEN: I like this image of clipping something from the paper as opposed to reading it online. Do you keep a diary or do you find that your lyrics and your thoughts go into your songwriting?

Mr. FLYNN: I keep a notebook - it's full of observations and things, recording things usually in verse.

LYDEN: Would you happen to have your journal with you by any chance?

Mr. FLYNN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: Would you mind sharing something from it with us?

Mr. FLYNN: Okay. I'm going to - I'll just read you - this is just what I wrote on the bus on the way here.

Rings of stories reeled me in, caught my ear and hurt my chin. A Friday dinner, a fish struck center, pulled me down, Lord, put me in. Give me faith and give me love, afaining(ph) from the clouds above. The sea below lends strings a bow. If I can't jump just push and shove. And I'll be in a happy one, a lucky running changing sun. A lost and found, the newest sound, bullet from a golden gun.

Here I lie dying in bed, it's time for me and dust to wed. I'll taste the loam onto the loam and with a breath my body's dead.

LYDEN: Excuse me. You wrote that on the bus on the way to this interview?

Mr. FLYNN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: Well, you just might have a career ahead of you.

Mr. FLYNN: All right.

LYDEN: That's absolutely beautiful. It reminds me - I see poets wandering the Lake District and writing down - you know, like (unintelligible) and Woodsworth(ph) used to do and it's just lovely.

Mr. FLYNN: Thank you.

LYDEN: Let's listen to another song.

Mr. FLYNN: Okay.

LYDEN: This one's called "The Box: The Song of a Vagrant."

(Soundbite of song "The Box: The Song of a Vagrant")

Mr. FLYNN: (Singing) Love lives in a box by the rails. Only thing he knew you don't fail when you live in a box by the rails. Don't comb your hair, don't comb your tail.

LYDEN: I read that this was inspired by Henry David Thoreau's "Walden."

Mr. FLYNN: Yeah, in a sense, yeah. You know, the idea that we are, you know, sort of perfectly contained within ourselves and then yet somehow our thoughts and edges kind of extend to what we possess and think we possess. And Thoreau was, you know, saying that somewhere along the line we've come horribly wrong, you know, collecting all this stuff. And then he went and lived as a hermit and carried out these sort of thought experiments.

It was really that whole thing set a story basically in that song.

LYDEN: You're coming to the U.S. for your first tour this fall and we looked up your schedule. You'll be stopping near Thoreau's old stomping grounds near Concord in Massachusetts. Are you going to pay a visit?

Mr. FLYNN: Wow. Yeah, I didn't know that we were coming near so maybe I will. That would be nice.

LYDEN: Johnny Flynn's new album is called "A Larum." It's been wonderful talking with you. Good luck on this tour and thanks for joining us.

Mr. FLYNN: Thank you very much for having me.

(Soundbite of song "The Box: The Song of a Vagrant")

Mr. FLYNN: (Singing) Leave my mess away, leave my body, leave my bones. Leave me homeless, leave my soul, leave me nothing I don't need at all, nothing I don't need at all.

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