Photos: Phil Sharp
Very much a master of his craft, Obaro Ejimiwe, aka Ghostpoet, released his fourth album, Dark Days and Canapés, in August. After the foray into overt cheerfulness of 2015’s Shedding Skin, it was a case of ‘back to bleak’ for 2017’s offering: “It’s a product of my evolution as an artist. I’m more comfortable with what I’m trying to make and I’m more confident lyrically in the kind of things I want to write about. I guess that’s just collided with the times we’re living in and what I’ve always tried to do, which is to capture the moment.”
It was on Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam, in 2011, that Ghostpoet delivered the line, “As you get older, you just have to live and learn.” So what wisdom has he gleaned with age? “We haven’t got enough time to answer that question. You’re always evolving as a human. The minute you decide there’s nothing left to learn, you’re kind of lost, really.”
The recurring theme of isolation underpins Ghostpoet’s work. For him, “Isolation is a complicated thing in an increasingly complex world. We’re very simple creatures, but we seem to surround ourselves with complication.” I ask whether his recent move to Margate, on the Kent coast, might give future records a different sound, a bit more of a sense of peace or space, perhaps: “Who knows – is it nature or nurture? I’m intrigued to see what happens. We’ll see it if I, hopefully, get to make another record. The demos will certainly start off in Margate. It’s an interesting scene here right now; we’re just heading into winter, with amazing weather, the beach and the sea.”
“What I’ve always tried to do… is to capture the moment.”
As well as his new album, he’ll very much be bringing elements of his home town around the country with him: “You have these big plans on tour to read books and catch up on various things. I’m trying to start a radio station in Margate, so that’s probably going to take up most of my time when I’m not playing. I’ll be sorting things by email, like programming and the live stuff we want to do, and contacting suppliers about finishing construction and the last bits of furniture.”
He was refreshingly non-precious when I asked him about the early reception to his brand-new body of work, asserting, “My attitude is that, once it’s out, it doesn’t belong to me anymore. The live thing is a different energy. That energy can be renewed every night through playing to new audiences. There’s a reinterpretation of the songs for the live environment, the energy you get from the crowd and the energy between me and my band on stage; it’s just different from the record-making process. I guess I do retake ownership of the songs through the live performance in a way.”
“The minute you decide there’s nothing left to learn, you’re kind of lost, really.”
Despite two Mercury nominations (and a credibly possible third for his latest work), he seems happy to represent the ‘Ghost-‘ part of his name, an irresistible, haunting whisper, rather than some brash, big noise: “Success for me was just being able to make a record and put it out, so everything that’s happened since then’s just been a bonus, really. The more I’m known, the more chance I have to make music, get it out there and tour, but apart from that, I don’t think I’ve made a success of it. I’ve made a career out of it.
“Way back when, I was just thinking about a name that didn’t give you an immediate idea of what the music was like behind it. I just wanted it to be a doorway to go through and, if people choose to go through it, they can discover what I’m about. I can’t complain. It’s gotten me this far.”
“Once it’s out, it doesn’t belong to me anymore.”
Genre-fluid, uncategorisable, he keeps on preventing music journos, despite their determined efforts, from putting him in a stylistic stranglehold: “It comes with its own frustrations. I’ve always tried to be as original as possible and to make albums that reflect the music I listen to, which is everything. I always find it boring to try to write music in one, or a couple of genres. I think people are starting to accept me for what I am.”
And whatever you say he is, you can be sure that’s what he’s not. “Last time I came to Bristol, I got the opportunity to be a blacksmith for the afternoon. I’d been on 6Music; Lauren Laverne was interviewing me and I’m always kidding with Lauren because she’s just great fun – an amazing broadcaster. She asked me what I’d want to do as a career if it wasn’t music, so I jokingly said, ‘a swordsmith’ off the top of my head. I was just about to go on tour and a lady called Jo Williams of Fire Iron Art got in touch and said to come by if I had some time when I was in Bristol. It was a really eye-opening experience.” A pity, then, that when Ghostpoet plays the Marble Factory this month, there won’t be any preparatory stonemasonry thrown in.
Ghostpoet plays the Marble Factory on 14th November, with Dark Days and Canapés out now on PIAS.