Josiah Mortimer is a second year Politics student at the University of York, who is about to seriously crack the music scene. His acoustic, radical-folk style sets him apart from the crowd, and he has big plans for the rest of this year. I caught up with Josiah to chat about music, politics and Bieber.
“I grew up in Manchester, and then moved to Cornwall when I was about ten years old. But it wasn’t until I was eleven that I started playing guitar, which led to me writing songs and just falling in love with the instrument”. But it did not take long for Mortimer to find his path when it came to song writing; by the age of sixteen he had already recorded his first EP at a recording studio in Cornwall.
“That first moment in the studio sort of solidified the genre I wanted to be a part of, and from then onwards I always veered towards more folky-political stuff. Last Christmas I did some more recording and from that I produced Bonfire Songs, a small collection of music that I wrote specifically about disillusions with this country’s government. But it’s not all politics! I wanted to make my music chilled out, so people can relate to it and not just feel ambushed by the message. I also included some love songs in there too.”
Politics is undoubtedly a driving force behind Mortimer’s musical motivation, and so I ask him about his political background and about when he first became so enthused with activism. “At the age of, I think, fifteen, I attended the CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) demonstrations in Plymouth and from then on got more and more involved. I was originally a huge supporter of the Labour Party, but it soon became clear that a lot of my faith in their policies became futile and they simply were not delivering. So soon I switched and became a Green Party activist, and have been ever since”.
For me, I am stricken by the passion and drive in Mortimer’s voice, and am immediately impressed by how someone so young is so educated and inspired by our country and its political system. Above all else, however, it is his powerful music which so eloquently expresses this determination.
“Music is such a good vehicle for conveying sentiments that mean something, and it can often be the most memorable vehicle too. I feel that this country needs more folk! And needs more people singing about the things that matter.”
On that note I question Mortimer about his folk roots, about his musical influences and his decision to delve into this largely untouched genre. “I feel that in Britain there is a folk scene, but it is so underground. There are no other prominent radical-folk musicians, other than say Grace Petrie, in the UK”. Mortimer goes on to say how he feels sad about that fact that this genre has remained so unrecognised in this country.
“I feel as though there is a duty for musicians who are politicised to speak out in their music. If you look at the charts, the top ten is dominated by the same generic artist with the same generic song. Let me say that I do respect anyone who writes and performs music. But I do feel there should be some feeling of responsibility in these artists. There is a real space for prominent left wing musicians. These top ten artists are looked upon by the world… imagine what a difference there would be if Justin Bieber walked on stage wearing a ‘Free Palestine’ t-shirt. I feel as though young people would be more engaged with politics if the message was more stimulating, like if it was said through music”. Yet Mortimer dates his roots and influences back to Led Zeppelin and the Sex Pistols. “I had a very musically diverse upbringing! But artists like Bob Dylan and Billy Bragg have been constant inspirations to me when song writing and performing.”
I then ask Mortimer about whether the reason why this specific genre of music is a little unheard of is because young people have become more and more disinterested and disillusioned with politics in this county. “I don’t agree with that statement. I truly believe that young people care, this is shown by the sheer amount of students who turned up in London to protest the rising of tuition fees. I do feel that at the moment there is this monotonous onslaught of young people, through the rising levels of unemployment, EMA being cut, the tuition fees… we really can’t catch a break. So overall I do believe that young people feel lost. But this can change, and people do respond, whether in big statements or small ones. If I can achieve some sort of small statement with my music then I have achieved what I set out to do when I was eleven and first picked up that guitar.”
As for Mortimer’s plans this year, his next gig is York Social’s acoustic event The Gathering on Saturday 27 April from 8pm at the Golden Ball. He hopes to continue playing and maybe end up in the recording studio again. “I aspire to the longevity of people like Billy Bragg and Pete Seeger as musicians, and really hope I can continue playing music for the rest of my life.”
I encourage all York students, or any student for that matter, to listen to Mortimer’s stuff online, on Sound Cloud. He is truly the voice of a very scared and frustrated generation, and at twenty years of age makes a lot more sense than any of the politicians speaking out there today. I would take his voice over David Cameron’s any day.