Sam Kelly and Jamie Francis – just a couple of lost boys having fun on the road

Sam Kelly
Sam Kelly

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Sam Kelly already has a prestigious Radio 2 Folk Award under his belt. In 2016 he was given the Horizon Award for promising artists, and now, along with his band The Lost Boys, he is up again at this year's ceremony for Best Group.

Speaking to The Guide while on the road with the band, Sam says: 'Yes, I got the Horizon Award which is the "you’re not very good now, but you might be one day" award. This year we’re up for best group which is very exciting.'

The big night is in Belfast on April 4, and despite being a little strapped for cash, they're going to be there. 

'We’ve managed to find a cheap way of getting there – it’s the Megabus to London and then flying on Easyjet to Belfast. It’ll be good fun.'

The band has carved itself a reputation as a top live act, and their glee while playing is infectious.

'I think that’s the main thing, I think that’s what comes through and why people have been enjoying it. I guess there can be a tendency with folk, as it’s a niche genre and a niche scene, that it can become a little bit classically-minded and stuffy, but with us, we’re all just loving playing the music and very excited about it, and that shows through in the live show.

'I think we’ve hit a bit of a niche with a bunch of young, very over-excited guys playing traditional music in a kind of weird way,' he laughs.

The seven-piece group tour finishes in Hereford on Monday, but there's no rest for Sam and his bandmate and main musical collaborator, Jamie Francis, as they head out on a short run of dates as a duo.

'All of the band's songs are either written or arranged by me and Jamie. We’re either the masterminds or the idiots behind the project depending on which way you look at it.

'Me and Jamie have got this duo stint after the tour finishes where we can wind down a bit and play some nice intimate shows and try out some different songs.'

With last year's Pretty Peggy album receiving brilliant reviews, and the venues they play getting bigger, things are on the up for Sam and co. 

'With the full band tour, this is only the second tour that we’ve done, and I’m still at the stage where I’ve only been doing it four or five years, and there’s a sense of moving the goalposts.

'Whenever I achieve something I want to – at first it was just to get a gig, then it was to record an EP – there’s always something else you want to do. I’m at the stage where I have these moments, where I step back and think: "Wow", like when we sold out The Slaughtered Lamb in London, which we played back in 2011 to three people.

'We’re getting booked for all these amazing festivals, and we’re signed to one of the biggest folk labels in the country [Navigator]. It’s all going well but there’s always room for improvement.

'There are times when you’re looking to that next thing, and it’s easy to forget how far you’ve come.'

The first time Sam appeared on the national stage though, was a bit different to most folk musicians – he appeared on the 2012 series of ITV's ratings juggernaut Britain's Got Talent. He even made it to the final where he was ultimately beaten by Pudsey the dog.

'It doesn’t seem to be the natural trajectory to go from appearing on the Britain's Got Talent final to playing the Waltham Abbey Folk Club,' he admits. 'But it was great – I had a brilliant time on that show.

'It’s not the kind of thing I’m into or really watch, I don’t watch much TV at all to be honest, let alone the talent shows. But at the time I was at university and eating Super Noodles on toast every day, so it was an opportunity to play the songs I was playing at open mics anyway in front of 13m people on national TV. And I got to live in a lovely hotel in London for a while!

'Then I got beaten by a dog – an extraordinarily talented dog. I actually met them very early on. I happened to be sat next to Ashley, Pudsey's owner, and her mum at one of the first rounds and got chatting, so Pudsey became one of my best friends during the competition.

'It was funny, that year they were trying to get more music involved and they were trying to bill it as having all those talented, strong musicians – and we got beaten by a dog!'

Sam and the band are already looking at the follow-up to Pretty Peggy, too.

'The nature of the beast, and one of the most difficult things for me to get used to as a very disorganised person is how far in advance you have to do everything.  As soon as you get an album out you have to start thinking about the next one.

'We recorded Pretty Peggy last January and it didn’t come out until October.

'But we’ve already got plans in the works to record the next album and we’re artists in residence this summer at a place called Halsway Manor in Somerset, which is kind of the national centre for folk arts, and we’ll be writing the entire new album there.'

'Being on tour, we’ve been coming up with new ideas and people are coming up with little jams and tunes and that’s the beauty of this band is that we come up with things organically.'

SAM KELLY DUO

Hambledon Folk Club 

Wednesday, March 14

hambledonfolkclub.com