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In Conversation with Charlie Cunningham

Contemporary indie folk and flamenco artist Charlie Cunningham details his unique musical journey through night shifts in Oxford bars to now commercial success as he speaks to Epigram Music.

By Lauren Paddison, Second Year Music

Epigram Music talk musical creativity, tiresome night shifts and Spanish culture with delicate indie folk singer-songwriter, Charlie Cunningham.

Born and bred in Bedfordshire, contemporary indie folk and flamenco musician Charlie Cunningham has now released his second LP, ‘Permanent Way’. Cunningham kindly took the time to answer our questions, detailing his unique musical journey and now commercial success with an immaculate level of generosity and honesty.

Firstly, the acoustic singer-songwriter took us back to when he was just twelve years old. Cunningham’s next-door neighbour gifted him his first acoustic guitar- ‘a big steel strung thing that he had knocking around in his garage. I think he was a bit pissed at the time, but he never asked for it back’.

Cunningham’s early musical experiences were no different to any other twelve-year old, influenced by popular music heard on both TV and radio. He reminisced about a time where there were only three music channels which he used to flick obsessively between. When asked about artists who had particularly shaped his style, The Beatles took pride of place. ‘They had an anthology on TV, on the BBC I think. A two-part documentary, like this really thorough four-hour thing…’. Whilst recognising the origin of his style he also stressed the importance of embracing all musical genres and soundscapes, revealing a flurry of classical and heavy metal influences that he once tried to incorporate into his music as a teen.

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Takk @bergenfest

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Cunningham then swiftly took us to the time where he made music his profession. His love for the art form was always present, but it wasn’t until his early twenties that he made it his livelihood. His thinking being ‘If I’m going to work 8-9-hour days doing stuff that I’m really not that interested in at all for not much money, then I may as well get not much money for something I am interested in’.

The biggest and boldest move in Cunningham’s career is undoubtedly a move to the south of Spain where he spent two years immersing himself in Spanish culture and music, perfecting the craft of flamenco guitar playing. ‘By this point I was working in a bar in Oxford, and I’d met lots and lots of Spanish people’ - this was just the start of his journey.

Cunningham speaks of his travels to Spain with colourful energy. A unique experience that has shaped him as a songwriter. Yet, that’s not to say the shift from Oxford to Spain in search of musical creativity was an easy one. ‘I thought I would try and dip my toes in it and go to Spain for a couple of months and just try and get my head around it a little bit. But it’s really hard, so I ended up staying for two and a half years.’ Working night shifts at a hostel during this time enabled Cunningham to really put in the hours on guitar.

‘I just tried to immerse myself in their music as a whole. It’s got a lot of cultural weight to it, so I didn’t want to take it lightly y’know. I thought, ‘if I’m going to try and understand this music, then I’ve got to give it my all’’.‌                                                                                           ‌

His advice to the next generation of musicians was spoken in a noticeably sincere tone. ‘If it makes you happy and fulfilled, then that’s enough of a reason to do anything’. He emphasises the importance of practice balanced with musical focus and recommends simplicity of aims coupled with good intentions.

Cunningham recalled many memorable moments on stage for us, supporting guitar and folk legend Rodriguez at the Royal Albert Hall, playing the beautifully curated End of the Road Festival in 2015 and the Montreal Jazz Festival. He said of these precious moments, ‘It’s amazing really. Lots of these crazy boxes keep getting ticked and you have to take a moment to take a breath to acknowledge it all’.‌

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Hot back

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Our last topic of conversation fell nicely to his latest album. ‘Permanent Way’ hit streaming platforms on June 7th and has been circling our heads ever since. Gentle folk meets flamenco in this truly transformative and introspective twelve track LP. ‘What did I want to achieve? I think I just wanted to achieve something that was the exact representation of where I was at. And yeah, I think I’ve done that.’

There is no greater embodiment of his attempts to ‘do something that feels proper; that feels true and honest’ than his beautifully anthemic new record. He notes an evolution from his first album which centred on an mixture of guitar and voice, whilst his latest effort instead focuses on ‘putting songs in a contrasting atmosphere and using a bit more instrumentation to create slightly different dynamics’. Cunningham’s final remarks were bursting with humility.

He quietly confides that his new work is ‘just a step on, not a huge catapult forward’.

‘But as long as I’m moving forwards, I think I’m all good.’

Featured Image: Charlie Cunningham/BMG