Frock around the Clock

Singer Emily Capell talks to Dave Woodhall.

Emily Capell is a ludicrously young singer-songwriter currently touring with the Selecter. Her debut Combat Frock, apart from having the best name of any album, ever, drew comparisons with Billy Bragg amongst others. So we had to speak to her.

It’s a great title and you must get tired of being asked where you got the idea from.

“Thank you. Kirsty MacColl did something similar with Jimi Hendrix when she called her album Electric Landlady and I thought about Combat Rock. Somebody said it in a throwaway remark and I ran with it. I nicked it really.”

“I thought all you left-wing Marxist hippies weren’t allowed to wear frocks.”

“I am. It’s got nothing to do with that, its how you feel and how you treat others.”

Some time ago I spoke to blues singer Chantel McGregor she said she writes about buying a dress in the same way the original bluesmen wrote about working in cottonfields because that’s her life, her experiences and it might sound trite, but that’s her background.

“I guess so. That’s a lovely opinion to have. I guess it’s about what you understand. I write in a lot of genres and that’s what you do.”

Whatever your music might be, you pick up on your influences and whether that’s as you say, something as ordinary as buying clothes, or the Merseybeat groups sixty years ago listening to music from around the world in the dockside pubs. It’s what’s around you and what you do that mould your music.

“That’s right, and it’s different for every song. When it’s your debut album it’s music that you’ve been listening to since you were fourteen. You have your whole life to write your first album and six months to write your second.”

You’re always going to be labelled as a protest singer no matter what you’re writing about. You can write twenty songs about what the weather’s like and nobody bats an eyelid, you write one about climate change and you’re a protest singer.

“Maybe, but what a great way to be labelled. There’s a lot of people under that umbrella who are incredible. I’m happy to be there. That’s why you’ve got to enjoy everything you do. I’m having the most fun ever.”

Fun. That’s an under-estimated word in music.

“I think so. It’s important to enjoy yourself but also to learn on my track Who Killed Smiley Culture. I wanted to learn about him and what he was; just try it and don’t judge.”

There’s an obvious comparison with Billy Bragg. Does that annoy you?

“Not at all. I embrace being compared to someone like him. I’m honoured to be put in the same category as him, obviously.”

He came out of the eighties era of political singers and there does seem to be finally protests and protest singers again. We’ve skipped a generation, there’s a lot of older people who seem to be afraid of what the younger generation are getting up to and how influential they’re becoming, Greta Thunberg being the most obvious example.

“People are angry and things need to be changed. Extinction Rebellion are protesting on the Tube, and as annoying and frustrating as it might be, something needs to be done and it’s inspiring. We’ve got the march on Saturday and it’s brilliant to see people getting organised. It’s important to get involved.”

You’re touring with the Selecter now; I would say that you’ll be playing to a receptive audience. Your song I Found a Footballer To Marry Me is another great title. It’s nice to see someone getting over a message but doing it tongue in cheek.

“I guess so, that’s how I describe it.”

It’s better to make people laugh with you than to preach to them. So when are your generation going to take over from the mess that the old ‘us have left it in?

“That’s a good question and I don’t know. There’s a lot of momentum, a lot of talk on social media and we have to keep on pushing.”

You,re 23 but looking at your interviews and your playlists you like so much obscure older stuff that you can’t possibly be so young. You say that the song that defines you is Stay Free by the Clash, which is one of their album tracks rather than the better-known ones.

“And George Michael. He was an amazing songwriters and Wham always seemed to have the most fun on stage, then so much came out after he died about what a man he was. Joe Strummer as well, he’s my driving force.”

Emily Cappell supports the Selecter at the 02 Institute, Birmingham on 26th October. Tickets