There are people who still consider Joe Strummer to be a punk fraud because he went to boarding school in Surrey. Gram Parsons is yet to be inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame because he was a Florida trust fund kid and not a genuine Kentucky cowpoke. Adele’s not allowed to be a proper soul singer because she was raised on fish and chips, not chitlins and succotash. Authenticity in pop is still a strangely big deal for some, so heads are going to explode when Johnny Flynn, an ex-Winchester College choirboy, sings, “Show me the way to the rubbish dump or the bins at closing time/I’ve walked a mile just to catch a smile from a fish without its brine”.
Clearly, this fresh-faced 24-year-old has never had to rummage through the skip behind Somerfield for his five a day. Flynn, however, is a trained actor, and – judging by the fact he’s performed Twelfth Night at the Old Vic and once turned up to west London indie night Blue Flowers with Kevin Spacey in tow – he’s a pretty good one. ‘A Larum’ is a triumph of method acting. By immersing himself so completely in traditional American blues and English folk music, Flynn has invented a persona that, while not authentic, is mostly utterly engaging.
He’s a mile or two further down the highway than Lightspeed Champion and has reached the point where the concrete turns to mud and rooks circle the cemetery. Ukuleles, carousing brass and skewered fiddles are the rosy flesh on his songs’ weary bones. Johnny’s voice is perfect for this stuff: plain but unwavering, and always prepared to cede a verse to another member of his band, The Sussex Wit. While no-one’s rolled around an orchard or played marbles for centuries, Flynn’s yarns are so charming you rarely feel this is a privileged toff slumming it for earthy credibility. If he has any peers, it’s Scottish new-folk singer James Yorkston, who always manages to conjure up an atmosphere of glowing-hearth conviviality without coming across like an irrelevant old git in an arran jumper. “I could be somewhere else, I should be someone else” Flynn laments on ‘Brown Trout Blues’, but in fact Johnny is so good at being someone else he’s more compelling than most songwriters who try too hard to be themselves.