Writing, of course, has a very creative aspect, but there’s a creative aspect in arranging—I’d be a historian if I wanted just to mark it down. I wouldn’t see the point in doing [a traditional tune] if it wasn’t creative in some way; I want to bring out my love of the song, to bring out the core of what I think is in the song, the idea of what can happen instead of what other people perceive it to be. What I perceive it to be and what you perceive it to be might be two completely different things. Take a simple song like “The Wild Rover.” It’s known as this huge drinking song, but really it’s about the woes of drinking: “If I had all the money I left in your care / It would buy me the food for a family affair / It would thatch my new cottage, it would buy me a barn. . . .”
So without some real searching in a traditional song, you won’t be able to find what the core of the song is. The same goes for writing historical songs. It’s not so much history—it’s more about the human condition that we’re bound to repeat these things because most people don’t pay attention. That’s why I write these songs. There’s still famine going on in many countries. We choose to ignore it. There are still people battling, and there are still wars being fought all the time.—John Doyle
From Acoustic Guitar May 2012. Read the full interview, and watch some jaw-dropping video clips of Doyle demonstrating his guitar style on traditional and original tunes, here.