10 questions for Ed Harcourt

(Image credit: Steve Gullick)

Over the past decade-and-a-half, Ed Harcourt has been quietly staking his claim as a British songwriting institution. Besides his consistently critically lauded solo material, recent work with James Bay, Lana Del Rey and Paloma Faith has further solidified his credentials.

New album, Furnaces, showcases a more aggressive side to Harcourt's normally understated craft, with super-producer Flood on hand to bring darker, fuzzier guitar textures to the fore - and while Harcourt's trademark piano backing occasionally surfaces, it's these savage distorted freakouts that provide the album's exhilaratingly abrasive high points.

With this heavier direction in mind, the timing couldn't be better to quiz Ed on his guitar predilections: the instruments he's loved and lost over the years, and his ongoing wrangles with six-strings over the ivories…

1. What was your first guitar and when did you get it?

"The first proper guitar I ever owned was a turquoise Danelectro that I acquired from Notting Hill Music Exchange. I smashed it into pieces at Glastonbury 2002. It felt like a good idea at the time. The first guitar that I felt like it truly belonged to me is my Fender Jazzmaster '63. It's a lefty, but I play upside down so it's a lefty with the strings turned 'round."

2. The building's burning down - what one guitar do you save?

"A very testing question. I think it would be my most recent guitar, the Beastatone. It's a beautiful baritone with a built-in resonant chamber that the very brilliant Philippe Dubreuille made for me. There's no other guitar like it in the world. It's all over my new record. It's a part of me."

3. Is there a guitar, or piece of gear, that you regret letting go?

"Yes. I had a 1950s small-bodied Gibson acoustic that was let go by some irksome tea-leaves in North London as they smashed into our van overnight. A very sad day."

4. And what's the next piece of gear you'd like to acquire?

"To be honest, I'm actually interested in this new Supro Black Magick amp..."

5. Is there an aspect of guitar playing that you'd like to be better at?

"I'm not a soloist on the guitar. This is something I would like to work on and improve. Time is an issue… and the piano. Oh that pesky Joanna, seems to haunt my every move, snapping its jaw lid, hammering my soul."

6. When did you last practise and what did you play?

"The last song I had to learn was Corinna, Corinna, the Bob Dylan song, for some live dates with Marianne Faithfull."

7. If you could have a guitar lesson from one guitarist, dead or alive, who would it be?

"Come on, seriously? Jimi Hendrix, every time. Johnny Marr taught me a chord once - that was fun."

8. What item of gear would you take with you to a desert island?

"My '58 Hofner semi-acoustic. A true all-rounder."

9. What's the worst thing that's ever happened to you onstage?

"Oh, God. Where do I start? Skim through my memoirs when I'm dead."

10. What advice would you give your younger self about playing the guitar?

"Just pick it up and play until your fingers bleed. I didn't start until after the piano. I'm still catching up. Once you start, it's a beautiful curse!"

Furnaces is released on 19 August via Polydor Records.

Michael Astley-Brown

Mike is Editor-in-Chief of GuitarWorld.com, in addition to being an offset fiend and recovering pedal addict. He has a master's degree in journalism, and has spent the past decade writing and editing for guitar publications including MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitarist, as well as a decade-and-a-half performing in bands of variable genre (and quality). In his free time, you'll find him making progressive instrumental rock under the nom de plume Maebe.