Most fans of Seattle’s The Head and the Heart and Fleet Foxes know there is a U.K. counterpart to Northwest neo-folk, but they may not know about the captivating British singer-songwriter (and Shakespearean actor) who got the ball rolling over there.
Johnny Flynn, who plays Friday, Jan. 31, at the Crocodile, though little known in this country, once had Mumford and Sons as his opening act.
“I think we were kind of like one of the first,” admitted Flynn modestly in a lilting British accent, speaking on the phone last week from Saginaw, Mich., where he had a gig. “But I definitely didn’t have a dogma or agenda with it. I wasn’t thinking to start a movement. I just liked what I liked.”
What he liked included first-wave Brit folk revivalists such as Ewan McColl; the field recordings of American ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax; and American blues singers like Charlie Patton.
And somewhere in there, judging from his poetic, hypnotically beautiful recent album, “Country Mile,” Flynn absorbed a great swatch of ballads, since that’s the only way you wind up writing a brilliant song like “Einstein’s Idea,” which combines philosophical stargazing with the line “Oh, my darling” repeated so many times it becomes a mantra.
Flynn, 30, the son of the British actor Eric Flynn, was born in South Africa, spent his early years in the hamlet of Hampshire, near Winchester, then moved to West Wales. Though clearly an urban fellow now (he attended the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, in London, and has played the Globe Theatre), Flynn the folk singer shows the influence of the magical vein of pastoral Britain.
“It’s a wonderful, ancient line that lies underneath the English or Northern European subconscious,” he said, “an undercurrent of something older than Christianity.”
That’s where lines like, “My soul is in the trees/ It’s in the sap that fills the wood,” from “Bottom of the Sea Blues,” come from.
But Flynn is no purist folkie. His albums feature keyboards, drums and horns, in addition to his bluntly plucked National guitar and much of his music has the martial momentum of a pub song.
Flynn is no stranger to Seattle. His first two albums were produced by Ryan Hadlock, at Woodinville’s Bear Creek Studio. Flynn recalled trying to find something to eat on Thanksgiving during the 2007 sessions — being British, he wasn’t familiar with the holiday — and winding up eating a burrito in Seattle.
If you can’t make Flynn’s gig, you can see him soon on the big screen, playing a troubadour much like himself in a new film with Anne Hathaway, “Song One.”
But by all means, catch him at the Croc, before he blows up on this side of the Atlantic.
8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31 at the Crocodile, 2200 Second Ave., Seattle; $13 advance (206-441-4618 or http://thecrocodile.com).Concert preview