British Troubadour John Smith Courts a 'Hummingbird' In New Music Video: Premiere

John Smith
Rose Cousins

John Smith

John Smith wanted to depict what he calls "my melancholy mission" in the video, premiering exclusively below, for the title track of the British troubadour's latest album, Hummingbird.

Smith's initial idea for the clip was grand: "Some kind of a great pilgrimage, maybe even heading down to Spain," he tells Billboard, inspired by the Laurie Lee novel, As I Walked Out One Morning. 

However, Smith wound up staying closer to home in the countryside near Somerset, England, where ends up performing in a pub, his appearance interspersed with scenes of a young woman dancing. "I just took a walk around the countryside where I live, and we found this fantastic dancer to flit in and out of sight, like the titular hummingbird," Smith says. "We decided to put as much of her in the video as possible. What she's doing is so visual and so satisfying to watch, just beautiful -- better than staring at me, right?"

Getting the right video for "Hummingbird" was important to Smith. "The song itself is really the catalyst for the whole album," he says. His plan for Hummingbird was to touch on traditional folk songs that were part of his creative makeup, but Smith wanted to refer to his present as well. “I didn't want to give it a title that belonged to something someone else wrote 100 years ago. So when I sat down to write, 'Hummingbird' came out of me really quickly, within an hour. It's the rare song that tumbled out, and I was lucky to capture all the pieces. As soon as it arrived I thought, 'This is the glue that's gonna hold the whole thing together'."

Smith wrote a couple of other originals for Hummingbird ("Boudica," "Axe Mountain (Revisited)") but the bulk of the album finds him playing hand-me-down favorites such as "Lord Franklin," "The Time Has Come" and the American staple "Willy Moore." "I've played some folk songs as part of my set for really as long as I've been gigging," Smith says, "and that music has been part of my life as long as I can remember. I've always wanted to make an album of the traditional songs I really like. I’ve had a string of record that really showcase my writing, and it really felt like the right time to look at that traditional music and present it."

Hummingbird came out March 22 on Commoner Records/Thirty Tigers, and Smith is touring to support it. He predicts the immersion in older music will have some impact on what he does with his next release, but he's keeping his vistas open right now. "I rarely have a plan for what I'm going to write," he says. "I think the fact I've been playing these songs so much means they've gotten even further into my bloodstream, so whatever I write with doubtless be influenced by them -- and I'll consider myself fortunate because that music is so, so rewarding and vivid and romantic. But based on songs I've been writing recently I think I'll be going back into my own writing, but no guarantees. I can make a techno record for all I know."