FolkWorld #74 03/2021
© Walkin' T👻M

Jo Carley and The Old Dry Skulls

A Crazy Island in a Fairy Tale World

»Voodoo has found its way onto the British shores and Jo Carley is the voodoo queen sent to predict hell in a way to entertain and amaze you.« What's that all about? Tom spoke with said demonic music-hall mistress Jo Carley and her trio's last album recorded during the first lockdown.

Jo Carley and The Old Dry Skulls: Voodoo Bones & Vaudeville Blues
»Making deals with the devil never bodes well and sometimes voodoo antics backfire. A woman’s innocent trip to the jungle ends with a witchdoctor tricking her into marrying him. In the dead of the night she steals his zombie poison and uses it to set herself free. She now possesses all of his magic and celebrates the end of their tumultuous relationship, but he doesn't go away easy. Now a relentless zombie comes to bother her every night, creeping around giving her fright. Is she still under his spell?«

This might serve as a short summary of Jo Carley and The Old Dry Skulls' lyrical tour de force on their altogether third album, Voodoo Bones & Vaudeville Blues. Acoustically, the trio's idiosyncratic sound is a magic potion made up from early 20th century blues and old-time, post-war skiffle and rock'n'roll, and finally the powerful chants and rhythms of Voodoo – this reinvented religion of West African slaves in America which had an unmistakable impact on early swing and jazz music. In the sultry ambience of vaudeville and music-hall, Jo Carley's devilish vocals are underpinned by her partner Tim Carley's syncopated guitar and James Le Huray's no-nonsense double bass and banjo. Don't be scared, notwithstanding these weird times it's only entertainment and we like it! [wt]

Jo Carley and The Old Dry Skulls "Voodoo Bones & Vaudeville Blues", Old Higue Records / New Retro Sounds, 2020

Jo Carley and The Old Dry Skulls

Artist Video Jo Carley and The Old
Dry Skulls @ FROG

Artist Audio

Tom: Morbid music as if almost made for these pandemic times. With The Old Dry Skulls' third album, ‘Voodoo Bones & Vaudeville Blues,’ you are continuing an eclectic musical ride. Is there a leitmotif throughout the whole album?

Jo Carley: That’s a great question and glad you noticed a theme running through the album. So, we have created an underworld or the idea of a crazy island that exists in an almost fairy tale world. The listener would recognise all the characters but like any fairy story or good ghost story, things are not quite as they seem. There’s Witchdoctors, Voodoo Queens and Zombies on this island but they are mixed up in a dark underworld with the hobos, gangsters and down-and-outs in 1930’s speakeasies and sleazy nightclubs. We started to create this world during the writing of the previous album ‘Shake Them Rattlin’ Bones’ and now, as if by some kind of strange dark magic it has a life of its own. It has taken over as the theme running through everything we do, connecting all the lyrics and music together.

Jo Carley and The Old Dry Skulls: Shake Them Rattlin’ Bones

How would you generally describe your music? Is there a philosophy behind it?

We describe the music as ‘Voodoo Vaudeville Blues’, but there is no other music or band that we copy, there is nobody else like us. We combine 1930’s voodoo sounds with a steamy broth of blues, skiffle, early ska, early calypso, old-timey country and folk. The vaudeville aspect comes from the storytelling and theatrical side of our live show. So to answer your question about the philosophy, we like early recordings. Back at the start of recorded music, people had their own sounds and unique ideas because there were no ‘rules’ that had been set in stone. That’s what we are aiming for. While we are taking inspiration from the music that we like, we are not carbon copying it note for note. We recorded ‘Voodoo Bones & Vaudeville Blues’ in a really primitive way, mixed to mono tape and capturing the sound of the old style instruments and vocals, without the use of modern FX and computer production.

Witches, Zombies, Old Nick himself... Who do you want to scare?

I want to scare everybody, I want to scare the children, I want to scare the grandparents and I want to scare you! Our audience reaction has been unexpected, they have been mesmerised by the stories and captured by the escapism of it all. Our live shows are really exciting and it’s great to watch the audience get swept away. I have always liked horror films, ghost stories, roller coasters, scary rides and I think that it’s a popular form of entertainment and very addictive! It’s fun because you can get scared but you know that you are safe.

Honestly, what's serious about it after all? What's just playful, what's outright mockery?

It depends on the eye of the beholder, you can enjoy the scary ghost stories and tales of horror, sarcasm and comedy, or if you are looking for it then you might find deeper meanings. Maybe there is even magic in there, maybe it will find you?

How did you end up playing this particular kind of music?

Both myself and Tim came from an extreme metal background, so we were always drawn to the darker arts. Over the years I got more and more into Bluegrass, old time music and old country blues which led me to learn to play the fiddle and mandolin. I originally had in mind to make the Old Dry Skulls a much more traditional sounding band but the Devil had other ideas and sometimes you just got to go down the path and see where it takes you. You can hear a lot of my country and gypsy influences on the EP and the first album ‘Them Old Bones’.

Jo Carley and The Old Dry Skulls: Them Old Bones

However, after the first album I got more and more into playing washboard and percussion at our live shows. The three of us became addicted to the rhythms and the syncopation that we are able to create and they quickly became the driving element of the band. Tim developed his own unique style of playing electric guitar, using his beaten archtop and overdriven amps, so the sound moved further away from the acoustic guitar, fiddle, double bass combo and into a much weirder world. Personally, I am inspired by the energy and feeling in music especially if it is brave, edgy, dark and delivered in an interesting or surprising way.

Starting March 2021, there is a tour scheduled across the UK but also with some dates on the European mainland. Corona permitting...

I am not gonna lie to you, 2020 was a really difficult year for us and also for the music venues where we play. We have a lot of shows scheduled across the UK and European mainland for the whole of 2021 but things are constantly changing so it’s best to look at our websites, or join our mailing list for updates. The support from our fans has been overwhelming and the fact that the music venues are doing everything they can to stay open and continue putting on shows in 2021 and beyond is amazing. This has really inspired us to continue making music and not to give up. We have been working on a new show and can’t wait to be back on the road again and doing what we do best.

To check out our music head over to, Facebook or Bandcamp pages, as those are the best places to listen to our tunes and support us directly through buying CD’s and merchandise. There are also lots of dark, weird and fun music videos to check out on our Youtube channel. For those interested in creepy things and collecting curiosities, then look me up via ‘Voodoo Bones Boutique’. I make charms, spells and other strange and magic items for people all over the world.

So I wish you all the best, keep on bewitching anybody willing ...

We are using our positive voodoo and sending our best wishes to everybody to get through these difficult months ahead and we hope to see you all soon when we are able to tour again!

Photo Credits: (1ff) Jo Carley and The Old Dry Skulls (unknown/website).

FolkWorld Homepage German Content English Content Editorial & Commentary News & Gossip Letters to the Editors CD & DVD Reviews Book Reviews Folk for Kidz Folk & Roots Online Guide - Archives & External Links Search FolkWorld About Contact Privacy Policy

FolkWorld - Home of European Music
FolkWorld Homepage
Layout & Idea of FolkWorld © The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld