10th Annual Folk/Singer-Songwriter Album Winner
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Record Label: bicycle records
Home Base: Bristol, England
Genre: Singer-songwriter, classical, folk, jazz, blues, gospel, pop!
Category Entered: Folk/Singer-Songwriter Album
Work Submitted: Compass
Artists Featured: Robin Davies: Double Bass and Electro Acoustic Bass, Feargus Hethrington: Violin, Neil Gay: Guitar and Uke and Banjo, Beth Porter: Cello, Shez Sheridan: Electric guitar, Dean Beresford: Drums, Andy Cook: Drums, Colin Elliot: Electric Bass
Label: Bicycle Records
Influences: Tori Amos, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Elgar, Ryan Adams, Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone…so many more. Too many to mention all here.
Describe your nominated work: It’s an album about coming home. It’s about the journey back to yourself and all the stuff that happens in between. Love, loss, hope, faith, grief, joy. It’s a spiritual album but in a grounded sort of a way! There are quirky “Eleanor Rigby” style strings and then strings that sore and glide around the melody. There’s a song on a gorgeous Steinway piano about moving on. A song about home performed with a beautifully warm colliery brass band and one with an entire gospel choir that’s about lifting your self belief and picking yourself back up again. There’s even a song about my gran! But she could be anyone’s granny really. There is a song for everyone on this album. It’s my photograph album for the last 5 years of my life so it’s very special to me and I think it resonates because it’s all from somewhere very real.
Why did you choose to submit this work to The 10th IMA’s? I’m an artist who runs her own label. It’s not an easy job in the present climate, especially when you also want to write songs and perform gigs. I’ve been very lucky to work with some incredible musicians mostly in the South West of England where I’m based, and my latest album ‘compass’ just felt like something I really wanted to share with as many people as possible. My fan base got together and raised a whole load of money to help me promote the album (some people were putting in £1000 a time because they believed in the music so much) I am constantly overwhelmed by the amount of faith and support my fans give to my work and I wouldn’t have survived this far without them! They help put up posters and create gigs for me and put me and my band up when we tour and so I felt I should do something to try and boost the profile of the album for my fans as much as myself and my band. Because they are all quite amazing people! And the IMA is a respected award and so I’m really very happy to be nominated.
Did you use any unusual effects or instruments in this recording? On the song “Cracks” we sampled rustlings of a bin and a potted plant and the cellist making the sound of a Dolphin with her cheek, and then we looped it! That’s how we got the backing percussion! On the song “Compass” we recorded the ‘pinging’ of the strings on the piano and on “I’m Fine” we used a saw! We’ve got banjo’s and ukulele’s maracas, strings, brass, piano, guitars and a full on choir…it was a lot of fun making this album.
Were there any happy accidents while in the studio, or did everything go as planned? The harmonics at the end of “Hallelujah” were not planned. The cello and double bass made this really eerie sound when the harmonics ran on after they’d finished playing and it was perfect for the atmosphere of the track. And really on every song something occurred that was worked out there and then. There’s always a mix of the rehearsed and the accidental. Melody lines that sounded better than the rehearsed version. Mostly we turned up and bounced off each other. The producer Colin Elliot was great at getting us all to think out of the box and do stuff that wasn’t planned.
Did fans help you fund this project? Absolutely. The whole album was funded by two fans in particular who wanted to help me make the album, and then all the promotion so far has been funded by the fan base too. Even the new website which is currently being created and will be finished in April, was instigated by a fan and is being funded by the fans. I love that I get to meet the people who listen to my songs and even have dinner with a few and stay in their homes! I think I’ve seen a lot of the good in the people out there who want to support music.
Who’s sitting in your audience? Goodness. That’s a hard one! People of all ages, I have e-mails from so many different styles of people. There is a lady who is 84 who said, ‘I know you think I’m quite old but I have to say, I love your music very much’ (84 is not old!!) , There are couples who have danced their first dance to one of my songs at their wedding, a few mothers who have given birth to one of my songs! There’s a teenage daughter and her mother who were fighting over who owned the cd and then there are men who bring along their girlfriends and wives and vice versa. I’ve met artistic people and also people who work at a computer all day and think they’re not creative at all, but find themselves moved by a song (I believe everyone is creative we just get disconnected from it every now and then). I love that. I think if your music is true and real it connects with everyone. I even had this incredibly intriguing man with tattoos and piercing’s all over his face come up to me after a gig and say ‘I really liked that. That was alright. Can I have an album?’!! So I really couldn’t define my audience at all and I’m happy that’s this is the case!
What makes your fans unique? They seem to be so very passionate about what I write They cry at my gigs!!! Tears. I’ve seen tears at my gigs. How incredible is that? Now obviously I don’t have a whole audience weeping otherwise it’d be a fairly somber affair at one of my gigs…but it’s not. It’s lots of emotion and then lots of laughing as I like to have a laugh too when I’m up there. What’s remarkable about my fans is that they are prepared to seriously get behind the wheel and join the campaign. When I got played on BBC Radio 2 by accident (I just sent off the album and they liked the look of the cover) my fans e-mailed in to the show. So many of them in fact that they had the highest response to a play on radio from an ‘unknown artist’ on record! And so it got me a live session with Johnnie Walker on national radio.
And like I said, they have put on gigs, put up my band for the night, made donations (some of them £1000 each) to help fund the promotional campaign, they’ve e-mailed their friends and got them down to gigs and put up posters for me and worked so very hard on my behalf. It means that I’ve met a lot of them and so I know how lovely and generous and passionate they all are. Whatever happens next I know that my music has connected me with some incredible people. And I’m truly grateful for that.
Are there any songs you wish you wrote? I love “Silent All These Years” and “Winter” by Tori Amos and “America” by Simon and Garfunkle, “A Case of You” by Joni Mitchell, but I think if I’m honest, I love that they’re written by those artists. It’s sort of like saying I wish I’d had someone else’s children! If that makes sense. I’m grateful for the songs I have been blessed with. Still, it would probably be nice to have written a Rolling Stones track or one of The Beatles numbers. I’d be completely loaded by now and able to fund all of my musical world!!
What artists are you listening to that would surprise your fans?: I am listening to Anais Mitchell and her collaborative genius of an album: Hadestown. Orpheus and Eurydice was my favourite tale (which it’s based on) and she completely brings it to life. Especially “Wait for Me.” Gorgeous.
What is your dream show lineup? Daniel Kitson (comedian) to mix it up a bit, Paul Simon and Tori Amos (I’m so boring aren’t I. There are other artists in my life, I just love these the most as they’re clever songwriters) and Ray Lamontagne in a private intimate gig of about 200 people. Oooh and some sort of acting bit from Dame Judi Dench and Al Pacino.
What are your guilty pleasures on the road? A brand new writing book. I have so many it’s ridiculous. A blank new page in a book with an inspiring cover makes me want to write! Latte’s (a million of them) and I do like a good seafood sandwich. And always a bottle of red to share with the band during a gig.
Any close calls or mishaps while on tour? Me and the band almost missed a flight back from Germany. We were the very last ones to get on the plane, and we ran all the way. There were loads of messages over the tannoy. Telling us that this was the FINAL call for… and could we ‘PLEASE REPORT TO THE DEPARTURE DESK’. The airports in Germany are a lot bigger and cover more walking ground than our little airport in Bristol! Also on that tour, I lost all of our album sale takings when we found ourselves in a post gig party and I lost my marbles to tequila. Now I sound like a complete alcoholic. It’s times like those when it’s handy to have a tour manager.
Do you have any rituals before you go on stage? I like to have a sip of wine and I like to write my set list in complete peace because I always write it at the last minute. I rarely warm up my voice and I teach singing too!! (So all of my pupils will not be directed to this site). I warm up sometimes. Humming mostly. And me and the band like to have a little joke and a laugh back stage pre gig to get us warmed up.
Should music be free? Oh this is such a hard one isn’t it. I think music is free. Everyone can sing and everyone can pick up some sort of instrument and have a go whatever the outcome. I think that’s loads already. But if you’re going to listen to something that has been created by someone else and they’ve rehearsed it over hours and hours and put loads of time and energy and passion into it, then you should really respect it and pay for it.
I’m all completely up for the odd download of a track to get you in the mood and hear a sample of what you might then buy, but I really think that downloading whole albums for free is not the way forward. I think it’s encouraging people to take music for granted. I don’t think we’re educating anyone on how much effort and hard work goes in to making and recording music when we just give it all away.
If we did this to the film industry it would die. As and independent artist I would seriously struggle and probably disappear if my recorded music didn’t generate revenue and my fans are great at passing on that message to their friends. I think that if you want interesting music that is diverse and creative then you have to support it because it’s not always supported by the majors.
How has digital affected your career? It’s made me spend a lot of time at the computer! And I’m still here!!! I need to write something.. It’s also meant that I can connect with my fans and get them on board whenever there’s something new going on. Without the internet I wouldn’t have been able to do quite a lot of the things I have done so far as a writer. I think I just would love to have someone else do this bit and free myself up to sit in front of a piano instead! It’s made recording in a small studio easier. But I still wound up recording analogue. But I do think that people don’t listen to music in the same way because of digital. I’m not sure how many people really sit down and truly listen to an album from start to finish. You know, sitting in a chair and taking it all in slowly. There is SO much else to listen to all the time it’s hard for people to focus on what’s in front of them!! I think that’s the same in life too. The Digital age is a two edged sword that’s for sure.
Are digital singles vs. full albums the future of music? I love an album personally. As an artist each album I create is a whole chapter of my life. So there’s a sort of theme going on that links all the songs. And they were made in a time and a place that also affects the sound of the recording. Plus I love creating the artwork for an album too. Selling only single tracks would be like selling off individual scenes of a film. Nah, I love the album. And always will.
Finish this sentence: The music industry is…maverick, confusing, fractionalized, ridiculously difficult to pin down, like a secret club that only a VERY few artists feel connected to and secure in. Potentially magical or a lottery ticket. It’s like trying to get a grip on describing what is New York or London. It’s an extraordinary amount of people on the phone.