Way back in the mists of time I left Manchester behind and set off with a BBC film crew for the Appalachian Mountains of America to cycle along the Appalachian Trail. Not actually on the Trail, I have to add, but along the roads that run parallel to it, down the Blue Ridge and the Smokey Mountains, calling in at places like Harper's Ferry and Elkins along the way.
I was lucky enough to be welcomed into the homes of such great singers and musicians as Nimrod Workman and Dellie Norton, pure mountain people whose roots were buried deep in the hills. We filmed them singing their songs and talking about their lives and I felt that my own life had been deeply enriched by spending time with these wonderful people.
When Kathy Mattea's album Coal came out a few years back I played it over and again because it came from the Appalachians and had that ring of complete authenticity, singing that came straight from the heart of a girl who had been born and brought up among the coal mines and the mining communities of that land.
So imagine how delighted I was to find that not only was she on the bill at Cambridge, but that I was going to get to interview her for my programme. The interview will go out sometime at the beginning of September. She was every bit as interesting and passionate as her songs and again - as I did all those years ago listening to Nimrod Workman and Dellie Norton - I knew I was speaking to somebody whose singing is rooted in the mountains and their people.
As if that wasn't enough, on the same day I got to talk to Natalie Merchant backstage about her new CD 'Leave Your Sleep', a collection of poems set to music that has taken her seven years to put together. The poems range from traditional nursery rhymes like 'I Saw A Ship A Sailing' to poems by Odgen Nash and Edward Lear. There's a beautiful 30-page booklet to go with the CD and reading it you can see why it took Natalie seven years to make it; the research is meticulous and the whole thing hangs together beautifully. A true labour of love.
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