On air Listen


« Previous | Main | Next »

Backstage at Cambridge with Kathy Mattea and Natalie Merchant

Mike Harding | 15:15 UK time, Sunday, 1 August 2010

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.


  • Comment number 1.

    Hi ,, What on earth is going on at the jolly old beeb ?... i am just back from the cambridge folk fstival and logged on to see the excellent little selection of video clips which you usually have online and i am absolutely non plussed to see nothing but a little old blog from dear old mike harding !!! This is scandalous ... you have wall to wall coverage of flippin Glastonbury ... followed 2 weeks later by wall to wall coverage of flippin T in the blinkin'park (which is exactly the same as Glastonbury) and bin the little coverage you supply of the finest festival in the country by far .. The festival this year was top notch and even though not all the acts are mainstream to see such fine traditional music marginilsed even more than it currently is fills me with dread... The BBC TV coverage was one of the few ways to get this music to the masses ... and now its seemingly gone .... sad times , sad times indeed

  • Comment number 2.

    i really enjoyed BraeBach on Saturday at Cambridge ... they seemed to be everywhere this year ....playing Stage 1 on Friday Afternoon, Stage 2 on Saturday evening , featuring in the Saturday lunchtime jam session and were even to be seen later in the day as part of the "unusual suspects" folk supergroup ... in fact , i am sure i even saw them helping out on a hot dog van during the afternoon as well !!! any group that features fiddle , flutes , bagpipes and tap dancing is alright with me !!!! long may they run

  • Comment number 3.

    I was looking forward to "the unthanks" on Saturday at Cambridge , having been a big fan of the girls since seeing them on their first apparance at Cambridge and will love them until the "kais come yam" ( or somthing like that !! ) ...and i really enjoyed their set but never has a truer word been spoken in jest than when Mr Unthank on keyboards jokingly said "they started out as a pure unaccompanied girl duo and then they started adding more and more to it and making it cluttered and ruined it " ...i could not agree more !!... sometimes less can indeed be more and i long for an album by the girls with them accopanied by nothing else but their clogs ... now that would be somthing

  • Comment number 4.

    The sadest sight for me on Saturday was seeing the good old "Holmes Brothers" turn up for their signing session at the Mojo tent and not one person ( apart from me ) turning up to meet them ..... At least they went down well when they closed the evening on stage 1 with their great blend of blues and gospel

  • Comment number 5.

    I wish the BBC would dig out Mike's Appalachian trip and show it again, I remember really enjoying it first time around. Congratulations on the 3 hour radio 2 show. It was nice to get such full coverage of what was a great weekends music, keep it up, same again next year I hope.


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.