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Archives for November 2010

Something to sing about

Jon Lewis | 20:31 UK time, Friday, 26 November 2010

Guest blogger Georgina Boyes, writes:

"On the 4th December, I’ll be having a small celebration.  And if you enjoy English traditional music, you might like to join in. Why? On that day in December 1903, a (then) relatively unknown composer collected his first folksong. It was a beauty. Inspired, he spent the rest of that day travelling between villages, meeting and notating songs from other singers. And over the next ten years, he recorded around eight hundred songs, tunes and carols that provided a source of melody and an approach to music that influenced his writing for the rest of his long career.

"The composer was Ralph Vaughan Williams. He’d already given lectures on folksong, but he’d only heard recital performances until that day 107 years ago when Georgina Heatley invited him to her father’s parish in Essex to hear some village singers. It was a revelation. “I am like a psychical researcher who has actually seen a ghost,” he reported, the folksongs he’d heard were not “quaint and old, but something which is beautiful and as vital now as it ever was.” His use of folksong tunes for hymns probably led to more adults singing English traditional music than anyone before or since, and his classical works continue to be played and enjoyed across the world.

"But when he heard that first song - Bushes and Briars - Vaughan Williams didn’t just note the tune. He also took the unusual step of staying on to talk to the man who’d sung it to him - Charles Potiphar (74) of Ingrave, who’d been a labourer on a farm and on the railways and also worked as a bricklayer and shepherd. Mr Potiphar told him about making the tunes for folksongs and Vaughan Williams, unlike other collectors of his time, listened and became convinced that singers could – and did – create and greatly influence the songs they sang. It shouldn’t be a surprise, he wrote, “that an unlettered countryman can inherit from his still more unlettered forefathers a melody like Bushes and Briars – adding, without doubt, to it something peculiarly his own.” And far from having “finished its work” and “dying out”, Vaughan Williams believed “folk-song has plenty of vitality left.” Few people at the time believed him, but I think events have proved he was right.

"So on the 4th December this year, you might like to join me with a song, a dance, or even a tune in celebration of Vaughan Williams, Charles Potiphar and the vitality of traditional music."

You can see and hear more about Vaughan Williams' work on folksongs and carols in a performance with Coope Boyes & Simpson, Fi Fraser, Jo Freya and Georgina Boyes at St Michael's Church in Coxwold, North Yorkshire on 3rd December.

Life after the Young Folk Award: Jeana Leslie

Jon Lewis | 20:36 UK time, Monday, 22 November 2010

Past winners of the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award, Jeana Leslie & Siobhan Miller, are our bloggers this week. Here's Jeana:

"Friday 7 December 2007 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall was where it all began for myself and Siobhan, when we were announced the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winners for 2008. Anyone who knows us will vouch for me when I say, neither of us are ever really stuck for words, but when the result was announced we were both speechless!

"Since then we have had a fantastic time. We signed to Greentrax and made our debut album, and we've been lucky to perform at some great festivals like Cambridge, Cropredy and Towersey. The Orkney Folk Festival is always a favourite of mine (not biased in any way!). A highlight for us was in January 2009 when we were asked to do support at Glasgow City Halls for Judy Collins as part of Celtic Connections.

"In Autumn 2009 we did a three and a half week tour of Austria which also took us to Italy, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia. Norway was also a very enjoyable place to perform. On St Andrew's day that year we were asked to perform at the Homecoming Scotland Finale, collaborating with Phil Cunningham, Aly Bain, Julie Fowlis and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. That was a terrific experience for us both. Being used to having guitar and piano backing our voices it was very surreal to have a whole orchestra.

"Following the success of our first album we won Up and Coming Artist of the Year at the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards.We also won the Hancock Horizon Award and were nominated for the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Horizon Award.

"Separately we have both gone on to do great things as well. I was asked to join the Germany-based Irish band CARA in March of this year. We went on to record an album, Long Distance Love, which was released on our autumn tour of Germany this year following a successful tour in the States in the summer. Coming up in December this year I will also be performing with The Chair at the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards. Siobhan, at Celtic Connections this year, took part in the A Scottish Songbook concert, which had Karine Polwart at the helm as Musical Director. This December Siobhan has been nominated for the Citty Finlayson Scots Singer of the Year at the MG ALBA Scots Trad Awards. She will also be appearing on the Scottish Hogmanay Show with Phil Cunningham.

"Looking into the New Year we are honoured to be supporting the legendary Andy Irvine and John Doyle at Celtic Connections. March will be busy too as we have a tour organised in Germany. And, of course, we are looking forward to getting feedback and reviews for our new album Shadows Tall!"

Life after the Young Folk Award: Siobhan Miller

Jon Lewis | 16:25 UK time, Friday, 19 November 2010

Since 1998, the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award has been nurturing promising young performers and equipping them with skills and knowledge to begin forging a career in music. Previous winners have included Tim van Eyken, Bodega and Megan & Joe Henwood.

Jeana Leslie and Siobhan Miller won the 2008 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award.

This month, the duo from Orkney and Penicuik release their second album Shadows Tall. Siobhan has written to tell us about it:

"It is three years since Jeana and I started making music together and I know that when we met at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama as students we never dreamt that our love of music would bring us the experiences we have had since winning the Young Folk Award.

We were over the moon when Ian Green offered to take us on at Greentrax and record a CD. We had such a great time recording the first album, In a Bleeze, and learned a lot about the recording process.

So getting back to the studio in May this year to record our second album Shadows Tall was very exciting for us both!

Jeana Leslie & Siobhan Miller

"We used a studio at Heriot Toun which is a converted barn beautifully situated in the borders and is surrounded by fields, sheep, a dog and a trampoline!

It felt really remote, like we were escaping to a wee sanctuary for the day. We were recording at the hottest time of the year but had to keep the windows shut for fear that the sheep and the bumblebees would try to make a debut appearance on the album. Anyway, enough of sheep and bees! Down to the recording...

"Mattie Foulds with his portable Mobile With a Home studio recorded, produced and mixed the album and also played cajon for us. He worked really hard to pull the whole project together and to encourage us when things were a bit challenging.

"The first task was finding the material and then playing with it to see how we could work with it creatively. We wanted to find arrangements that were our own, showing how our music has developed. Song is still very much the focus of our music and we have used a mixture of contemporary and traditional material. Choosing which songs to record and not record is never an easy job.

"We were joined by Ewan Macpherson on 12 and six-string guitar, electric guitar and mandolin; Kevin Maguire double bass; and Signy Jacobsdottir on tuned percussion. It was exciting to collaborate with new musicians and to hear their parts complement the songs.

"To launch the album we organised two concerts. The first was in my home town Penicuik, in the Music Hub which is attached to my old high school and run by Burnt Out Records. We had a lovely night there and played to a sell-out crowd. The second launch was in Glasgow at the Classic Grand.

"We are really happy with the end result and hope that audiences respond as positively to this album as they did to the first."

Julie Fowlis on collaborating with Fisherman's Friends

Jon Lewis | 14:09 UK time, Thursday, 4 November 2010

Guest blogger Julie Fowlis writes:

One of the best things about being a professional and touring traditional musician is the fact that any given two days are never the same.

One minute you can be onstage with your regular bandmates, in the middle of a huge tour around the country, the next (if you're me) you are back home juggling admin work, answering emails, planning new tours and shows and trying to learn new music, whilst all the time chasing after an increasingly fast-moving wee bundle of joy (and almost always denying any housework).

And, now and again, you get the chance to try something new and venture out of your usual musical zone. For example, last month I got the chance to collaborate with the amazingly talented Jacqui Dankworth, Horse MacDonald, Justin Currie, Carol Kidd, Eddi Reader, Todd Gordon, and the Ryan Quigley Big Band to perform a Beatles tribute concert. I never thought I would see the day when I teetered onto the main stage of the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow and sang Nowhere Man with a full jazz big band and string section. And it was great fun!

This week I am on tour with the energetic and infectious Salsa Celtica - we play Glasgow tonight - and I am enjoying their salsa spin on Gaelic and traditional rhythms.

Recently, I was invited to travel to Cornwall to spend two days with the band Fisherman's Friends, with a view to adding a wee bit of Gaelic to a track they had recorded. I thought to myself - spending a few days in a gorgeous part of Cornwall, at the end of the summer, with a crowd of lovely fellas who love to sing - well, it didn't sound too much like hard work at all.

We had a great craic together and I added some vocals to their reworking of the Mumford and Sons song Winter Winds, all of which was recorded in the beautiful and well conserved local church, St. Kew.

The actual recording of my vocals took all of one hour - the rest of the evening we watched the summer sun disappear, and the torrential rain begin, all from the cosy front room of the local pub. It truly felt like winter arrived with the recording of that song! We ignored the weather and blethered about boats, fishing, small rural communities, good local beer, music, songs and the Vatersay Boys. It's funny how two communities so far removed from one another - Cornwall and the Hebrides - could have so much in common.

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