Anyone who tunes in to my radio show will know my favourite modern female folk singer/songwriter is Josienne Clarke. Josienne has already been on my show three times and will be on again later in the year.
I recently went to the pub with her for a chat, a beer and an apple juice (hers, not mine) – and I have to say, it’s always a pleasure to be in her company – she is good folk.
I hear you have recorded a new trad album – When is it coming out?
Like almost all projects, we undertake slightly later than we originally hoped – however, it should be out and purchasable in August. It’s called The Seas Are Deep and it is an eight-track album of exclusively traditional folk songs. When we released our Album One Light Is Gone, in September 2010 a few people were disappointed that we didn’t include any traditional songs on it as we are known for playing them live. When we started work on OLIG we had 21 original songs and that was eventually cut to 14 – we just didn’t have room for the trads. Also, though we love traditional folk songs, we didn’t want to be categorized as purely folk artists. We write music and very often it happens to be consistent with the folk idiom, but we do not limit ourselves to that alone. We are ‘a little bit country’, you know!
Tell me a bit about your singing – Did you sing as a child? When did you realize you could sing, and what was the first song you remember singing?
My family all sing in one form or another – though my mother claims to be tone-deaf, she is still a committed participant in a sing-along. My earliest memory of singing was aged three with my sister (two-and-three-quarter years older) she would learn songs at school and come home and teach them to me. The first one, I believe, was a song called ‘Cauliflower’s Fluffy’, which was a song about vegetables. My father played guitar and sang at home from as early as I can remember – though not professionally. It was a very regular activity in our house for our dad to set up in the kitchen with his guitar and my sister and I would sing along. Singing just the tune at first, and as we got older the harmonizing would become more elaborate, it was a typical Saturday afternoon in our house for years. Aged 12 I went to secondary school and joined all the choirs. Luckily, it was a standard comprehensive school and had no audition process and though I was two years too young I was even allowed to join the chamber choir. All of my break times, evenings and weekends were spent in the music block, singing.
Where did you meet you partner in rhyme (Ben Walker)?
Ben was in an indie band when I met him – A friend of mine was mixing tracks for their EP and Ben mentioned that he was looking for some more acoustic projects. On seeing him wrap his tendrils round my friend Martin’s acoustic I was certain I wanted him for my project. That was about three years ago, and since then neither of us have questioned the compatibility of our skills. Ben is not only a fantastic guitarist he also has a real skill for arrangement. All the string writing on One Light Is Gone is Ben’s work, and most of the arrangement on The Seas Are Deep is down to him.
Your album, One Light Is Gone, is a great record – What was the inspiration behind it?
Well, the album took us the best part of a year to produce; the producer Ben Lloyd was on tour with Frank Turner and would only be available for a week at a time before going off on tour again. This actually turned out to be a great blessing as each recording session we would do three or four songs at most and then have a month or so to listen over and make changes to them. I feel this process added to the overall unity and cohesion of the album. We wanted an album that represented what Ben and I sound like live, and I feel that that was achieved really well in the end. The album is largely melancholy in atmosphere and that is what Ben and I do best – but with a bit of love and hope thrown in for good measure.
What have been your best and worst gigs?
Two gigs spring to mind as our best: Last October we went down to Cornwall to play a gig supporting All The Fires at The Poly, in Falmouth. It is a great venue – a good size with great sound and All The Fires are a brilliant band to do support for. The other would be supporting Ric Sanders (of Fairport Convention) at The Green Note in Camden .Obviously, it’s always a great honour to play with someone of Ric’s musical caliber, but added to that, he was a really nice and funny guy, too.
In terms of worst gigs we have been fairly lucky and most are a joy and a pleasure. However, we did have one horrific gig at Proud Gallery in Camden. When we arrived, there was no one to run the PA, and we basically had to do our own sound Ben was trying to play the guitar and EQ at the same time. Added to that, there was a full band playing in the room next door and the noise from the drum-kit could be heard quite loudly in our room, we could barely hear what we were playing, but that may have been a blessing!
What music do you listen to, and who inspires you?
The music I listen to is very folk and country based, on my regular playlist are (of course) Fairport Convention, Joan Baez, Gillian Welch, Nick Drake, Kings Of Convenience, Pete Greenwood and Beirut, to name but a few. In songwriting terms, the people who have influenced me the most might not be the most obvious. Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac’s song ‘Man of The World’ was one of the first songs to really move me – I must have been less than ten when I first heard it. The lyrics are honest and sad in the same way I later found Nick Drake’s music to be. Another early songwriting influence was Don Maclean’s ‘Empty Chairs’ for the same reasons. I think this early exposure to the heady pleasure of melancholy has had a massive effect on how I later came to approach songwriting.
What are your plans for your musical life?
My first response to this question was, ‘Pah … There’s no point making plans in this fickle bloody business, it’ll chew you up and spit you out other side before you have a chance to consult your plans.’ But in all seriousness I don’t really know what lies ahead for us. We will continue to write, we already have enough for a second album (though no plans to release one just yet) and plenty of gigs planned for the coming year. We will be going to France, Germany and The Netherlands at some stage and we are currently organizing a mini-tour of the UK. We will write until we are asked to stop writing, go where people want to hear us and carry on singing till we run out of air in our lungs.