INTERVIEW: Amelia Coburn | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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People say good things come to those who wait and that most certainly rings true to fans of Middlesbrough singer-songwriter Amelia Coburn. The artist has been wowing audiences around the UK with her captivating live performances, beautiful songs and weird and wonderful lyrically painted worlds for a decade or so, and is now finally set to release her debut album.

It’s not as though Amelia hasn’t been doing much in the time she decided to pick up an instrument to now; she’s made the final of the BBC Folk Awards, received praise from the likes of Folk Radio, Songwriting Magazine, BBC 6Music’s Tom Robinson and BBC Radio 2’s Mark Radcliffe, toured across the UK, made various festival appearances and supported the likes of The Wedding Present, Ashley Campbell and the late folk legend Vin Garbutt.

Not since George Formby has a musician been more synonymous with the ukulele, but in the same way the guitar or the synth have appealed to artists in indie and subculture genres in recent history, it was its availability and ease of playing that appealed to Amelia. “As a teenager, I picked up the ukulele because it was (and still is) a very accessible instrument. You can learn a few chords within minutes and you don’t have to break the bank to buy one. As I became more skilled at playing it, I realised how versatile it is and have enjoyed subverting people’s expectations of how they think a ukulele should sound.”

Amelia has been writing songs since she was 15, and alongside mastering and reinventing the ukulele she has also been evolving as an artist and being more honest in her songwriting, as she goes on to explain: “If we discount the terrible songs I wrote when I was 15 (they are hidden away nicely in the vaults), I don’t think much has changed, but I do think my voice and lyrics have evolved and matured. My early songs leaned more on the whimsical and slightly ‘twee’ side, whereas as I have gotten older and more cynical, the themes delve deeper into personal matters and, I guess, the nature of existence.”

This patient and organic artistic progression that Amelia has been on, as well as the conditions of being “100% happy with all the songs, having enough money to fund the recording process, and finding the right collaborator” being met, has finally resulted in Between The Moon And The Milkman, which is set for release on Friday 8th March. This collection of tales conjures up a variety of characters inspired by literature, film and, something that Amelia is very passionate about, travel.

I have enjoyed subverting people’s expectations of how they think a ukulele should sound

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a burning desire to see the world. Not only because I want to eat my way around it and try every dish possible, but I enjoy meeting new people from different places and hearing their stories. This is why I chose a degree in Modern Languages at University. As part of my studies, I spent a year living in Paris, Mexico and Russia and some of the characters I encountered made their way onto the album.”

It’s a joy to meet these characters from far away places and the corners of Amelia’s imagination (with some of the notable highlights being the vengeful widow Amelia lived with in Paris, and an ‘impish old chap’ from the Dublin Leprechaun Museum) as you go on a sonic journey told through her harmonious, airy vocals and presented on a varying pallet of music from the galloping percussion and cinematic tones of her second single When The Tide Rolls In, to the Latin strums and tender rhythm of Oh Captain Guide Me Home and the vibrant sea shanty Perfect Storm. The uke sounds delightful throughout, and never bogs down the album as the arrangements are not tied to the instrument, allowing Amelia to break free from it to sample other instruments including a baritone ukulele, a stick dulcimer and a glockenspiel.

There’s plenty there for fans of folk but you can see that Amelia is not tied to the genre and alongside the olde English Baroque-pop moments, there’s a notable feel of the golden-age of Hollywood, New York city swing and more artsy, explorative elements of music, which Amelia confirms. “Before I got into my ‘cool’ music era, my walls were covered in posters of Liza Minelli, Julie Andrews and Doris Day. As an adult, this morphed into a love for Tin Pan Alley jazz and the more theatrical side of pop, like Rufus Wainwright and Divine Comedy.”

The richness that comes from the tapestry of sounds that adorns and accentuates the core element of ukulele and voice is delicately done by producer, and former The Coral guitarist, Bill Ryder-Jones, a collaborator that brought the best out of Amelia, as she explains: “Working with Bill was, to say the least, an incredible experience. He instantly grasped where each track was coming from. Some of the songs had been previously recorded so it was a bit of a lurch to get my head out of the sonic space they had once existed in, or how I imagined they should sound. Bill really helped me take the songs to unexpected places with a fuller sound.”

The release of the album sees Amelia head out on the road for a tour of the UK, which will see her performing at The Georgian Theatre, Stockton on Saturday 8th June, and so I finish by asking her how her evolving style and studio experimentation has translated to her live performances. “I think as a solo performer there is more than a dash of chanson about how I present the songs – slightly melodramatic and emoted in a different way to how I might with a fuller accompaniment. Having a band, however, takes some of the pressure off and I can focus on properly performing the songs without worrying I’ll mess up a chord. It was great to try them out for the first time with a full band at ARC in December and I’m looking forward to how the songs might develop on tour this Summer.”

Amelia Coburn releases Between The Moon And The Milkman on 8th March. She plays The Georgian Theatre, Stockton on Saturday 8th June.

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