INTERVIEW: Folk is Queer | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Holly Clarke

Cobalt Studios presents the wonderful world of queer folk on Saturday 17th December, which features a range of performers including organiser, and previous artist in residence for Sage Gateshead, Holly Clarke. She spoke about her own personal journey with both queer and folk identity.

I struggled with the idea that my identity was kind of split in two; I was a folk musician, I was a closeted queer person. And it was not because I didn’t have people around me or family that wouldn’t accept me, it was the fact that I was still figuring myself out and how folk aligns with my identity. I had done all kinds of LGBTQ+ showcases during COVID and that was a wonderful platform for me. It was nice to finally be a musician and actually say these two identities come together.”

Holly commented on the history of queer identity in folk music. “People have assumed that this is about men and women, when actually all it takes is looking at it through a different lens. I wanted to start finding the queer themes in folk song; there have been queer people on this folk scene for a long time that have not been open about it. And actually, it’s okay to be open about it. Folk songs are about the story of the people. It needs to tell our story as well.

It can get tiring at times to have to explain and advocate for your own identity. The industry does need to be more inclusive

I want people to look at some of the most well known folk songs and actually see that there is a queer narrative to be found and I want to showcase the musicians; I want kids to come along, so they can see that queer folk musicians do exist, and we need to tell kids that it’s okay to be queer on the folk scene.”

Anna Hughes and Jess Howard are two of the musicians taking part in this celebration of folk. The pair discuss why the themes are important to them. “We agree that queer identity has definitely been hidden for too long! We’re not doing this strictly because we’re queer – it’s a happy coincidence that we love each other’s music and have a great time playing together. But the opportunity to express our identity in its most raw, comfortable form, in venues that celebrate and accept us for the whole of who we are is amazing.

We are both at stages of our lives where we are comfortably ‘out’ but that still has challenges – as young women in a male-dominated field you have to constantly push barriers. It can get tiring at times to have to explain and advocate for your own identity. The industry does need to be more inclusive, and we’re proud to be able to perform in this setting.”

The duo explain what audiences can expect from their sound. “Our stories aren’t particularly told in a traditional folk ballad format, but all songs tell a story of some kind. We use electric guitar, fiddle, harmonium, synth and vocal harmonies. We’re just going to keep playing what feels good. The feeling of warmth you share during a gig with an audience – we want to keep that burning.”

Folk Is Queer featuring Maddie Morris, Anna Hughes and Jess Howard takes place at Cobalt Studios, Newcastle on Saturday 17th December.


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