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

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Image by David Wala

Gem Andrews’ gorgeous new album, The North, is an intimate collection of songs that speak with a pronounced sense of Northern identity. Presently living and working in Berlin, Gem mused on how the North East infiltrated the record. “I didn’t intend to sit down to write an album about the North East. But after poring over 30 new songs that I wrote last year, the ones that came to the surface and that I felt I wanted to spend more time honing, all had a very familiar sense of Northern identity, something which I think cannot be separated from the political climate that we are currently living in.”

Gem’s warm, intimate voice is at the centre of all of the songs; plaintive album opener Letter is elevated with the gorgeous accompaniment of Bernard Wright’s violin, while the country-inflected Medicate is coloured with mandolins, banjos and electric guitar.

It’s apparent in Gem’s music that politics and place are inseparable, and this permeates into many of the lyrical concerns. “Lungs is about the collapse of mining communities that were starved out during the Thatcher government. And at other times, it is the setting for a story, but it is always there. I think it’s simply because the North East is part of me and always floating around in my thoughts.”

the North East is part of me and always floating around in my thoughts

The finger prints of the North East are also visible elsewhere on the album: Two Lighthouses and Straight Lines pay direct tribute to North East literary icon Julia Darling. “I am obsessed with Julia Darling’s poems and plays, I think that she was one of the greatest gifts to literature and to the North East literary scene. I find it inspiring to sit with a collection of her poems. Darling articulates every-day normalcy with a warmth, generosity and accessibility which I deeply admire. She was an amazing writer that gave a kind of power to working class voices that were previously shunned for being inarticulate and unsophisticated. I started learning her poems as songs, and am so pleased to have two poems on this album.”

In regard to her own writing, and how living outside of the UK has informed it, Gem says: “Every year I do a songwriting marathon with my bandmate Nicky Rushton – I challenge myself to write 30 songs in 30 days and much of this album came from that project. I find Berlin to be very inspiring in its natural beauty and diverse art scenes, but I think that my personal song writing process is pretty inert, and so it doesn’t really matter where I live.”

A multi-talented artist, Gem produces theatre in Berlin. ”Feminism is the link between my songwriting and theatre work. In songwriting I communicate with a feminist voice and tell women’s stories, mostly my own or ones from my experience. In my theatre work, I deal more with the destructive, patriarchal structures that create the perfect storm for organisations like #alllivesmatter, MRA’s and white supremacists to legitimise their oppression of minorities. The difference is that songwriting is deeply personal and is about my own voice and experience, whereas theatre allows me to plunge into the lives of others, and explore how oppressive mechanisms are protected.”

Gem Andrews launches North at The Cumberland Arms, Newcastle on Saturday 2nd December.


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