INTERVIEW: Stick In The Wheel Present – From Here | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Richard Dawson by Nicola Kearey

Interviews with Nicola Kearey aren’t like interviews with most people working in the British folk tradition, or really people working in any tradition. For Kearey and her band Stick In The Wheel, folk music isn’t a museum or a National Heritage institution. It’s the living, breathing voice of the people and it’s in that spirit that she and Ian Carter, the other key player in the group, are releasing the second of their From Here collections of folk recordings. As with the first, the MO is simple – fetch up at an artist’s home or similar and record them, Alan Lomax-style, using a simple portable set-up.

It’s notable that Newcastle and the North East are represented in force for this volume, which Kearey suggests is serendipitous whilst acknowledging that the region has a very distinct flavour. “Northumberland – like Kathryn Tickell told us – seems less like a county and more like a series of kingdoms made up of family clans,” Kearey explains. “When you look at the landscape, I totally get that.”

The album comes with a set of sleeve notes where the artists are asked to talk about why they selected the song they did, and how it fits the ‘from here’ theme. “We are careful to let the artists speak for themselves rather than serving our own narrative.” Says Kearey. “There’s way too much of that in the folk scene, this notion that ‘we are the gatekeepers and we know what folk music is’. Plenty of non-folk people get turned off by what they think folk music ‘is’. We see it as our responsibility to challenge that in our work.” 

The fact that we are seen as radical might tell you something about how un-radical folk music in general has become

One of the highlights of the album is Richard Dawson’s a capella version of  The Almsgiver, and Kearey clearly sees him as something of a kindred spirit, someone ‘at arm’s length’ from the English folk scene. “They don’t know what to make of him. Yet he’s part of the continuum, like us, like a lot of folk /roots/trad ’outsiders’, for want of a better word.”

Kearey continues. “People need to know there is a whole culture and social history of this country and the people who call it their home, that is subversive and magical and weird and terrifying, with old truths worth knowing. It’s fucking deep. But a lot of the visible English folk scene is lamentable, in its ambition, in its creative execution and no wonder we are all embarrassed about it. It’s the last hiding place of racists and bigots, I won’t have it. Yet there is a hardcore of good stuff going on, and that’s what we’re interested in. The fact that we are seen as radical might tell you something about how un-radical folk music in general has become. It’s not the natural place to begin to rebel – kids are more likely to make beats to make sense of their world than pick up a guitar.”

The album is being launched at Newcastle’s Cluny 2 on Saturday 11th May, and Kearey is clearly excited about the line-up. “We’ve got Richard Dawson playing alongside Bagpuss’ Sandra Kerr and also folk nerds Mary Humphreys & Anahata, Bryony Griffith and Cath & Phil Tyler. That’s a great live line-up to introduce people to the roots music of this country.” 



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