Hello and Merry Christmas!
We hope that you are all coping during these bizarre and difficult times. We've been hunkered down for the last few months, trying to understand what tier we're in and who we can meet for a walk. But we've had a few highlights amongst the madness.
In September, we were over the moon to be able to play at the real-life, in-person, non-virtual Beardy Folk Festival. And without being too over the top, it was the best weekend ever. We saw music and friends and drank beer, whilst watching music and seeing friends. And although it seems like a hazy memory now, it made us remember that we'll be back there one day, queuing for a portaloo in a muddy field, stumbling over poorly placed guylines in the darkness and waking up in a tent the temperature of the sun. Until then, we'll just have to remember ...
In other news, we got a mention on BBC Two's Saving Britain's Pubs with Tom Kerridge, which we were quite excited about, albeit in relation to the absence of live music at the moment and the terrible impact it's having on pubs and venues.
We were thrilled to be included in Launchpad's Tracks of Yorkshire 2020 playlist on Spotify, along with the Arctic Monkeys and other bands blessed with being from from God's Own County! And our recent album - Tidings - was added to the British Library Sound Archive, a national collection that preserves music for generations to come.
But with a few snippets from the last months out of the way, it's time for the promised Big News.
Today we announce that Polly Bolton will be stepping down as our mandolin player to focus on other projects. We’ve had a blast playing with her over the past couple of years and have memories and stories that will last forever. And so we wish her all the best in her future endeavours!
But all endings mark new beginnings and we are really excited that today is the beginning of a brilliant new chapter for The Magpies. We will be coming out of Covid hibernation in the new year with some really exciting announcements, so stayed tuned for more big things to come!
The first big news is that we will be joined by the incredible Kate Griffin Music.
Kate is a magnificent clawhammer banjo player, singer and composer. Described as ‘one of the top banjo players in the country’ by virtuoso Dan Walsh, her innovative banjo style combines traditional UK and American folk. She’s the perfect addition to our line-up and we can’t wait to begin our adventure with her, so please give her a huge Magpie welcome!
Hello!We’ve reached the final week of Global Music Match and last but by no means least we are delighted to introduce you to Finnish duo Zäpämmät.
A melting pot of global sounds, Zäpämmät elegantly combine their traditional Finnish roots with West African motifs to create a distinctly unique sound. Even the name is a fusion, a conflation of Zap Mama, a Belgian artist imbued with the African influences of her Congalese roots and the Finnish word ämmä, a derogatory term for a woman, reclaimed here by the female duo. It is a portmanteau that perfectly synopsises the duo’s sound and message.
Zäpämmät’s music centres around the traditional Finnish instrument, the kantele. Played virtuosically by Marjo Smolander, the kantele is, in this case, a 38 stringed instrument that is closely related to the Estonian kannel, Latvian kokles and Russian gusli, together known as the Baltic psaltery family (and to me, a Wikipedia rabbit hole). Known for their distinctive bell-like sound, the instrument has an almost magical quality. It features heavily in Finnish folklore. In the epic poem Kalevala, the first kantele is made from the jawbone of a giant pike and the hairs of a mythical stallion and its music draws the creatures from the forest to marvel at its beauty.
The duo's other half, Pauliina Kauppila, is a pop and rock drummer by trade, who became fascinated by the kantele as an instrument with which to collaborate. Percussion is new to the table in Finnish folk music and it's a void that's up for grabs. The delicacy of the kantele poses a challenge for percussionists and Pauliina has approached the gap in the market with a global open-mindedness, picking styles from whichever culture suits best. She has settled on a diverse array of ringing percussions, including the kalimba and two-stringed bowed bass.
The duo met whilst Marjo was studying West African music and she explains that the meditative melodies and perpetual phrases have a ‘similar aesthetic’ to Finnish traditional music. Pauliina adds that it is ‘interesting the similarities that [Marjo] has found with Karelian kantele melodies and playing with Malian music’. And so, their global eclecticism was born, blending their Finnish roots with Senegalese, Malian, Afro-Cuban and even Flamenco sounds.
On top of distinctive instrumentation, ethereal vocals are characteristic of Zäpämmät and the voices of the two women side by side are a powerful statement. Their musical philosophy is to give a voice to those women who do not have one. They released not just one, but two singles on 8th October, the first When the Soldiers Came to a Village was inspired by Nadia Murad’s book The Last Girl, an autobiographical memoir of the genocide of the Yazadi people in Iraq in 2014. It was an eye-opening story for Marjo, raising questions about why stories like Nadia’s hadn’t reached the news in Finland and it sparked the beginnings of the song.
Their second single, Millions, tackles female genital mutilation. Pauliina speaks of the inequality faced by so many women around the world; she says the song came from ‘a pain that’s been inside of me for years and years’. Girls’ access to education is of particular importance for the duo, with FGM, child brides, menstruation and countless other tragic reasons preventing girls all over the world from going to school. For years, Pauliina has met with resistance when trying to talk to people about these issues, especially ‘when they’re having a beer in a restaurant’. She hopes through her songwriting, one day when they are ready, they will listen and they will start to think: ‘I don’t mean that I have solutions or answers, but I think that these difficult topics, we should try to have more conversations or even just thoughts about’.
So, through a global approach to their music, Zäpämmät are addressing global issues and giving their voices to the voiceless. A fitting finale to an initiative that has connected voices around the world at a time when we most needed to hear them.
The Magpies x
Hello!We’ve reached the penultimate week of Global Music Match and this week we've been getting to know one of Australia's best blues and roots bands, Hussy Hicks, a tour de force with 6 studio albums, multiple industry awards, 15 international tours and more than a thousand live shows under their belts.
Featuring powerhouse vocalist, Leesa Gentz, award-winning guitarist, Julz Parker, drummer Ali Foster and bassist Tracy Bassy, the all-female four-piece have awards coming out their ears, from Gold Coast Artist of the Year and Album of the Year to Queensland Music Award and Golden Guitar nominations. Julz has even been touted ‘Australia’s top female guitar player’ by Australian legend Phil Emmanuel, which albeit incredible and duly deserved praise does raise the question of the necessity of the word ‘female’ in the accolade. From one all-female band to another, the perception of women in music is an issue we could talk about all day, from the scepticism of sound engineers to gendered festival rejections, not to mention the far darker acts at play in the industry.
Thankfully, these issues are slowly starting to be addressed. The gender balance on festival bills is improving, with many major festivals committing to a 50-50 balance. But 'we’ve already got a female band’ are still words we’ve all heard more than once, whilst a second all-male band on a line-up wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. For Hussy Hicks, it’s industry respect and the kudos that’s come with the accolades under their belts that’s helped them to be taken more seriously over the years, rather than a societal shift. And as a consequence, they feel a sense of responsibility to nurture the younger women coming up through the industry still today. Leesa suggests that it is up to women to define their space in the industry and let them know ‘I’m not just a chick singer with a toy guitar’.
Along with phenomenal musicianship, social activism is at the core of Hussy Hicks’ writing. Sparked by a disillusionment in government policy, at the heart of their latest album is a message of unity. Leesa describes a ‘divide and conquer mentality’ that is currently prevalent in Australia and across the world, when ‘really most people just want the same things and want the people around them to be happy too.’ The aptly entitled Gather Up The People encourages people to come together, not be torn apart, by challenging times. Last year’s Australian fires are a sad illustration of one such time. Rather than bringing people together, they instead sparked a political rift between those who pointed to the facts of climate change and those who blamed the Green Party’s anti-backburning policy. But despite the integrity of the social message, the album is subtle in its conveyance of these ideas. As Julz says, ‘raising questions is perhaps every bit as powerful as presenting ideas’.
Like all art, music has always reflected the times and in the Australian blues and roots scene this can be traced right back to its ‘bush music’ origins. The early ballads tell of the harsh ways of life for the bushrangers of the epoch and themes include war, drought and flooding, as well as isolation and loneliness. Themes still very prevalent today. Their origins can be traced back further still to the sea shanties of 18th and 19th century Europe that travelled to Australia during the early period of British colonisation. And songs such as Botany Bay and South Australia still feature heavily in the English folk canon today.
Like their predecessors, Hussy Hicks sing of the times and the societal and global themes that need addressing. In particular, the challenging times that have divided rather than united people; their songs share an important message of unity interwoven in powerful musicianship.
Next week we'll be introducing you to Finnish duo Zäpämmät!
The Magpies x
As we enter the fourth week of Global Music Match, I am so excited to introduce you to the incredible Canadian trio, Vishtèn! Comprised of multi-instrumentalists Emmanuelle and Pastelle LeBlanc of Prince Edward Island and Madgalen Islands’ native Pascal Miousse, they have been dazzling audiences with a fiery blend of traditional French songs and original instruments for over a decade.
The name Vishten is a nod to the eponymous song whose lyrics are a percussive amalgam of French, Mi’kmaq and English, a musical realisation of the band’s fascinating Acadian heritage.
For millennia, Acadia, a region in north-eastern North America, was occupied by the Mi’kmaq people. It was colonised by the French in 1604, hence the strong Francophone influence in the songs. Whilst subsequent settlers from Ireland and Scotland left their Celtic stamp on the music. In the 1750s, following the British conquest, the Acadians’ refusal to swear allegiance to the British crown resulted in a deportation that saw the expulsion of nearly twelve thousand Acadians to the lower British American colonies. When they returned, they added their newfound American influences to the Acadian musical melting pot.
Consequently, within Acadian music there is much variation and there is a clear sense of the history that has led to these stylistic distinctions. Pascal pinpoints his bowing style to his home on the Magdalen Islands, distinct from neighbouring islands’ fiddle techniques.
But it’s not only emigration patterns that have led to these regional accents in the music, according to Vishtèn the radio has a lot to answer for. Prince Edward Island had access to Cape Breton radio and its Scottish musical influences. Whilst Southern Nova Scotia’s access to American radio from Maine gave a strong bluegrass flavour to the music.
Vishtèn’s music reflects the community’s wonderful patchwork heritage and in their latest album, aptly named Horizons, they broaden their style further still, seamlessly fusing the Celtic and Acadian genres with modern rock and indie-folk influences. And its success has not gone unrecognised, with the album receiving a Juno Award nomination in 2019.
The island environment is clearly important in Vishtèn’s music. Their fiddle tune Trois Blizzards was inspired by a particularly harsh winter, isolated in a cottage, as twenty foot of snow fell outside. And the sounds of the winter, the creaking of boats and the whistling of the wind, are reflected in the foot percussion and distinctive bowing style. Whilst their song Terre Rouge references the famous red sand of Prince Edward Island. The dramatic island landscapes have clearly left an impression on their music. And how could they not.
Community and family are another important part of the music. Two thirds of the band go way back. Twins Emmanuelle and Pastelle jest that they ‘met a while ago’. And they were raised in a world where traditional music, percussive dance and kitchen parties were part of everyday life. Keeping the music alive for the next generation is hugely important for the band, as it is for the whole community, with fiddles thrust into the outstretched hands of toddlers and step-dancing proving more popular than ever. Not only is it being kept alive but there is a real sense that this music is being moved forward. The genre brings a breath of fresh air that is hugely popular amongst the UK folk scene, and with bands like The East Pointers leading disco trad dance parties into the night, it is no surprise.
Vishtèn have toured extensively in the UK (they are notably unimpressed by our inability to deal with a smattering of snow) and all being well, they will be back again in Spring 2021, with critically acclaimed duo Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita (hopefully during a snow-free season). They are hugely popular in the UK and there’s a reason they and their Acadian compatriots are such a hit here. Their music is always moving forward. It’s music that is very much alive.
Next week we'll be introducing you to Finnish duo Zäpämmät!
The Magpies x
We're into the third week of Global Music Match and this week we've been getting to know the wonderful OOPUS from Estonia.
OOPUS, an Estonian nod to the Latin opus (work of art), are an audio-visual band who combine light installations and visuals from Aleksander Sprohgis and modern electronic sounds and rhythms from Johannes Ahun, with Estonian traditional instruments from Mari Meentalo (Estonian bagpipes, flute, whistles, jaw harp and vocals). In a nutshell, 'folk on acid'.
At first glance, folk and electronica perhaps make for an unusual fusion. But both have dance at their core and, as Mari tells us, combining electronic dance music with traditional dance tunes ‘seemed logical’
The lineage of folk music in Estonia, like many of its neighbours, was interrupted by the country’s occupation by the Soviet Union in 1940. Although traditional music was an important part of Soviet life, OOPUS tell us how the meaning and identity of the music had to be adapted to fit with Soviet values, swallowing Estonian heritage with it. In 1947 Gustav Ernesaks set the old Estonian poem Mu Isamaa On Minu Arm (My Country is My Love) to music and defiantly performed it at a festival, where it became an unofficial national anthem.
In the late 1980s, music became the mechanism under which Estonia split from the Soviet Union. Large groups began to gather to organise independence, under the guise of gathering to sing. It became known as the ‘Singing Revolution’. Activist Heinz Valk wrote that ‘a nation who makes its revolution by singing and smiling should be a sublime example to all.’ In 1988, 100,000 Estonians gathered for five nights to sing protest songs until dawn. The movement culminated in the country’s non-violent independence in 1991.
The country’s independence sparked a revival in the Estonian folk scene. The Estonian National Literature archives are a well-preserved collection of traditional songs, archived by folklorists in the 19th and 20th centuries. The nation yearned to refamiliarise itself with its traditions and heritage. And with over 1.5 million songs in the collection, there’s well over one song for every Estonian. Viljandi Culture Academy started to teach traditional music in the ‘90s, where Mari and Johannes met and subsequently formed OOPUS. They describe the movement as a ‘second wave of traditional music in Estonia’.
At the forefront of this revival, OOPUS are rekindling traditional dance tunes for the next generation. But storytelling is also important for the band. Traditional songs tend to focus on myths and folklore. Their song Hingesandid (Soul Mummers) celebrates an Estonian tradition that begins in November at the start of ‘the dark months’. Similar to Halloween, children dress up as their ancestral spirits and sing songs in exchange for sweets. Consequently, there are many traditional songs associated with this time of year. Hingesandid is a song for the souls ‘from behind the stars and over the clouds’. Another storytelling element, albeit conversely futuristic, is the immersive element of their live show. At the beginning of the concert, they invite the audience to climb on board their spaceship and navigate the galaxy with them through their set.
OOPUS perform from the centre of the audience, just as traditional musicians would have done back in the day *insert time-period of your choosing* when there was no division between stage and dancefloor. A seemingly ultra-futuristic staging choice is actually a nod to the archaic. And combining the old with the new is at the core of the band’s message: to remember an almost-lost heritage, rewritten for today.
Next week we'll be introducing Arcadian band Vishten from Prince Edward Island.
The Magpies x
We're back again with the second edition of our Global Music Match newsletter! And this week it was our turn to be in the hot seat and be featured by our group.
If you're reading this, you probably don't need too much of an introduction to us, as you're either someone who's been desperately coerced into joining our mailing list at a gig, you visited our website, tried to get rid of the pop-up 'subscribe' box and now reluctantly receive our monthly newsletters or you're my mum. So we won't be giving you our life stories but we thought we would briefly share what we've been up to this week.
Here we are looking excited about the week ahead! A week of competitions, Instagram takeovers and interviews. Follow #GlobalMusicMatch to see more and hear us chewing our teammates' ears off about albums, lockdown and being women in music.
We were super psyched that Australian band Hussy Hicks did a cover of 'No More Tears'! Here they are playing their wonderful version of the song on a boat on the River Tweed in New South Wales - as you do! Check them out here.
And in other exciting news, I'll be documenting our Global Music Match experiences in a column in The Morning Star. This week kicked things off with an introduction to the programme and folk music - what is it? A question that sparked an 800-word musical identity crisis. Read the full article here!
We'll be back next week with an introduction to Estonian folktronica band Oopus!
The Magpies x
And welcome to the first of our special edition Global Music Match newsletters! Just in case you missed it or you weren't paying attention last week - quick recap! Global Music Match is a world-first collaboration between 96 artists from 14 countries around the world, in response to the limitations imposed on the live music industry by COVID-19. Over the next 6 weeks, we'll be introducing you to 1 artist each week. And this week we're kicking off with Outlet Drift from Taiwan!
Music is clearly important in Taiwan. So important in fact that even the refuse collection lorries play music. Something we experienced first hand when the start of our interview with Outlet Drift is loudly interrupted by the 'garbage truck song'. Not to be confused with the icecream van. But the eccentricities of the refuse system aside, the Taiwanese music scene is thriving. And its eclecticism reflects the diverse culture of its people. An amalgam of Mandopop and Western classical, pop, rock and metal sit alongside folk culture and the distinct artistic identities of indigenous tribes.
Outlet Drift are an indigenous band from the Amis tribe. Siblings Putad (bass) and Wusang Pihay (guitar) and their cousin Linken (drums) grew up in the city of Taitung but returned to their indigenous community 10 years ago to explore their heritage and reclaim their tradition.
The Amis people make up one of the largest indigenous groups in Taiwan. But in 1949 the arrival of the Republic of China's Kuomintang government suppressed native Taiwanese culture and almost entirely eradicated the Amis language in the shadow of Mandarin. Outlet Drift describe it as their 'mission' to rekindle their traditions and keep the Amis language alive. Their music is their 'way to let people know'. Although heavily rooted in Amis culture, their music is far from traditional. In their own words '[the elders] think our music's not the traditional way - but who cares!' Their jazz, rock and psychedelic influences have made them a hit in the bigger cities like Taipei, especially with younger audiences. And educating the future generations is paramount for the band. They want to breathe new life into the traditions rather than simply preserving them.
Outlet Drift sing about nature, the land and the ocean. Their songs are a celebration of traditional ceremonies such as the Harvest Festival and express their gratitude for the resources they've received from their ancestors. Their traditional trades of farming and fishing also feature heavily in their writing. Not a million miles away from the 'All Jolly Fellows that Follow the Plough' or 'Greenland Whale Fisheries' type of songs so familiar to us.
Outlet Drift mention that the Amis society is matriarchal. And - word of the week - matrilineal! If like us you reach this word and have to proverbially rummage around for a dictionary, we'll spare you and Google the hassle. It means that inheritance passes through the maternal line; a man marries into a woman's family and children are considered part of the mother's family. Outlet Drift tell us that in practice their societal roles involve men doing the physical labour, whilst women usually play a key role in the family and in educating the next generations. Interestingly, the way they speak about these gender roles seems almost identical to the traditional Western view of gender. But their perception of their importance is reversed.
Putad tells us a bit more about how they reflect the matriarchy in their music. Much like many of the traditional songs we might be familiar with, Amis traditional music features call and response, which in their culture is always led by the woman. Similarly, she often sings a musical counterpoint to her male band members, a simultaneous and yet rhythmically and melodically independent line, which she says represents her role as a woman. The themes of their songs also illustrate the importance of women and motherhood in their society. During our interview they sung us a song about breastfeeding. Not a songwriting topic we'd ever come across before! But as their voices travelled the 6000 miles to us our hairs stood on end. At a time when it's easy to feel isolated from the rest of the world, what an enormous privilege it was to hear them. As Putad said as we waved goodbye 'music is the universal language' and she's absolutely right. No language barrier or frustratingly slow broadband can get in the way of that.
The Magpies x
Hope you're doing well and had a nice July! We had a lovely month, we actually saw each other for the first time in 4 months. Of course from a 2 metre distance. And it was wonderful. We went on a camping holiday/writing retreat/reunion in the Malvern Hills where we played lots of tunes and worked up some new songs for when the world is ready for them! We also walked up some very nice hills, including an Iron Age Hillfort which the nerds in us were very excited about. We had our first real-life pints in a real-life pub. Played an excessive amount of Kubb, our new favourite outdoor stick-throwing game. Bathed in a spring. Made fire. Foraged. Generally became one with nature. Apart from in the night when we thought we were going to freeze to death. We stopped being at one with it then.
We even recorded a gig for you all, which premiered last week. But don't worry if you didn't catch it 'live', it's available to watch right here! If nothing else it's an insight into the nonsense we say when we think we don't have an audience, but have forgotten the camera's rolling ... The gig is free, but we've set up a tip jar and any contributions, however big or small would be very greatly appreciated!
In other news, our new album - Tidings - had its first play on the Radio 2 Folk Show. Mark Radcliffe said some very lovely things about it. So if you haven't had a chance to check it out yet, here it is again!
Coming up this month, we're taking part in Ripon Folk Club's Virtual Mini Fest on Saturday 15th August, which will be raising money for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance. We had a lovely gig there in February and we're thrilled to be performing there again, albeit virtually!
We were also very excited to find out that (fingers and toes crossed!) we will be playing at one non-virtual festival this summer, or 'festival' as they used to be known, and it's a lovely one - Beardy Folk Festival from 17th - 20th September. It's a wonderful line-up and an all round lovely festival. We'd love to see you there! Here we are at last year's festival where Polly is playing a version of charades we call 'Flamingo or Jethro Tull?'
And that's about it for news, so without any further ado we'll move on to ...
The Magpies' Pick of the Month
Campsite of the month:
Karen's campsite at The Malthouse in the Malvern Hills. It's got everything you could want. A stream. A wood ... That's about it but what more do you need?
Artist of the month:
Lido Pimienta with her new album 'Miss Columbia'
Quote of the month:
'Don't shoot the newsagent!' - Polly Bolton's autocorrect being too clever for its boots.
Stay safe and look after each other.
Until next time,
The Magpies x