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f26 “T choice, surely?

“I think my mum probably worries a bit more about the job of being a musician. She’s very proud but I think she does worry about the income and the practicalities. But my dad has always felt that being in the arts is a special position; an admirable thing to do. I’ve always been made to feel it’s a worthwhile thing from both of them.”

It’s not unusual for a child who didn’t run fast enough to find themselves scratch- ing at a violin or tinging a triangle in junior orchestra. When did you decide that music would be your life?

“When I was thirteen I wanted to be a vet, which is ridiculous because I don’t even like getting my hands dirty and I don’t really like science.”

What you actually wanted to do was stroke baby animals for a living.

“Basically, yeah! Unfortunately I’d already decided to pick Physics and Chem- istry for my exams. But I decided to go to Edinburgh Music School for my sixth year, then ended up doing another year of just

he main thing that kept me going with music was Fèis Ros up in Ullapool. I just went with my cousins [one of whom will be

known to connoisseurs of the Scottish folk scene as accordeonist Mairearad Green]. I loved that so much. And my mum then started a Fèis in Edinburgh.”

In fact Jessie Newton (aka “mum”) was recently inducted into the Scottish Tradi- tional Music Hall Of Fame for her work with Fèis Dhùn Èideann.

“My parents don’t play but they’re real- ly into music in quite different ways. I don’t know if that encouraged me or not.”

They must approve of your career

music there. And I’ve never worked so hard in my life. I mean, I work hard now but maybe it stems from that. I was talking about this with my friend Fiona Rutherford who’s another harp player. The guilt of hav- ing a day off stems from being at the music school; the work ethic there was that you really had to work hard. I was getting one- to-one lessons in harp, piano, viola and singing. I was doing jazz singing and Gaelic singing. I was in a trio, I was doing a folk group… You were expected to practice all of those things for hours a day. Going in there at the age of seventeen as a folk musi- cian was difficult. There were other folkies but they were all really great classical musi- cians too. I had to do these recitals and I was doing Grade 6 piano pieces but so was a twelve-year-old boy. And I was the nervous one! It was really hard but really amazing. A formative time for me.”

Following school, Rachel signed up to the famous Newcastle Folk and Traditional Music degree, famous mostly for producing most of the musicians Rachel now plays with. It’s a bit like that golden era for the Cam- bridge Footlights that produced both Monty Python and The Goodies. Well… a bit.

Do you remember when you first encountered your future bandmates?

“I remember Lucy Farrell in the queue for something and she was singing with someone else and I thought, ‘Oh gawd. Who’s this?!’ It didn’t take long for us to become very good friends. It was Shona Mooney [of The Shee] that approached me in the middle of my first year and said, ‘I’m thinking about forming this band. Do you wanna be part of it?’ Lillias Kinsman-Blake approached me as well and asked me to play on her final recital and that’s how we ended up playing as a duo, which was the first album I ever did.”

That partnership of Rachel and Lillias produced the rather wonderful Dear Some- one album in 2008. Did the course encour- age you to form these musical unions?

“There’s a massive group work element to the course – ‘ensemble’ as it’s called. Eventually they settle you into a band for the year. In the first year I was in a band with Lucy. Then you can choose your own ensemble in the third and fourth year. That’s when I was in an ensemble with Lucy and Jonny Kearney.

Lucy and Jonny went on to make the extremely excellent albums Kite and The North Farm Sessions, of course. Did you leave over creative differences?

“Yes, there was a huge blow-up! No, I

left the city. We must have a reunion gig at some point. But also Emily Portman asked Lucy and me to sing and play on her final recital. Those final recitals seemed to solidify a lot of bands that would go on to do more. In my fourth year I recorded the duo album with Lillias and the first The Shee album. I sort of made a decision in my last year to try and play as much as possible. That’s what I prioritised over writing essays!”

From where I’m sitting it doesn’t seem like you’ve taken a break since then. Are these things the result of a career plan?

“No there’s not been a break. It’s been pretty constant. Things just keep happening. I suppose I used to have an idea of a kind of trajectory where I could see I was doing bet- ter than I was. But as you get older you kind of realise that it doesn’t really work like that, especially in music. In some ways maybe I’m less ambitious but I like to feel like I’m improving all the time. Not neces- sarily getting more famous.”

Well, you are on the cover of a maga- zine now…

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