This book includes a plain text version that is designed for high accessibility. To use this version please follow this link.
27 f

next rung of the ladder in a career way. If I’m doing something and I feel like it’s not challenging me or it’s not different to something else I’m doing that grates on me a bit. I feel like I’m wasting my time. It’s not necessarily about technically stretching me, it could be emotionally. But as long as I’m learning from it.”


There is a notable progression, both in the sophistication of Changeling and in the rich production of Emily’s Coracle album. Is that something you’re conscious of?

“When I was there for the whole pro-

cess of Emily’s album I was learning from just watching Andy Bell work. I’m really interested in producing. I don’t have a lot of technical prowess but I’m really interested in being a producer. So I felt like I was learn- ing just from being there.”

Why do you think it is that you’ve kept working with these same people since uni- versity?

“With Emily and Lucy it’s just knowing them so well in some ways, and it’s the same with The Shee, it’s knowing your place. You just know where to slot in and what your role is. But I think it’s just time. I’m trying to think back and wonder why the hell we ended up playing together and I don’t know. I think the harp is a big ele- ment. Being a harp player on a course when there weren’t really other harp play- ers. To be honest I think people just asked me because of the harp. I don’t think it was because of me.”

“Well maybe in the end it was, but

that’s probably how I ended up being asked to play in these bands, because there was no other choice!”

The harp can be a fey and ethereal instrument, lending itself to glissandi. This is not how Rachel plays it.

“I love a rhythmic riff in the Mixolydian

mode. That’s my thing. And I do a lot of that. I don’t know if it comes from my back- ground of Gaelic song and the influence of the pipes but I just love it. And I’m also real- ly into the soaring melody of a song over a quite rhythmic fast accompaniment. So those are the personality traits of what I do. I mean, I’m not thinking that I’m gonna have a definitive album where I can say ‘that’s me’, but I do feel more sure of what I like and what I don’t like.”

Do you write in your head or do you have to play?

“I’ve done the odd thing in my head in the past but no, I have to play. The strings are just there – it’s really easy to sit and play for hours. It’s just there in front of you, it’s like the piano. It’s a really nice instrument to write on. I sometimes use a piano as well and I’m gonna use it a bit more for this album. For Changeling I was doing a bit of writing on Sibelius, the com- puter program, and maybe if I was more fluent on it I’d find it easier but I find it a little dry. I prefer to just play.”

Does the physical structure of the harp suggest tunes?

“Yeah, definitely. Sometimes I’ll just choose a shape and work around that and something will come out of it, just the

shape of where my hands go on the strings. Or I’ll put it in a certain key with the levers and work from that. I’m a big riff person, I love riffs. I’m not big on chords as such, I prefer more lyrical lines.”

Something that’s become a bit of a trademark with you is your cover versions, where you take quite a familiar song and… ‘Newtonise’ it.

“I’m not gonna say that I’m not a song- writer but I am more into interpreting songs, particularly folk songs but also songs that are really popular. I think my strength lies in interpreting songs rather than writ- ing my own lyrics. I love other people’s songs so much and I haven’t written any- thing that I’ve thought was better yet.”

“I always do a lot of Hank Williams. Up in the Highlands country music is the popu- lar music really. But I think it goes back to when I was singing jazz and Gaelic. It start- ed me off on this slight identity crisis, once I went to university, about what kind of singer I am. But I’d never sung a folk song in English until I went to uni. My singing teachers would say, ‘So you’re a Scots singer?’ And I’d never sung in Scots; it’s not my background. It took me four years to just sing a song in English as myself. It doesn’t really matter where the song is from – if I’m singing it, it’s me. But that was a massive process. It sounds obvious but it was like a switch going off in my head that made me realise I can just sing any song in my own

way and make it my own. Since I’ve figured that out I’ve run with it and gone ‘I’m gonna take this song, like Dolly Parton’s Jolene, and sing it in my own accent’.”

Back in 2014 I unfortunately dragged Rachel into a debate about the representa- tion of women in folk music. Partly through my own naiveté and partly through the Guardian sub-editor’s desire to make a click- bait mountain out of my molehill of an arti- cle, Rachel’s experience of being told by a folk festival promoter that they already had their quota of girl bands for the season (a quota of one) became lost in a sea of angry shouting. But before I stopped reading the comments for my own sanity, it was notable that several keyboard bashers took issue with the accompanying photo of The Shee because they were wearing posh frocks.

“I think what was so interesting about that was people’s reactions to it. All I really did initially was just to point out that this festival booker said, ‘We’ve already got our girl band for this year.’ And I suppose the point I wanted to make was why these two bands who are both female can’t share the same bill when it would never cross any- one’s mind if they were male. And I posted on Facebook and people were all, ‘Name and shame!’ And that’s not the point I was trying to make. I didn’t want to point any fingers. I just thought it was interesting that it was still an issue. And then people said, ‘Well The Shee call themselves an all-female band, why do you do that?’”

a ha, yeah. But it’s more that I like to feel I’m moving forward for myself, rather than feeling like I’m on the

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68  |  Page 69  |  Page 70  |  Page 71  |  Page 72  |  Page 73  |  Page 74  |  Page 75  |  Page 76  |  Page 77  |  Page 78  |  Page 79  |  Page 80  |  Page 81  |  Page 82  |  Page 83  |  Page 84