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root salad f32 Kirsty Merryn


She doesn’t go along with that ‘the piano is not a folk instrument’ thing, she tells Ant Miles


’d not thought of it in those terms, but I think that’s true,” says Kirsty. “I’m quite drawn to the macabre, and there’s so much of that in folk music, it doesn’t shy away from it. The supernatural crosses over into the everyday all the time, so that’s def- initely something that I like. And I like play- ing around with time signatures and changing, so people think they know what’s going to happen and then there’s just a slight twist that they didn’t expect.”


“I


tres up and down the country, singing and playing their guitars. It’s all very nice and it’s what we’ve come to expect.


T


Kirsty Merryn is different, and from very early on in our meeting (which was supposed to be in Newbury but ended up being on Skype), one gets the sense that this is a label that sits comfortably with her. For one thing, Kirsty does most of her music sat at a piano.


“I tried to teach myself guitar, because I thought I couldn’t really be doing this with a piano,” she tells me, “and for whatever reason, I just couldn’t get on with it. But I have now played a few folk clubs that have let me play with an electric instrument.” I’m sorry, they let you? “That’s how they put it,” she laughs. “It’s really no different to plug- ging a guitar in, or plugging a fiddle in, or whatever. I think there are a few reasons why people don’t accept the piano as a folk instrument. I wonder whether there’s an odd idea about it being a middle-class instrument. If people think of folk music as


here are a lot of extremely good singer-songwriters out there at the moment. Many of them can be found in folk clubs and arts cen-


being people working in the fields or wher- ever and then coming home in the evening and playing in the pub together, then per- haps the piano wouldn’t have been a part of that. But you can’t really think about things in that way anymore. You get pianos in pubs all over the country and they’re not the ludicrously expensive commodities that they once were. It’s interesting now in folk because you are seeing more people using it. If you’re saying you can only use tradi- tional instruments, that really rules out the guitar too, and things like banjolele … you have people playing those really interesting hybrid instruments, and they’re not tradi- tional instruments.”


But it’s not just the fact that she plays piano that sets her apart from many of her contemporaries. Brought up in an entirely non-musical family in Hampshire’s New For- est, we have her music teacher Mrs King to thank for encouraging her love of music, which saw her simultaneously discover folk and jazz. There are elements of both on her debut album, She & I, which was released late last year. Like her live performances, it’s different. It’s at times unsettling, even occa- sionally menacing.


She & I was released mid-way through a tour supporting Show Of Hands (which Kirsty describes as an “absolutely brilliant experience”), and was produced by Gerry Diver. It’s he whom Kirsty credits with help- ing her define what the album should sound like. “Working with Gerry was great because he’s just open to all kinds of crazy suggestions. The chain on Bring Out The Bodies was just outside of the studio, and Gerry thought it would probably sound good. So we tried it and really liked it,” says Kirsty. “Part of the way that Gerry works is that he wants to have a conversation with you. We sat down for quite a long time to talk about what each song is about and how the audience should feel. He’d ask me at what point do you want the audience to feel most scared in this song, and then he will suggest instruments and things that will happen at those points. It was so cool, I’ve never really worked in that way before.”


A collection of eight songs focusing on stories of individual women, Kirsty was determined to retell them in a different way. Take Forfarshire, for example, on which she duets with Steve Knightley. It’s the famous tale of Grace Darling and her father William coming to the aid of ship- wreck victims off the coast of Northumber- land. Plenty of material there, but Kirsty comes at it from a different angle. “The thing that I wanted to focus on was that Grace and her father were very close, and she had siblings, but the intention was that she would be the one that stayed and learned how to look after the lighthouse,” explains Kirsty. “But then she died very trag- ically just a couple of years later, and so I wanted to tell the story of William having to carry on looking after the lighthouse that they used to share together.”


Kirsty plans to tour towards the end of


this year, and if you want my advice, you’ll get along to a show. This is an interesting, and, yes, different artist, and very definitely one to watch.


www.kirstymerryn.com F


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