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37 f 12 shots from the fRoots Rocket Launcher a dozen leading questions to fire at Natalie Merchant


If you were given the funds to organise a concert bill, who would the artists be?


I would invite Nina Simone (age 35) and Aretha Franklin (age 25) to play a house con- cert on the piano in my living room. I read that these two high priestesses of soul never actually met. But I’d like to host that impos- sible and historic meeting. There would be no audience and even I’d have to be invisi- ble; there’s no way I would know what to do or say in the presence of all that majesty.


Which totally obscure record do you most treasure and would like more people to know about?


Bella Domna: The Medieval Woman –


Lover, Poet, Patroness & Saint. I tend to men- tion this recording in music magazine ques- tionnaires because it is such an astounding rendering of early music (13th century). The raw and immediate performance given by Mara Kiek is unadorned and impassioned. Listening to this album (especially the Mar- tin Codax songs) transports me to a strange and mystical point in history that is nearly impossible for us to fathom.


What was the best live gig you ever saw?


The Bulgarian National Women’s Choir at the Lincoln Center… it must have been about 1988. I’d been listening to Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares that Nonesuch Records had re-released in the US for a full year and it was such an event when the women’s choir came to perform. It was rapture, the sort of concert you don’t ever want to end and stays with you forever.


And what was the worst? I can’t say.


What was your own best ever gig?


“Best” is hard to pin down but I can say the most moving was a free morning orchestral concert I did in Las Vegas for 3,000 elementary school students. The audi- ence was primarily made up of poor Hispan- ic children, I imagine the sons and daugh- ters of the casino and hotel maintenance workers. Many were dressed in what looked like their first communion dresses; it was obviously a big event in their young lives. It was their first exposure to symphonic instru- ments and their first concert in a proper hall. They were transported by the music in ways I had never seen… we became magi- cians on stage.


And what was your worst?


I played a show last year in a zoo. The elephant pen was in view and I spent the entire show thinking the music was too loud and that we were traumatising the animals.


root salad


What’s the professional achievement you’re most proud of?


I released a double album called Leave


Your Sleep in 2010. It was a thematic collec- tion of poems relating to childhood and motherhood I adapted to music. I collabo- rated with 135 musicians over the course of a full year and wrote an 80-page book to accompany the recordings. It was a massive labour of love.


What’s the most embarrassing thing you ever did in public?


I can’t say.


Which song or piece of music would you most like to have written yourself?


Imagine by John Lennon. It’s hard to believe one simple pop song could hold every great aspiration for mankind. Often the song is just unbearable for me to listen to, especially when I remember how he was murdered. His death confirmed the impossi- bility of the world he dared us to imagine of true equality and freedom and brotherly love transcending greed and division.


Who was the first musician or singer you


were inspired to emulate?


Petula Clark. My mother had piles of her LPs and my earliest memories of music involve listening to her voice and looking at her face (framed by a stylish ’60s bob) on those album covers. I was probably five years old, and I remember my mother blast- ing the Petula on the living room stereo Sat- urday mornings while she cleaned the house. I can still hear the horn arrange- ments, the big string sections and that incredibly powerful voice soaring over it all, sweet and clear and warm. I loved her. I still love her.


Who was the last-but-one musician or singer you lusted after?


When I was fifteen years old… David Bowie, of course. I still can’t believe he’s gone. Makes me feel old.


If you had a rocket launcher, who or what would be the target, and why?


I can’t fantasise about military hard- ware, not even joking.


Natalie Merchant is on tour in the UK throughout July. nataliemerchant.com F


Photo: Jacob Blickenstaff


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