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f50 Wolf In The Water

Kerry Andrew’s latest You Are Wolf project immerses her in fresh water – song topic-wise. Cara Gibney talks to the experimental composer who loves traditional song.

anelles, the narrow channel that lies between Europe and Asia. And in cross- ing this divide that separates Asian Turkey from European Turkey, he accord- ingly initiated the modern age of open- water swimming.


Nearly two centuries later, the writer, documentary maker and environmentalist Roger Deakin published his acclaimed book Waterlog, telling of his passion for ‘wild swimming’ in the waterways across Britain; the rivers and lakes, canals, bays and ponds that dot and thread their way through the country.

Kerry Andrew read Waterlog seven or eight years ago. It sparked a whole new angle on her already well-formed interest in the natural environment of Britain, and the folklore surrounding it. Andrew is a multi-award-winning composer of experi- mental vocal and choral music. She’s a writer, and a teacher, has contributed to The Guardian, occasionally presents on BBC Radio 3, and holds a PhD in composi- tion. Her alt-folk project, You Are Wolf, recently released its second album, Keld. Indeed, you may remember 2014’s fRoots feature by Jeanette Leech entitled ‘The Bird Woman’, in which she discussed “You Are Wolf’s exceptional debut album [Hawk To The Hunting Gone], themed entirely around our feathered friends.”

Now, four years later, You Are Wolf ‘s recent follow-up release shadows another nature-based theme. The album’s title, Keld, an old word from the north of Eng- land, meaning “the deep, still, smooth part of a river,” invokes the essence of Deakin’s Waterlog, and Andrew’s own immersion in this outdoors, untamed cold- water world. Keld is a collection of songs – some original, some gathered – that illus- trate, dramatise and honour fresh water- ways in Britain and beyond. With folklore that summons banshees, drowning boys, Ancient Greek water nymphs, and Japanese river monsters, Keld interprets the legends, applies a contemporary eye to the myths and traditions, and crafts songs to carry discovered stories.

here is a chance that this story leads back to Lord Byron and the Hellespont. Back to early May in 1810 when he swam long miles across the Dard-

On reading Deakin’s non-fiction account of his “swimming journey around the UK,” Andrew and her husband were stirred to follow his example. “It got us both into the idea of swimming outside,” she told me. “We live in South London and we are just a mile away from a really beau- tiful lido.” It’s a special exercise that leaves her feeling more allied with the planet around her. “It’s cold, unheated … it’s partly cold water that I really got into because you get a real buzz, a real adrenaline kick. And the fact that you’re outside – I just feel much more connected to my environment, even if it is just in South London.”

Fables and ancient meaning blow fur- ther dimensions into the elements, flora, and fauna, of which Andrew writes and arranges. It’s a job she doesn’t take lightly. “I treat the traditional material, the source material, with a great deal of respect. I’m not ever trying to do something different for the sake of it.” As we chatted over the phone we started to piece together the inspirations and practicalities of this latest release. “I wanted to do the same thing really as I did in Hawk To The Hunting Gone,” she recalled. “To take a theme, the theme being birds and folklore in the first album ... I wanted to do that again, but I wanted to throw a few more original tunes into the mix.” It’s an angle that keeps her curious and excited about her work, and it clears the path for a “very natural progression,” from the birds and folklore of the first album, to the fresh water and folklore of Keld.

There is a cold-water clarity to

Andrew’s voice on Keld, buoyed within “a wider palate of sounds including drums, cello, vibraphone, trumpet, found sounds and field recordings.” You Are Wolf began as Kerry Andrew’s solo manifestation, away from her band, projects, and collabo- rations. However, You Are Wolf is now a trio, and the alt-folk of Keld is coloured with the creativity and skills of multi- instrumentalist Sam Hall and percussionist Peter Ashwell.

“The first album is very heavily vocal, partly coming out of how I would do it live [using a loop station] … so when I was starting to think about making a second album I wanted to step away a little bit

from being quite so heavily vocal, work with some other musicians and make it feel more like a band.”

Past students of Andrew (“I taught Sam composition, and Pete was just in my musicianship class”), it was the versatility and openness of Hall and Ashwell that grabbed Andrew’s attention. “Sam is a composer,” she explained. “He plays lots of instruments, mostly cello and bass, and he sings for You Are Wolf. On the album he plays a few more things as well, and he is just very open. As is Pete, they are very open musicians.”

On his part, Peter Ashwell comes from a classical background, so he brings his technical ability to the table. “But he’s also done a lot of pop, and rock, and jazz drumming,” Andrew added. “Wherever we’re playing he goes and gathers beer bottles, and cups, and glasses, and makes himself a little percussion tray of things he can hit … He has a MIDI pad, so he can play electronic vibraphone or marimba. And he has lots of toys, or what he would call toys. Bits of percussion. But they both sing. They really are up for anything … it’s the sort of musicians I like to work with. Not somebody who just does one thing, but can turn their hand to anything.”


efore anything was arranged or performed, though, they had to be researched. Either as songs or as folklore, Andrew’s work started by tracking them down. “I wish I could say that I went to the Vaughan Williams Library,” she laughed. “I have quite a collection of books. I’ve got my Penguin Book Of English Folk Songs, and my American bal- lad books, so I certainly found one or two from there.” She also availed herself of “that amazing resource that is the web- site Mainly Norfolk … a massive catalogue of folk songs where they have been recorded … that is usually my first port of call … I started from a base of songs and I was also thinking about a few recordings of songs that I already liked and fancied doing my own version of, like Shirley Collins’ version of George Collins. But [I found the songs through] mostly my books, online, and thinking about the artists that I liked.”

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