What are you currently up to?

At the moment I am getting ready for the release of my new CD 'Stories of Angels & Guitars, in January. The recording, which is the glamorous bit, has all been done, so now it's the jobbing side of things that need doing. I've always run my own record label, so all of the jobs to do with that I do myself, so this morning, for example, I packed up a huge consignment of CDs and organised a courier to take them down to the depot in London which then sends them out to the shops...so I've been up to my ears in parcel tape and cardboard boxes.

Tonight is better – I am going to see Becky Mills play a gig in Harrogate. She was in Waking the Witch with me and is coming along on the Tour in February and March. I'm going to go and sing very loudly from my chair and probably heckle a bit, just to give her a bit of practice with crowd control...

Tomorrow Bex and I are shooting a video to promote the tour. We've been waiting for some sunshine, but I expect we'll end up being filmed in our wellies.

Could you take us through the new album 'Stories of Angels & Guitars'?

This new CD is my fourth solo CD. It's been two years in the making, so I'm looking forward to getting it out there. I had wanted it to be different from records I had made previously – I started with no deadline, without a pre-planned list of songs, intending to play all of the instruments and sing all the harmonies myself and only go to the studio once a week...in other words, take the pressure right off. In the past, recording has always been a very rushed affair, with really tight deadlines and little room for experimentation, and I really wanted to move away from that approach and just see what came out in a relaxed environment.

It's finished up not exactly as originally intended, because although I did end up playing most instruments, my attempts at playing bass and drums failed miserably, which resulted in me sacking myself about half way through the process! I invited the very lovely Hugh Whitaker (ex Housemartins) to come and play drums for me, and one of my oldest and dearest friends, Jon Short, who I played with as a duo for a lot of years, and who features on two of the three Waking the Witch albums, agreed to play double bass. I play acoustic guitar and mandolin, and put some effects in with glockenspiel, xylophone and a bit of percussion, but it's quite a sparse album I think. Uncluttered. There are ten songs on it – not actually all about angels and/or guitars specifically (!) but there are loose references all the way through! That happened by accident! I hadn't realised that I'd done that until quite near the end!

As my voice is my main instrument, I tried to make the album as interesting as possible vocally. For five years I managed and played in the acoustic female group Waking the Witch, who had a reputation for delivering really top quality vocal harmony arrangements. I loved what we did as a band vocally, and I loved the different textures that we achieved, and so I've tried to do something similar on 'Angels'. I've layered up a lot of the vocals, but also used my voice in places instead of a lead instrument, so, for example, I've put in an operatic type soprano part in the opening track 'Under Your Wing', and later on in the album, there's some whispering which acts like 'noise'. Some of the vocals we recorded really up close, so there is the effect that I'm singing quietly, intimately if you like, right in your ear (!), and in others we pulled them back a bit.  


How did you hook-up with Hugh Whitaker of the Housemartins? Would you like to do a full band album next time?

Hugh is a friend of Phil Snell who co-produced the album with me. Phil and Hugh have been in various bands together over the years, and they work together very well and have a great mutual trust, respect and understanding. I wanted drums on a few of the tracks, and it was Phil who suggested that we ask Hugh and I'm very glad he did. Hugh is one of the planet's lovely people and a great player as well as being fantastic fun to work with.

I might do a full band album next time. Not sure yet. I quite fancy doing one with Becky at some stage. We're going to be playing as a duo, so that seems the obvious next step. I'd love to gig live with bass and drums too, but it's all about logistics. When there's just the two of us, it's easy to get around.

What was it like touring with Clive Gregson and how did this come about? Any chance you may do a collaboration album/EP with him?]

I have known Clive for a very long time. I first met him when I opened for him and Christine Collister at the Irish Centre in Leeds in the late eighties (1986 I think, but I could be wrong...!). I thought the two of them together were completely brilliant, and Christine was a Goddess! A few years later in 1991, I won a songwriting competition for Humberside Arts that Clive and Maddy Prior were judging, so we touched base again there, and then we'd bump into each other occasionally at gigs and festivals.

I ran into him at one of John Martyn's last gigs in 2008 when I was just about to start my 'Little Piece of England' tour. My guitar player dropped out at the eleventh hour, and Clive, who is from Manchester but now lives in the States, had had to unexpectedly extend his stay over here because his Mum was not very well. He ended up jumping in on guitar completely unrehearsed at one of my shows. We had a great time, so it just sort of went on from there. We've now done 3 little tours together, which is a great privilege for me.

When we play together, he accompanies me on acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin and a bit of accordion, so it's a nice opportunity for him not to be singing all the time and take more of a back seat. He also invited me to sing on a couple of tracks on his latest album 'Bittersweet', which I was pretty chuffed about.

At the moment, Clive is busy with a fantastic guitar band called the 3 Boxes and he still does his solo stuff, plus he tours when he's over here with Jools Holland, so he has a lot on really. We speak pretty regularly though and he has become one of my best friends, so I guess it's inevitable that at some stage we will work together again. We both have parts for several of each others songs, so it's possible for either of us to turn up unannounced at the others gig and just join in on a couple. I love doing that!

How did you get involved in the Bob Dylan covers album for Oxfam and did you get to choose the song to record?

Chris Euesden who is a York based musician put together this album, and invited me to put a song on it. I thought it was an excellent opportunity to do something to raise money for Oxfam, while doing something that I really enjoy. I was a fanatical Bob Dylan fan when I was younger having first seen him live at 'the Picnic' at Blackbush airport, which was just down the road from my Mum's house, in 1978, and I think I know most of the words for most of his songs! It was great to be asked to be part of a project with so many of my folk heros on it – Christine Collister, Martin Simpson, Julie Matthews, etc – I was really made up to be asked. I had originally asked to do 'Boots of Spanish Leather', but someone else had already bagsied that one, so I ended up doing 'One More Cup of Coffee', which is a song that I also love. You can download the track from Amazon for 69p by the way and that way you're donating a bit to Oxfam (unashamed plug!)

You play the mandolin, xylophone, guitar - is there any instrument you have tried to master but haven't as yet?

I don't really play the xylophone – I just bash it a bit with one beater. I've discovered quite a neat trick which is very useful when playing it though, and that is that you can just remove any of the notes that don't fit in with a particular song by lifting them off the instrument itself!! That way you can't hit them by accident! Becky and me plan to take a xylophone out on the road with us which will be interesting! Not sure yet how to mic one up – we'll have to have a bit of a dress rehearsal with it!

I would love to be able to play the piano. Everytime I see someone playing one I get real piano envy. I keep saying that one day I'll learn, but I never seem to get round to it.

Is the folk and singer/songwriter scene in good health in the UK? It seems to thrive without much mainstream coverage bar on Radio 2.

It's amazing and delightful to see such a growing interest in Folk and Acoustic music and to even see it become fashionable! Bands such as Mumford & Sons, the Felice Brothers and Laura Marlin have played such a big part in bringing acoustic music to the younger end of the market – it's wonderful to witness – and they have really received lots of coverage on mainstream media. I love what they do. Folk music is definately in good health at the moment, which is great.

Any chance at all in the future of a Waking The Witch reunion?

Ah, I dunno really. Who knows. Never say never I suppose. Right now, Bex and I are really focussed on doing what we're doing and Jools and Rach are both playing a little bit, but mainly enjoying being at home with their families. We still meet up regularly for dinner and usually end up having a bit of a sing, and it feels great to do that, but when we broke up it felt like the band had run its course, and it still feels like that really. Maybe in a few years time. It'd be good to make that big vocal noise again.

Any good rock 'n' roll tales to tell…


What do you enjoy doing in your spare time away from music?

I have two sons, aged 13 and 11, so I have a lovely home life and my house is filled with laughter! I'm a proper old fashioned Mum and we have a big roast on Sundays and then they sit in front of the telly while I do the ironing. That's what I enjoy. Especially after I've been away playing. Being a Mum is my most important job really.

Anything else to add and a message for your fans...

Only that Becky and me are on tour throughout the UK from Feb 3rd onwards. It'd be great to see as many people as possible at the shows, and we always love it when people come up and say hello personally. So do come! And say hello!