We caught up with BBC Folk Award winner Bella Hardy ahead of her concert here on Friday 27 October, she talks to us about her new album Hey Sammy, the song writing process and what she has planned for the future ….
Can you tell us a bit about what life was like growing up? Were you a natural musician?
I was a natural singer. I’ve always sung. There’s no pretending that that’s not an integral part of who I am, I think anyone who’s ever had to send much time in my company would agree. Even the guy sat next to me in a coffee shop last week, who thanked me for singing quietly as I did my admin. I’d no idea I was doing it. He said it made his day, which was very sweet. There was a lot of singing in the village I come from (Edale in the Peak District), with the church choir and school plays, and a primary school headmaster who was a jazz fanatic. My dad loved traditional songs and shanties, and my mum played the piano and sang too, so there was always music, but it was community based and not professional. The fiddle playing wasn’t natural for me, it was hard work! But I’m getting there…
Does travelling to different countries help the song writing process?
Travelling in general helps my writing process, whether it’s on the train in the UK or in different countries. I have a notebook full of observations, poems and ideas from my first solo trip abroad when I was 18. It was a way of keeping myself company, a kind of re-assurance, when I was feeling vulnerable. Sometimes that’s still the reason I get my notebook out. Also, I think that when you’re travelling you’re alert in a different way; you’re absorbing so much that’s new, and processing new scenes, new people, new connections. I find that very useful in my writing. Though it can be exhausting too.
Your new album Hey Sammy has just been released, could you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind it?
There’s songs drawn from all sorts of corners on the new record. Two of them were written in China, and one of those begins with a poem from the Shijing, an ancient book of Chinese poetry. A few of the songs were written in the US, but one of those is based on the traditional balled of Tamlyn, which is a traditional ballad from the south of Scotland which I learnt from the singing of Mike Waterson. It’s often a big tombola of influences and ideas that leads to a final song. For me, the album almost feels like a set of postcards, sharing stories with the people I love. That’s how I often think about my song writing.
You won BBC Folk Singer of the year in 2014, how did this affect your career?
It was a great boost of profile! And the more people that hear your name, the more people might support your music, the easier it is to pay the rent! The Folk Awards are a wonderful work night out each year, and of course, it’s a really great honour to be recognised in that way by your peers. Overwhelming and touching.
What music are you listening to at the moment?
Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball album on repeat, and I’ve been walking the streets to Sheryl Crow.
What are you most proud of?
That’s quiet a question! To be honest, I’m most proud of the times that I can find a good grounded place from which to go slow and appreciate all of life’s little things. I’m all about the little things. I feel proud (and relieved) every time I write something that I think is OK. And I’m proud that I’ve stuck at it. Perseverance.
How has the position of women in music changed over the course of your career so far (if at all)?
It’s hard to see that clearly because it’s microcosm that I’m inside of. As a young musician, I was only aware of amazing female role models, and not the struggles they might have faced. Role models from Kristina Olsen to Theresa Tooley, to Tori Amos to Joni Mitchel to Carole King. It’s really only as I’ve grown older that I’ve been able to look back and think “how was that situation affected by my gender?”. I think there was an emphasis on young female folk singers to fit into a certain mold of prettiness and acceptability. But again, I think that’s a microcosm of something that was society wide. Or maybe that’s just a projection of something I was carrying! But it definitely feels like there’s an attitude of openness and acceptance, of doing what you like and being who you are unapologetically among female artists in the folk scene just now. It feels supportive and kind and brave. It’s good to be a part of.
What’s next for you?
Well, my China composition, which is a piece based on the folk songs I learnt in Yunnan Province in 2015, and my own observational writing. I hope to record that at some point so I can share it with everyone. And I’m really enjoying my non-musical writing at the moment; I’m posting my poems and musings on a Patron page, which is a place for people to support my alternative (non-song) writing. Who knows, maybe I’ll do something more with those one of these days. Apart of that… more exploring, more contemplating, more singing, more time appreciating the little things…
Bella Hardy plays Turner Sims on Friday 27 October, to book tickets click here