17 November 2015

said the maiden

Said the Maiden

Folk music has had something of an renaissance in the past few years here in the UK. It has become a genre of music that is far more accepted, not just for crusty old men with beards, drinking ale. A much younger audience has taken an interest. The proof in the pudding is the number of folk festivals that make up our summer of music schedule, including Cambridge and Cropredy. Sketches has been given the privilege of following, speaking and soon seeing a folk band that are about to release their most ambitious project to date. So in the first of a series of exclusive posts we speak to Said the Maiden. In the first post they talk about their beginnings and who and what influenced them. First though a little background.

Over the last two years the Maidens have gone from strength to strength, releasing their debut album and securing support and headline slots at folk clubs and festivals around the country, which in turn have led to opportunities to support many fantastic artists including The Fisherman's Friends, Jim Moray, Megson, Martin Carthy, Sam Carter, Hannah James and Sam Sweeney, and Clannad.  They were also honoured to join legendary fiddler Dave Swarbrick on a successful UK tour in the spring of 2014.

Photo by Rodeo Whiter

Can you tell us about the origins of the band? How you got together and where your band name comes from.

We have known each other a long time!  Since childhood really - we all went to school together in St. Albans, Hertfordshire and were all involved in the musical life of the school, from singing in choirs and playing in orchestras, to taking part in theatre shows and concerts.  We all went our separate ways after school but kept in touch and after finishing our various studies at university and returning to the area, we discovered a mutual love of folk music.  We consequently went to various gigs and festivals together and we were inspired to have a go ourselves!  We started regularly visiting our local Redbourn Folk Club for their open stage nights about three and a half years ago, to experiment with our own arrangements of traditional songs and to build our confidence.  We were met with an overwhelmingly encouraging, welcoming group of people who were able to share their knowledge and gave us so much supportive feedback, so we kept going back and adding songs to our repertoire until we were able to do a full set for one of the Club's guest nights.  From there on in we have just tried to gain as much experience and as many performance opportunities as possible. 

We didn't have an official band name for quite a while as we were very indecisive (this hasn't changed much over time)!  However, we looked for inspiration within the songs we were singing and were drawn towards a line from one of the first songs we arranged together - The Fine Young Smith, the tune for which we learned from Sean Lakeman and Kathryn Roberts.  We loved one particular line: 'Quoth the Maid', but felt it wasn't too catchy and was a bit of a mouthful, so we changed it to 'Said the Maid', and then finally decided upon 'Said The Maiden'.  We like the fact that our name suggests a story is being told by someone, as this is what a lot of folk music is all about. 

What was it about folk music that influenced your decision to go down this genre of music?

It definitely wasn't a conscious decision to form a folk band specifically; the whole process has been very organic and so things have just happened as and when we have felt the time has been right. We were just naturally drawn to the genre because we all enjoy listening to folk music and other related genres so much.  Going to lots of folk gigs and folk festivals probably helped to inspire us further too, as we heard songs and tunes that we wanted to try and learn and arrange for ourselves.  We also all enjoy the fact that the folk tradition is one of sharing and learning from other musicians and singers; of passing on traditional songs and tunes which may be hundreds of years old, and giving them new life.  When we sing our own arrangements of traditional songs it feels like we are part of a huge, extended family who all share this music and its history.  We love that about the genre.

Photo by Rodeo Whiter
How would you define your sound?

We sing mostly in close three-part harmony and largely acapella - without instruments - however we accompany some of our songs with guitar, mandolin, violin and flute.  We sing mostly traditional folk songs in our own arrangements, as well as some of our own original songs which, so far, also have a traditional feel to them. We have also covered a few more modern folk songs in our own style, and a few non-folk songs which we have given a make-over with our own distinctive sound!

Tell us a little about your personal musical journeys.

As we mentioned earlier, we all studied music at school and were involved in lots of musical activities throughout this time.  After school we all gained different musical experiences through studying, in the working world or otherwise. Music is a big part of our lives even outside of Said The Maiden. 

Jess: I grew up surrounded by a lot of music in the house. My dad listened to Asia, Queen, Mike Oldfield, Tracy Chapman, people of that era. Mum listened to a lot of Clannad and Enya. My brother listened to a lot of indie and brit pop: Blur, Oasis, Space Hog, Nirvana, Green Day, a lot of stuff, and my sister listened to groups like My Life Story, the Bluetones, Portishead. I was exposed to an eclectic mix of music and liked it all! We have all, as a family, always sung or played instruments. We actually played in a band together when I was young. I started on recorder then was promoted to flute and singing. I became aware of folk music as I know and love it now about 8 years ago, when I saw a trailer for Seth Lakeman's new album at the time. I was really struck by the fact that he was singing and playing violin at the same time.  That seemed incredible to me, so I searched for more people who did the same or similar, and here I am now!

Hannah: I also grew up in a family where I was exposed to a huge variety of musical genres, from pop and rock to classical and jazz.  My grandad was a musician and piano tuner and I would love hearing him tell stories of his days as a professional pianist and organist.  My mum also plays piano and clarinet and encouraged me and my brothers to take up various musical instruments whilst we were at school.  I later gained a degree in Music and since graduating I have not only pursued music as a hobby but have worked in various musical settings including a specialist music school where I assisted in organising concerts and events, and for a music charity which runs music courses for adult learners. I have also worked in several educational settings supporting young adults with a range of learning difficulties and disabilities, and have been able to use my musical background and experience to support them in their studies of music and performing arts. 

Kathy: Singing has always been a part of my life.  One of my earliest memories is of joining my Grandpa Ernie on stage for a rendition of 'Any Old Iron' at his 80th birthday party.  I learned my trade, as it were, in the Markyate Church choir; my first experience as a paid musician was earning £2 for singing at weddings.  At school I joined every choir and orchestra going and have always particularly enjoyed close harmony singing.  I also enjoyed performing in the school musical every year, gaining a particular appreciation for Gilbert and Sullivan and later spent my university years as part of the Exeter University Gilbert and Sullivan Society.  It was also at university that I first began to listen to folk music.  I particularly remember hearing a friend of mine playing 'Crazy Man Michael' on the guitar and thinking - I must find out more about that... and I did.

In Part 2 Said the Maiden discuss their first release and the upcoming new EP and why they are using the Pledge Music site. Your comments are as always very welcome and please check in on Thursday to find out about the wonder trio. To visit their pledge music site please click on the following link Said the maiden at pledgemusic


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