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BBC Radio 2 Folk Award-winner Fay Hield talks to Big Issue North about her third solo album, Old Adam, and her tour with her band the Hurricane Party. They play RNCM, Manchester,12 Feb, and NCEM, York, 16 March.

What can we expect from your new album and tour?
Old Adam looks at traditional songs again, this time with a bit of a focus on the stories they’re telling us and how we relate to them. It’s not all dry academia though – the point is about bringing it all up to date, so it’s very lively music, quite a festival feel and lots of choruses to join in with, if you fancy. I’ve got a six-piece band on the road with me, so it’s lots of fun. Hope to see you there!

What does the recognition of the BBC Folk Award mean to you?
It was amazing. For a slightly academic project-type album we were not expecting to get much recognition, but the award really pushed us up a notch and I’m sure helped the project reach so many new listeners. The best thing was getting to play at the Royal Albert Hall for the ceremony. That was terrifying!

Indie folk became popular a few years ago. Did that help traditional folk artists get more exposure?
Definitely. There has been a real push towards understanding what the music is all about rather than just buying albums. People want to know about old singers and where the songs come from. That’s great. We just need to get more people actually singing and playing now just for fun too. That would be amazing – to get it out of the commercialised arena again.

Tell me about your work with the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

Well, they took all the documents in their archives, and collected loads more from other places, scanned them all and made them freely available online under a project called the Full English. Then they asked me to put together a band to bring them back to life, so our job was to trawl through thousands of scans and find some songs to rework up. It was an amazing experience, looking at all those raw documents, scrawled handwriting and all. It really brought all the history back to life.

Yorkshire has a strong folk music tradition. Did living in Sheffield influence you?
I was brought up in Keighley, which has a great folk club, and I’ve always hung around with morris dancers and at singing sessions, so that has all definitely influenced me. Sheffield has a really vibrant grassroots scene and that’s what I’m into really – getting people out there and just making music together. Recently, I’ve been too busy touring to get out as much as I’d like, but I work with Soundpost to run weekends and a club in our local village to keep my hand in.

Tell me about your work at Sheffield University.
I lecture in ethnomusicology (long word for music in culture), and music management, which really brings all my experience of researching, teaching, recording and touring this music together and passes it on to some great students. We’ve got a growing body of folk enthusiasts here now and I’m building my PhD students. Always happy to have more so if anyone’s keen to do any research in this area, please do get in touch.

Antonia Charlesworth

(Photo: Sally and James Lockey)

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