Music Q&A: Dana and Susan Robinson

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The American husband and wife folk duo bring their songs of rural America and old time mountain music to the UK in September – visiting Mansfield, Bradford, Burton, Sowerby Bridge and West Kirby. Dana Robinson tells Big Issue North why he’s a northerner at heart.

Tell us a bit about your sound and your influences.
I was raised on all the great folk and rock of the 1960s. When I started writing songs in the 1970s, singers like Neil Young, James Taylor, and Cat Stevens were my influences. By the time I started performing in the 1980s I discovered southern old time and British traditional music. So our sound now is really a blend of all these. Our instrumentation is guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin – like an oldtime string band – but our repertoire is an even mix of traditional and original.

How have you evolved as musicians over the years?
I think the progression has been from the melodic to the rhythmic. I’m a northerner in my bones, and the north whether you’re in the United States or Britain is naturally melodic. Not only does the African influence predominate American music in rock, blues, and old time music (banjo), but I lived in the south (North Carolina) for 15 years, and one cannot help but absorb the natural rhythm and groove that oozes out of the earth in that part of the world. I’m always striving to play with more rhythm and groove.

Were there any alternative band names before you decided to use your names?
I was a solo act before Sue and I met – simply, Dana Robinson. When Sue and I got together it seemed like the most natural thing was just to add her name to the bill.

What are you up to at the moment artistically?
Honestly, our new CD, The Angel’s Share, has just been released, so we are still fully in love with playing those songs and touring them around. If I were to look into the future, I’ll be working on my fiddle and mandolin chops with the intention of our next project in a couple of years being a wholly traditional album.

How do you stand out from the crowd in a saturated industry?
By not being concerned with what anyone else is doing. The way anybody stands out in a crowd is to fully be themselves.

What’s on your rider?
Are folk musicians permitted to even have riders? We don’t have contracts with riders. Sue and I are pretty easy-going.

Tell us about your worst live show.
It was a live NPR (like BBC) broadcast radio show in Amarillo, Texas about six years ago. I suspect our host was high on opiates. The sound check took three hours because of “technical issues”. The gig itself went off all right, but the host made off with most of the door money, which was in fact our fee. On top of that, as we were loading out, I walked straight into a massive glass window, completely shattering it. I wasn’t hurt, but the expression on our host’s face was priceless.

Antonia Charlesworth

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