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The Scottish folk singer talks to Big Issue North as she gears up to release her new album of Christmas songs, supported by nine festive shows. She plays Reeth Memorial Hall in North Yorkshire, 2 Dec.

Tell us a bit about your sound and your influences.
My sound is rooted in the folk genre though my material takes in traditional songs, Scots language, my own originals and covers of country/Americana. I’ve been inspired by singers and songwriters from both sides of the Atlantic since the beginning. American artists such as Joni Mitchell, Alison Krauss, Darrell Scott and Anais Mitchell continue to inspire me. If I’m looking for inspiration closer to my own roots then more traditional singers such as Archie Fisher, Alison McMorland and Dick Gaughan are great.

How have you evolved as a musician over the years?
When I started out I was mainly performing traditional material, much of it drawn from the Scots language tradition. I’m from the South West of Scotland, once the home of Robert Burns, so he has been a big part of my musical heritage too. Traditional songs are still part of my set today but I think it’s important to make your own mark on a song. Often I take traditional songs and set them to my own melody, expand the song with a chorus or re-work the verses. I also write my own songs too. This started out by being inspired by the themes and formats of traditional material but these days my originals tend to have a more contemporary feel.

What are you up to at the moment artistically?
I release my new album Songs For Christmas on 2 December. It’s an album of Christmas/winter-themed material which I’ve gathered over the last few years. I’ve been running a Christmas show for the last five years. It started as a small, local one night show. This year we have nine dates across the UK. I’m also currently working on new material with my long-time musical partner (and husband) Jamie McClennan. We celebrate 15 years of playing together in 2017 so will be touring throughout the year as a duo to mark the occasion.

How do you stand out from the crowd in a saturated industry?
I think you have to concentrate on who you are and where you want to be. There are so many artists out there today, the music scene is certainly saturated, especially in Scotland where there aren’t as many venues to play as elsewhere. I think you have to be creative in your approach to ideas and work hard. As a working mother of two small children I’ve had to become very focused during the time that I get to work on music. For me, performing on stage is now the easiest part of the day. Above all, you need to enjoy what you do and believe in yourself. If you don’t then audiences can clock it straight away.

What’s on your rider?
Couldn’t possibly disclose…

Tell us about your worst live show.
Possibly either the one where I forgot my lyrics during a performance for a packed room of overseas festival promoters or the one which took place in a garage on a freezing cold night in November where I could hardly move my fingers due to being so cold. Happy to say both of these were many years ago now!

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Emily Smith

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