Music Q&A:
Alice Jones

The folk singer on Yorkshire heritage and drumming with
her body. She plays Touchstones, Rochdale, 26 May

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What informs your music and songwriting?
The key things that inform my music and occasional songwriting are narrative, heritage and emotion. I love finding and researching the folk songs that I perform and I am instantly drawn to songs with a strong storyline. Sometimes folk songs are collected in a mysteriously incomplete form and, in order to determine all of the details of the song’s narrative, you have to look at many different collected versions of the same song to try and work out what the complete story is. I also love songs that I can relate to on an emotional level – songs that either trigger a memory of an experience I have had or that contain an emotional sentiment so evident that you can’t help but empathise. The heritage aspect of folk song also holds great interest for me and I have an affinity for songs collected in my locality or songs about the Yorkshire region. I was lucky enough to be involved in a project that championed the pioneering work of Leeds-based folk song collector Frank Kidson alongside local folk musician Pete Coe. We spent months researching Kidson’s life and vast folk song collection. I found it massively inspiring and exciting to have access to all this local material, some of which was first collected in our area and highlighted key Yorkshire influence and variation when compared to other collected forms of a song. I feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for these songs, as if it is my duty to share and communicate my own local heritage to the wider population and folk song lovers alike.

How have you evolved as an artist over the years?
This is a difficult question to answer. It’s hard to look at your own work with any true level of objectivity! I think I have probably become more relaxed about what I do and think less about creating music with other people’s opinions and foibles or limitations in mind. I am more confident in presenting music the that I love, in the way I feel is appropriate on a personal level, but always consider the audience in my selection of material and formulation of a concert set. I’d like to think that my performances are varied enough to hold the interest of a mixed audience, more so than they were when I first started performing. I have definitely become more focussed on the local aspect of folk music, although I try not to let this limit my material choice. I am massively influenced by dance music and songs from all over the world, especially Europe, Scandinavia, Canada and America, and these influences over many years affect my creative output whether I am conscious of it or not!

What are you up to at the moment artistically?
In June 2016 I released my debut solo album Poor Strange Girl. Working as a soloist has been a new experience for me as much of my earlier work has been in bands or duos. I have enjoyed the experience immensely and will be continuing to work as a soloist as much as I can. However, so far in 2017 I have been given some absolutely incredible opportunities to collaborate with other artists on a range of exciting projects both in a solo capacity but also as part of a group. I am a keen folk dancer, performing Appalachian flatfoot (a form of percussive stepdance) and body percussion (drumming using only your body) and this aspect of my career has really come to the forefront recently. I have been lucky enough to be invited to perform with some fabulous artists at some truly inspirational events in the last couple of months. Recent highlights have included working with folk supergroup Show of Hands and a weekend dancing at the Shetland Folk Festival with incredible Irish/old-time band New Road. One of my pet projects at the moment is “accessible music”. I love the idea that anyone can have access to and participate in musical creation and activity. There is one musical instrument we all have access to: our own bodies. Not everyone gets the opportunity to have music lessons or own a musical instrument. Accessible music promotes the use of attributes we all possess as a human to make music: singing, dancing, beat boxing and body percussion are all expressions of musicality that can be produced no matter what your background, education or physical ability. I will be continuing to promote and encourage this notion throughout 2017 and beyond.

What’s on your rider?
I don’t actually have a rider! However, if I did, the top of the list would be decent coffee! I am a little bit of a coffee snob so I tend to travel with my Aeropress espresso maker and a bag of good coffee just to ensure I do get a good cup of coffee. Hummus and oatcakes would also feature on the list somewhere too.

Tell us your most embarrassing or surreal experience.
Over the years I have had countless embarrassing and or surreal experiences at gigs. One experience that really stands out for me was a concert I did with the John Dipper Band at the Oxford Folk Festival (2007 possibly) where upon finishing our set the four of us paraded off the stage via an exit at the very back of the performance area, only to find that we had accidently gone through a door that only lead to a small un-exitable area underneath the stage. Unfortunately we didn’t realise we were trapped until after the next act (who happened to be the very eminent Waterson:Carthy) had already begun their set. We were forced to sit under the stage for an hour or so until the concert had finished, at which point we all paraded back out from under the stage again, much to the audience’s amusement! My most surreal moment to date was a very recent occurrence. On Easter Sunday this year I was invited to join a superb group of guest performers at the Show of Hands 25th anniversary concert at the Royal Albert Hall. I performed a solo morris dance at the very end of the first set and I can honestly say, performing in such an iconic concert space with such a supportive and engaged audience was one of the most amazingly surreal moments of my life! Looking up to see so many thousands of faces beaming back at me and clapping along was just the most incredible feeling. It’s an experience that I will never forget!

What song do you wish you’d written?
I don’t really feel like there are any specific songs that I wish I’d written.

What’s your worst lyric?
Again, I don’t really obsess about these things. I have the luxury of being able to edit and revise versions of songs so that any lyrics that I feel are too contrived or that I might have a problem portraying can be adapted. In folk music a terrible or inappropriate lyric can merely be edited out and replaced by a more fitting sentiment.

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