The ceilidh collective combines British and Greek folk forms, musical theatre, jazz and soul. Band members Andrew Sharpe and Amy Kakoura spoke to Big Issue North ahead of shows in Derby and Sheffield
What informs your music and songwriting? Andrew: For me, it’s picking the bones out of old songs and stories, trying to understand what was important enough to go through the oral history process, and looking for missing pieces of the jigsaw that bring contemporary relevance. Amy: I think the atmosphere comes first. You can tell the most exquisite, important, relatable story with the cleverest, most intricate music but if you don’t draw anybody into that world it’s just a puff of smoke. You have to relay what you know and give a listener the space to attach their own significance to it too or else you’re just your own echo chamber. So the artists that inspire me are always the ones who take you somewhere else. It’s not the only way, but it’s how I work!
How have you evolved as a band over the years? Andrew: Well we’ve been evolving for over 25 years as this mad, brilliant, rolling collective with friends and family and new generations coming in and out. It started as an English ceilidh trio with a jazz slant and right now we’re a theatrical folk/jazz/funk hybrid!
What are you up to at the moment artistically? Amy: We’re a fairly eclectic bunch. We’re all in as many other musical projects as we can get our hands on. Some of us write for theatre and publishing, some are on rapper dance teams. Becky does amazing music in healthcare stuff, and we’re halfway through writing the next album together – still working out what this thing is that we’ve gone and started! Andrew: Yeah, Amy does theatre and musicals, tours with concert guitarist Richard Durrant each year and plays up north fairly often. If you give her enough gin she’ll tell you about her misspent youth in Blackburn! Tim Yates (bass) is gigging with York band Blackbeard’s Tea Party and will go on to tour with Shake the Chains, before hooking up with Steamchicken again. We’re headlining at least one major dance festival this year too.
What’s on your rider? Andrew: This is a band that is not afraid of being fed. That’s all I’ll say.
Tell us your most embarrassing or surreal experience. Amy: When I first started playing with Steam, I was really awful at talking to the audience. I got really nervous one night and introduced everyone as “my band”. They didn’t let me off then, and haven’t since, quite rightly! And surreal? I got asked once during an audition to repeat my song “as a Ribena berry”. How do you even begin to deliver that? Despite my most shameful efforts, I did not get the job.
What song do you wish you’d written? Amy: Sinnerman by Nina Simone. It’s a masterpiece.
What’s your worst lyric? Amy: I’m sure I’ve had plenty but Andrew wrote this pastiche innuendo song about a sweet shop once and it was maybe the most upsetting thing I’ve ever read. Andrew: It was pretty bad. I’m fairly ashamed.
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