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Emily Portman: ‘my music isn’t easy listening, but that’s how I like it!’

 

Over the course of three solo albums and collaborations with The Devil’s Interval, Rubus and the Furrow Collective, Liverpool-based singer and songwriter Emily Portman has ploughed her own furrow (sorry). Her latest solo album, Coracle, is an imaginative tour de force and when Shire Folk caught up with Emily before her tour with the Coracle Band we asked where it all came from …

 

SF: While rooted in traditional styles and to some extent themes, your songs are not the folk norm. Where does your inspiration and take on folk music come from?

EP: I think that, like most writers, I’m a bit of a magpie and draw inspiration from wherever I can – certainly folk music continues to be a great influence, as do fairytales, folklore, feminism, novels … even dreams when I get an interesting one.

SF: In my review of your superb Coracle album I made reference to Angela Carter’s take on fairy tales. Do you think that’s fair and is there a literary element to the way you approach your songs?

EmilyPortman1

Emily Portman

EP: Yes, Angela Carter is a big influence and I’ve written a few songs inspired directly by her novels and short stories. In Coracle, Carter’s ‘Erl King’ was the inspiration for ‘Eye of Tree’. She was such a subversive and sparky writer and I admire that greatly. I love the way that writers like Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood and Marina Warner have reformed fairytales into new shapes to fit our times. Lately I’ve been also writing with the poet Eleanor Rees who has inspired me greatly in my latest songs on Coracle.

SF: Reviewers often talk about ‘the darkness’ in your work. Do you think that’s an easy assumption made of uneasy music or does it tap into something in you?

EP: Well, it’s fair to say that my music isn’t ‘easy listening’, but that’s how I like it! Some of my ‘darkest’ songs are retellings of folktales, rather than being simply the product of my sordid imagination! And funnily enough they seem to be my most popular songs, so perhaps it says as much about the audience as it does about me! My songs have their fair share of hope and magic too, but, the songs of Coracle do contain a fair few songs about death because I was going though bereavement myself at the time and found writing to be a cathartic way of processing grief. Traditional songs have always been full of of darkness, magic and drama – and so are the dramas on the telly and the novels we read. They are the ingredients that make a good story and it’s storytelling that I’m interested in, so I hope that explains my preoccupations a little better!

SF: Rachel Newton and Lucy Farrell play in your band and you’re also part of the Furrow Collective with them and Alasdair Roberts. Is it important to you to play with the same musicians and what does the Furrow Collective bring you?

EP: I got talking with Lucy and Rachel, during one of our tours, about how we’d all like the chance to sing the traditional repertoires that we all had stored up, but lying dormant. I’ve been a big fan of Alasdair Roberts for years and sang on one of his traditional albums and knew he had similar interests in ballads, so we invited him to come and sing with us one weekend and The Furrow Collective was born. It felt like a proper meeting of minds and it continues to be a real pleasure to sing and play together.

And now things are shifting again – Rachel’s solo career is taking off, which is exciting to see, and so she’s leaving the trio to focus on her own brilliant music. Whilst I’m sad that the trio won’t be touring any more, I love what we’re doing as The Furrow Collective, so I won’t have to miss singing with my favourite musicians! And the Coracle band tour will be a lovely way to celebrate all those years of singing my own songs with Lucy and Rachel – I’ll treasure all the music and tours we’ve shared together.

SF: Your albums have a particular look and feel to them (especially Elly Lucas’s fantastic photographs). How important is the packaging of your work to you?

EP: That’s nice to hear! I’ve enjoyed the process of collaborating with artists and designers and have always tried to reflect the songs through the imagery in some way. It’s one of the the great things about releasing my own music. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great artists along the way. Elly Lucas did a beautiful job on the photos for Coracle, with help from a brilliant textile artist called Karen Le Roy Harris who brought her amazing wing-like mobiles in some muddy woods one very cold January day, all in the name of art! I was very happy to discover that one of the great friends I’ve made since moving to Liverpool also happens to be a brilliant graphic designer, so I asked her to design the cover for Coracle and she was great to work with – look up Heather Almond, she’s brilliant.

SF: You’re playing at Oxford’s excellent and innovative North Wall Theatre on 24 March. What sort of venue most appeals to you?

EP: I played at the North Wall with The Furrow Collective last year and we had a memorably lovely gig. The audience were warm and responsive, which always makes a big difference – as well as the sound being perfect and the venue having a great atmosphere. I always love visiting Oxford so I’m looking forward to returning with the Coracle band in March.

Emily Portman’s latest album, Coracle, is out now on Furrow Records. Emily and the Coracle Band are on tour in March. You can find out more at website

Jonathan Roscoe

FEATUTRE HEADING: blah blah balh

 

Feature Intro:After having won the Musician of the Year award at this year’s Folk Awards and playing with almost everyone from Jon Boden and Eliza Carthy to Hannah Ja

 

Feature Interviewer SF: Question

Feature Interviwee BH: answer

 

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