There are ten musicians in the Songs of Separation gang, hailing from across Scotland and England. Some of you will know some of us… but in case there are a few of us you’ve not encountered before, here’s an introduction in the form of a short interview.
Today, in the last of our interviews, we feature Hannah James, accordionist, singer and clog dancer. She’s packing her accordion as we speak – as it’s time to leave for the Isle of Eigg!
What made you want to start playing music?
From when I was very young I was always taken to folk festivals and concerts, my mum and dad were both very active on the local folk scene when I was little, mum ran and performed with various dance teams and my dad ran a festival so I was surrounded by music and dance from a very young age, taking it all in. I didn’t start to play the accordion until I was about 11 but the singing and dancing just seemed to happen naturally.
It wasn’t ever really a conscious decision to play music for a living, one thing just sort of lead to another!
What made you choose your instrument?
a fantastic lady called Liza Austin Strange who runs a group called the Fosbrooks Folk Education Trust at a school in Stockport, everyone in the group clog dances and plays at least one instrument. I joined as an honorary member aged 11 and she suggested I try the accordion first, I never thought to question it. In hindsight it might not have been the best choice as I’m only 4 foot 11! Maybe I should have played the penny whistle.
Who would you say have been your influences (musical and otherwise)?
I think dancing has had a big influence on how I approach and feel music, I started dancing when I was 3 and my mum started to teach me English clog when I was 7, but I think the thing that’s had the biggest influence on my music has been travelling around a lot and having the chance to learn from lots of different people. The folk scene is great for that as there are so many people playing for fun, informally, so you can just pick things up as you go and be out playing ‘real tunes’ from quite early on. I think learning in an unstructured way has always suited me.
If I had to pick one person who has influenced my music the most it would have to be accordionist Karen Tweed, she was one of the first accordion teachers I had and continues to help and inspire me. I knew she was a great teacher when I was younger but I didn’t realise she was probably the best teacher I’d ever have until much later!
Tell us one unusual thing about you
I’m very interested in animal behaviour, I love teaching my dog to do tricks and getting to agility classes when I have time.
What do you want this project to achieve?
Separation is such a big issue at the moment, I think particularly our separation from the land and the natural world but there’s also a horrendous amount of pressure from the government and the media for different groups within society to become more separate and less united. I hope that in this project we can draw from traditional repertoire and create new material to highlight these pressures and to show that they are not new, but that it’s more important now than ever for people to stand together and help each other. I think it’s also quite easy to get downhearted about the current political situation and music can be a great way to lift the spirits, spread positive messages and remind people that they are not alone. I think between the 10 of us we should be able to make a pretty convincing racket!
What matters to you about the project? Why do you want to be part of it?
It’s great to have such a strong theme to be working with but for me, with these kind of projects, the magic happens when everyone is together and ideas start pouring out. You can never really predict quite how things are going to unfold and how the group dynamic is going to work and that’s what I find so exciting. It’s such a brilliant group of musicians and we’ll be working in an amazing place, I just hope that I can add something useful to the project as a whole, I’m sure I’ll learn loads and come away totally inspired, how couldn’t I?
Got any news?
I’m launching a brand new solo project this year called Jig Doll. The first preview will be at Shrewsbury Folk Festival in August.
I’m also launching a new album this year with fellow accordionist Tuulikki Bartosik called Chatterbox.