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Carrivick Sisters - Interview

  by Owen Peters

published: 18 / 4 / 2015

Carrivick Sisters - Interview


At a gig in Buckinghamshire Owen Peters talks to much acclaimed folk duo and multi-instrumentalists the Carrivick Sisters about why they are continuing to self-release their material and their plans for the future

I’ve had a confusing three, four hours with the Carrivick Sisters, Laura and Charlotte. Once we had finished the interview, a level of confusion had set in. When the evening’s gig was over my confusion was complete. We eventually meet up, a little later than planned in the Buckinghamshire town of Chesham. (Reminder to myself: Stop putting your phone on silent; it’s a problem when people are trying to contact you”). Later in the evening they play at the Chesham Folk Club. Having driven for a couple of hours up from Bath, food and drink is required. A decision is made; an early evening “Indian” will be good for body and soul. The Carrivick Sisters have been performing as a duo for ten years. They began firstly by busking and playing various local gigs, before turning professional the year they left school in 2007. During the same year they won the South West Buskers and Street Entertainers’ Competition, which gained them a spot at Glastonbury. University places were available but were put to one side. Instead they decided to pursue their musical careers. As Laura says, “We decided to give it a go.” It took them three years before they finally turned their backs on a life of academia, working hard on the gig circuit, full-time. I begin by asking how they came to play such a diversity of instruments: Between them they have mastered the fiddle, dobro, mandolin, banjo, guitar…probably whistle as well. ”Mainly through our dad. He had a guitar, and he taught us various chords as we went along.” Laura was finally bought a violin, having wanted one from the age of five or so. “We aren’t outstanding musicians, but we are comfortable with our instruments,” Laura summarises, Charlotte agrees. ”Being twins helped. We helped each other, but it also added that competitive edge as well. We listened, copying chords and phrases from the Chieftains and progressed with lots of practice. I’m sure at the time we were rubbish.” Their music is known and accepted as folk with sprinklings of bluegrass, although they feel bluegrass as a twosome doesn’t really work. ‘My Own Two Feet’, their first album, was released in 2006. ‘Over The Edge’, their fifth and latest, came out in 2013. They have all been primarily self-financed. They aren’t signed up with a record label. Even my poppadom seems surprised. “To be honest we haven’t had any offers from record labels,” Charlotte continues. “We don’t want to sign with a label and get lost or forgotten about due to the label’s number of artists. At present we have control where and when we play and over sales of our CDs” (Meaning there isn’t a hefty cut taken on revenues by a third party). I haven’t seen the Carrivick Sisters play live, but like most people I know their music. Hence the reason I’m surprised they aren’t signed. We stay with this theme. Charlotte reminds me and maybe herself, “There are a lot of bands out there trying to get gigs and make their music pay. Sure, we’d all like to earn some more money, but we really like what we do at present.” Do I detect a lack of ambition? They check with each other “No I wouldn’t say that at all. This is where we are today, and that works for us.” It is true to say everything in their musical garden is rosy at present. Album and gig reviews are positive, and they are in demand around the country. Folk radio presenters and bastions of the folk scene concur to their vast array of talent and potential. So what’s the plan from here, I’m asking? “Well, we want to put something together for our ten years as a duo. Perhaps a live session covering our albums, a kind of retrospective...We do want to produce something a little different,” confides Laura. “We don’t want to produce albums which get reviewed with the similar/same as tag. We’ve never tried to write a song which would be a hit, or to get on radio playlists. Maybe that’s something we will look at for the next album.” “Larger venues, bigger audiences would be nice, but isn’t that what every band or performer wants?” When I delve into how they are going to make this happen, Laura believes by natural fanbase growth. Interesting... As they leave for their sound check and to set up, I feel I’m missing something, Maybe I haven’t asked the right question which would undo the Carrivick Pandora’s musical box. Maybe they are fine where they are. Maybe I am pushing at a door which isn’t ready for opening. Chesham Folk Club is situated in the towns White Hill centre, a local community building. Pass the bar, down the corridor, up the stairs and here we are. On a small stage there are enough instruments for an orchestra. They all belong to Laura and Charlotte. Rows of neatly arranged seats welcome the club’s regulars and ad-hoc attendees. There are some last minute adjustments to lighting and positioning before a delighted compare introduces the Carrivick Sisters. Not an instrument moves position as they open with ‘From the Fields’, duetting in a cappella mode. There's already a rest for the larynx as guitar and violin offer the instrumental ‘Making Horses’. It’s a good way to open, both tracks in turn giving a flavour of their vocal range and mastery of all things stringed. Once the chit chat starts between them the gig takes off. The banter seems to ease their nerves. It’s easy funny chatter, going off in strange directions and sometimes never coming back for a conclusion. ‘Over the Edge’ puts down a marker for the evening, being the true story of a local protest to stop the building of Headland Hotel in Newquay around 1890. Banjo, violin and lyrics dovetail into a song which is understood by an already appreciative audience. The banter continues while they change instruments, with a tune and tweak for every song. Charlotte is busily tuning a wayward mandolin string. Laura is taking a drink of water watching her sister struggle. “Thank you, Laura, for helping me out whilst I’m trying to get this right. I’m sure the audience didn’t notice,” Charlotte says with thickly- coated sarcasm. Laura puts down the water, picks up her violin and still doesn’t offer any verbal sisterly support. The audience quite rightly find much amusement in this unscripted cameo. Individually they have pleasant, tuneful vocal ranges. When they harmonise the depth and clarity of their voices intertwine, echoing on each other’s notations. Imagine songbirds are in the room. They take the pace down with a traditional song, ‘Pretty Fair Damsel’. The wife of a soldier away at war for seven years, maybe dead on some battlefield, tells him “she will wait another seven years if needs be.” More upbeat is ‘If You Asked Me’ for the more energetic. This verges on a Charleston swing tempo. Yep, the audience really liked this one. A nice rendition of the James Taylor classic ‘Sweet Baby James’ is offered up. This and ‘Pretty Fair Damsel’ are the only non-Carrivick penned songs on the play list. The arrangements work well, each taking a solo vocal or instrumental spot on most songs. To see musicians play live is always a joy. Laura on violin and dobro, Charlotte moving effortlessly from guitar, mandolin to banjo is a performance Chesham Folk Club will talk about for years to come. Their songs connect with the audience through loss, love, animals, murder, the land. This is all made possible by a depth of maturity in their lyrics. Their encore song ‘Today is a Good Song’, which they describe as a yodel song, allows audience participation, which is taken up with full gusto during the chorus. As I’m sitting scribbling my notes afterwards, folks leaving tell me how much they’ve enjoyed the performance. Well I’m not surprised. It has been an hour and half of quality musicianship. It will be some time before they see this variety of instruments played with such skill, enthusiasm, humour and enjoyment. During our interview over chicken balti and nam garlic bread, I asked if they ever get compared with other artists. It’s obvious they don’t really want to get into this territory. Laura sends it back over the cutlery. “Oh, sometimes with artists who are way out of our league, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris. Those are silly comparisons really. We aren’t really cool enough. In fact we are so uncool,” which seems to an in joke between them. I ask as comparisons are made, I’ve made my own. Sorry, but that’s what people do. So a couple of observations, and one request. There are bands/artists out there attracting big crowds, riding the wave of success who don’t have the Carrivick Sisters’ talent, not by a long stretch. It’s not as though these bands have sold their souls to the devil, but they have lurched over in the commercial world. Over the next year or two, do the sisters continue growing a fan base generically each year and play similar-sized venues to enthusiastic audiences? Or take a calculated step into more mainstream arrangements and style? Yes, part of my confusion is why they haven’t been snapped up and supported by a commercially savvy record label. Having seen them play live, it’s even more incredulous to understand why this type of talent isn’t playing to hundreds rather than dozens. Either way I’m sure they will do what is right to keep enjoying the music they play. My request: Charlotte, please tune that bloody banjo before going on stage. I’m sure like most things the Carrivick Sisters will get to it, when they are ready.

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Carrivick Sisters - Interview

Carrivick Sisters - Interview

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