Fay Hield talks to Folking about touring, banjos and working in the shed

Fay Hield
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

Last year Fay Hield took her Hurricane Party on tour to promote her new album, Old Adam. They are on the road again soon so I had to ask if there was anything particularly significant about this tour.

“I’m hoping to bring my banjo along, actually.” I had to ask! “You’re the first person I’ve mentioned this to; not even the band yet. I’m hoping to do one solo, just me and the banjo and I’ll be bringing some older material back. There will be lots of Old Adam but lots of other things as well.”

The Hurricane Party will feature one line-up change. “The drummer will be Andy Tween because my regular drummer [Toby Kearney] is part of the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra and he couldn’t get time off. So it’s Sam Sweeney. Rob Harbron, Ben Nicholls, Roger Wilson and Andy. He teaches at Wells Cathedral School and he’s great.”

As well as being an outstanding performer, Fay is also a distinguished academic combining her singing with teaching, writing and research which may explain why she works in a shed at the bottom of the garden away from domestic distractions.

“My Ph.D was about the folk scene and folk-singing communities and how they function – and why they’re brilliant because I was born and brought up into it. My family is the folk scene and I love it and get so much out of it. It’s what I like to do and it’s what I want to bring my kids up in and feel comfortable with. I wanted to understand why it’s so brilliant and yet why is everybody worrying about it dying out; why do people find it difficult to get in; why does it have a reputation for being a bit cliquey and how has that happened?

“My research is certainly not negative in trying to find all the badness in it and why it doesn’t work because it really does work for a lot of people. I’ve been working a bit on how audiences listen to folk music and I’m building that up into a book at the moment.”

Fay lectures in music management and ethno-musicology. “I love teaching. I cover all sorts of genres and parts of the world and it’s more about method and how to study music rather than standing there in front of a score.”

As a life-long devotee of folk music I still find it difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t get it what the appeal is. What does the expert think?

“Something in the songs catches me. Some songs you just think, ‘wow, that’s amazing’ and some songs you just have to sing over half a dozen times until you get inside it and then it doesn’t leave you alone. I find them very powerful, you build a bit of a relationship with them and you understand them – and you understand a bit about yourself because of how you understand them.”

And what about the melodies? To me, they just feel right, somehow. “A lot of people get very excited about modal tunes but a lot of them are straight major and the minor sometimes goes into Dorian. If I write a tune myself – I’m not a classically trained musician so I don’t really think in terms of major and minor – it doesn’t come out straight. It’s often pentatonic in a weird kind of way or there is something there. I do love that colour note stuff or when a melody drops and the bottom note is never the tonic, it goes to something a bit random but it fits.

“In classical music, if you put in a modal note it just feels a bit stuck in there but in this kind of music the tunes are so organic so they settle and fit – colourful but not in a dramatic way. People sing or play the tunes in a way that makes sense to them and rounds off the corners in different ways for different people so, yes, they do feel right.”

I’m not sure if any of that will help me. Perhaps I’ll just stick to ‘wow, that’s amazing’.

Artist’s website: http://www.fayhield.com/

‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ live:

Tour Dates

Friday 31 March                West End Centre, Aldershot
Saturday 1 April                Theatre Chipping Norton
Sunday 2 April                   The Stables, Milton Keynes
Monday 3 April                  Red Lion, Birmingham
Tuesday 4 April                 The Lights, Andover

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