ELLIE WALKER & THE FOLLY – Sink Or Swim (own label)

Sink Or SwimHaving spent several years out focusing on her career as a music therapist, the Cambridgeshire singer-songwriter finally returns, with her 3Ms band of Mike Chalmers, Max Wherlock and Mark Boxall, to release, Sink Or Swim, her debut album, a cocktail of melodic folksy pop to which she brings her piano and flute.

The tango flavoured title track opens proceedings, her ‘angry’ venting about career struggles and frustrations with the system, society and herself as, stuck in lockdown with “all of this time on your hands”, she speaks of losing patience and focus (“Just waiting around will do you in”) and the feeling wanting to walk away, “washing your hands of it all”.

Her voice rising and falling along with the notes, ‘Halfway There’ is a poppy upbeat number that again captures wanting to release all that pent up energy (“Going on a rampage/Sparks fly off your feet/As you tear around those bends/No-one in the whole wide world can say/Your arms are meant to cross and/Your feet are meant to stand/Rooted to the spot”) as well as relationship dynamics (“you start and I end/Higher and higher and higher you go/But I’ll catch you when you fall…I guess the good news is we’re halfway there”).

Given a waltzing carousel sway, her voice clear and pure, ‘My Heart Beats On’ is a folksy strings-swathed number about holding in in the face of turmoil (“Cold floor opens and swallows you whole/Grab on wherever you can/Take the light on the water/But don’t breathe ’til you’re holding my hand… Stay strong, and you will see, my heart beats on”). Then, sounding a similar note, ‘Hold Your Horses’ with its jaunty piano notes and drums is about facing up to your fears and letting others in (“There in the distance you can see/They’re coming quickly coming for us/Don’t be afraid, oh/No-one can find us in the dark…Don’t close the door/Open up your heart/Out of the darkness comes the light…You be brave and sooner or later/You won’t be afraid”).

The longest track at just over four minutes with its rolling musical waves and orchestral string, ‘Stand In The Frame’ is also about putting demons to rest and taking small steps to overcome the anxieties (“Just put your best foot forward, don’t/Push yourself for more”) and that “You don’t always have to shout the loudest/You don’t always have to fill the room …you don’t always have to move the mountains/Sometimes showing up is all it takes”, a song about her finding the courage to return to live performances where the “Spotlight’s shining no-where to hide”, realising that “the world will keep on turning/The waves still roll to shore”, and to “Stand in the frame and sing it loud/For those solitary souls”.

Played out on fingerpicked guitar, ‘Three Things’ is, without being specific, the most directly autobiographical, conversationally opening with her saying “Let me tell you ’bout a time/Things were ticking along and I was fine/Wending my way and then a huge colossal kick in the teeth”, a succession of events that “Left a big muddy footprint over my heart…When things crumble around you and you’re through/Losing the light and then you realise the magic is gone/The world’s lost its shine”. But, as captured in the sprightly, nimble fingerpicking and matching vocals, again it’s about rising up because “time as they say, can free you/So you take it on the chin/Gather yourself and then begin/Re-building the life you thought was yours/No matter what people say…Just make it day to day”.

A more stately number with the chords, lyrics and melody improvised during the recording, ‘Home’, her flute in evidence, once more touches on adversity (“Never knowing why/All those things you’d take/From me/Until you’d come crawling back around”), resilience (“keep those fires alight inside/Keep them burning bright”) and acceptance (“What’s done, is done/Go back, go home”).

Another whirligig of a melody, the swayalong ‘Lakes’ takes a different path in a celebration of the restorative powers of nature and landscape (“Overflowing streams so bright and blue/Acres and acres of twilight hues/Bracken cracking under my feet/Wind whistles through the twisty trees/Out in the open a dot on the green/And I hear them call, call on the breeze/The mountains and lakes are all that we need”) and once more turning to thoughts of home and belonging (“Rolling and strolling I’ll knock on your door/Love will you let me in/It’s been a while but I’ll always want more”).

It ends with the tinkling repeated piano notes and scuffling drums of ‘Always As It Seems’, which, other than the lines “haven’t I said, isn’t it clear, lend me your prying ear” stemming from frustration at having to repeat herself to those not understanding where she was coming and “they say it’s not over til it’s over, and they say it’s not always as it seems” being someone perceived as shy but not actually feeling like that inside, despite the enigmatic “Did you ever wonder why the rooftops were a-blazing/Nothing but a spark on the rain/You heard it all before but you didn’t have a clue/But it’s clear when I look in your eyes”, the lyrics were, as she says she often does, largely written to fit the melody.

However, whatever their level of autobiographical input and the circumstances that kept her from making music may have been, Sink Or Swim is a clear and wonderful testament to her weathering the storms and emerging back into the light, given the twin choices of the title, Walker has proven a veritable Sharron Davies.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.elliewalkersong.com

‘Halfway There’ – live: