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Jackie Oates Interview

One of the finest young fiddle singers to emerge onto the UK folk scene in the last few years. Devon-based Jackie will release her eagerly awaited second album The Violet Hour on March 17. Produced by Phil Beer it features an array of guest musicians including Jim Causley, Tim Van Eyken, Jim Moray and Belinda O’Hooley. We interviewed Jackie in mid January 2008...

Hi Jackie, are you pleased with the new album?
Yes, we're in the final stages of mixing so I haven't heard all of it yet, but what I've heard I'm pleased with.

Phil Beer mentioned that Tim VanEyken was the last contributor ?
Yes, the track arrived yesterday, he's produced it himself and done a lot more to it than I was expecting so I'm really chuffed. I think they're doing the vocals for that this afternoon.

What other musicians have you got on the album?
I've got a whole load of musicians, mostly from Devon. I've got Nick Wright and Becky Driscoll, who are fiddle players from Okehampton, I've got my housemates Jim Causley and Matt Norman, my brother (Jim Moray) is on it, he's produced a track, then I've got Phil Beer, and Tim VanEyken and Belinda O'Hooley, it's really lovely to play with her again. Also, a guitarist called James Dumbleton, Andy Clarke and Steve Turner, and Sean O'Shea is doing some backing vocals as well!

That's marvellous...
I've indulged a bit this time round!

Because your debut album was material you had quite a while before you got it released, so that was a fairly old album as far as you were concerned....
Yes that's right, and it took a year and a half to finish so half of that album was songs that I'd been singing for years and years and the other half were more contemporary, but it still feels quite dated when I listen to it now.

Have you picked any particularly different style tunes or arrangements?
Well, this year, I think I've matured a bit in terms of my material, and the reasons I choose it. I think I had a tendency when I was younger to choose very morbid songs just for the sake of it, and I think it finally dawned on me what I was actually singing about and that it actually bore a lot of truth and relevance to real events. So any song that's of that tendency now is chosen for a particular reason because it really means something...I'm not just being deliberately dark....but the album is still fairly despairing!

Well you say that, but you can make those songs the most beautiful thing you've ever heard...
That's right, I think there's a real beauty in sadness that isn't there in happier songs.....they transform into something that isn't completely hopeless.

Have you written any tracks yourself?
I've written some tunes, virtually all of the tunesets on the album are mine. I haven't really taken to songwriting yet, as I'm too self conscious to write lyrics and I'm working on it, but my brother and Jim Causley have written songs for me.

It must be quite hard if you've been interpreting traditional material for all of your career to make the transition to writing your own material?
Yeah, I just can't quite make that step, because there's such a wealth of ballads and songs that are already there, I don't want to appear cliched or follow in a mould

Well, there's plenty of traditional tunes to keep you going for a while! You must be doing something right as you've been nominated for the Horizon award too...
Yes, I was a bit shocked at that, I wasn't expecting that at all

Best of luck with that. Because you were nominated for 'Young Folk Musician of the Year' several years ago weren't you?
Yes, that was back in 2003, I was in the finals

And you're doing a lot of gigging as well?
Yes, I just started playing with a new guitarist, James Dumbleton, who also plays with Jim Causley, he only lives down the road for me, so we've been able to practise a lot more intensely, and so we've got quite a few gigs coming up this year. And I'm also doing some work with Reg Meuross, as a duo in a band, which I'm really enjoying as it's completely different to what I've done before...

And you've got a Wistman's Wood album coming out soon?
Yes, that's still in the planning stages but we're recording with my brother in the next few weeks, it should be out by the summer. And I'm doing a play as well, a Nick Ryan play at festivals. I've never acted before so it's going to be interesting!

Any more plans for any more Norwegian tracks?
I'd like to! The song came about because I went to a festival in Spain, a festival where every country in Europe had representatives that had to do a concert of their native music. I shared a room with a Norwegian Rams Horn champion! She was an absolutely fantastic singer and that was one of the songs that she sang into my minidisc! So I learnt it phoenetically.

Does this album feel a bit more cohesive than the other one?
It definitely does. It was recorded in a fortnight and it was more about the here and now. Everything I've been developing over a much shorter period. And my voice has setlled down a bit more now.

Did you give Phil a clear idea of what you wanted to achieve with it?
He just sits back and just says 'Right what have you got for me today?' Every track he records he hasn't heard before so he lets me have free reign.

Do you get back to Exeter much?
It's OK, because I'm doing lots of work around the west country, lots of singing workshops, so it's been alright. I've got a tour coming up in November, but that's only short.

Who influenced you when you were growing up?
My parents were really into folk music, Mick Jones and Fairport, and it was always background music, but I was very serious about being a classical violinist for years and years. We went to a Sidmouth Festival when I was 10 and I went to some workshops with Katrina McDonald and she was the one that got me interested in traditional music. I think it was a fiddle player called Helena Torpy..who used to live in Devon; she's not particularly flashy or flamboyant with her playing but she has real sensitivity and it's like she needs the violin to project elements of herself that she maybe can't express in words. So she was a big influence on me. Vocally I love the singers who have a quality to their voice that speaks for itself.

Do you find as you get older that your style changes?
I don't think it's changed too much, I think my technique has changed, I'm able to use more range, but ultimately it's still got the same motives.

So, plans for festivals this year again?
Yes, I'd like to do some more solo work and play as much as I can, beyond that I don't really more of the same because I'm really enjoying myself!

So, tell me a bit more about the workshops...
I do workshops in all sorts of areas, but at the moment I'm doing singing workshops around schools and nurseries, with Folk South West. In the summer I tend to do more fiddle related workshops

Do you get a lot of satisfaction out of the workshops? Passing on and teaching?
I think it's an essential part of what I do, I really love teaching and seeing people develop and feeling like I've had an influence, I've got about 30 private violin students who I've been teaching for about 4 years now. They all started when they were about 6 or 7, and it's really really satisfying. It's a core part of my daily life. I really love the workshop element as well.

Are they new people each time?
There's a mix of people that come every year and new people. I also do the children's choir at Sidmouth...

And it must be great for them, seeing you producing's something that they can aspire to...
I teach classically during the week, so I think it's always a bit of a surprise for the students seeing me perform.

And, as a folk performer these days, you have quite a range of places that you can perform at, from the smallest little club up to a big folk festival. You have to be able to cope with a lot of different venues and environments...
It's very very different. I think venues are becoming a lot more accesiible to this kind of music so one night you can be playing at a folk club and the next you could be playing in a trendy bar.

Is it fairly easy to book venues now?
I always get someone else to do it for me! I don't really like having to sell myself so I've got an agent that does it for me, so I have no idea how difficult it is!

Best of luck with the Horizon award, you're very deserving of that...Thank you Jackie

Don't miss our video interview with Jackie , click here

Iain Hazlewood