The Folk Effect: a songwriting project like no other
Watch The Folk Effect on June 16 at 7 p.m. featuring some of the finest names in British folk including Ríoghnach Connolly, Kate Young, Ellie Gowers, Lisa Knapp, Gwilym Bowen Rhys and Jackie Oates.
Getting six exceptional musicians to write six new songs in just six days might seem like a tall order, but that’s exactly what just happened in The folk effect.
Presented by Ondervinden, a theater company specializing in folk stories and traditions, this ambitious project features some of the biggest names in British folk, including Ríoghnach Connolly, Kate Young, Ellie Gowers, Lisa Knapp, Gwilym Bowen Rhys and Jackie Oates.
Beginning with an archive recording of Tonight I will sleep lightly, which was taken from the collections of the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, each artist had only 24 hours to write a new song, each building on the previous one. The result is a chain of songs linked together by their origins, and all going back to the same traditional roots.
This isn’t the first time The Folk Effect has taken place – some of you may remember the first iteration of the project which took place in late fall 2020. In the middle of the lockdown, the project was founded on an urgent need to connect artists, musicians and the public. Songs from the project were about the difficulty of the year, the immense feats of resilience we had witnessed, and a need for solace in what seemed like a very long and dark winter. Folk music seemed a fitting antidote for now, thriving as it does on connecting and sharing music within communities.
Six months later, with the transition from spring to summer, the team felt it was time to resume the project. As things start to open up and we digest last year, this time around the focus is on renewal. While last year’s project started with a new song, this time it draws on tradition, as a symbol of what makes folk music unique: its regeneration and rebirth. continual.
With the shift to traditional beginnings, the team was eager to find artists who could approach it in different ways. Creative Director Elske Waite says: “This time we were looking for musicians who we felt possessed unique but also individual ways of handling the traditional – through detailed historical research, kaleidoscopic experimentation, electric fusions of style and. genre, and other incredible ways of reinvention. “
A fusion of styles and genres is certainly what has been achieved. With the six artists having very different musical styles, the finished songs reflect six very different musical approaches, despite their common connections. From the technical prowess of Kate Young to the hypnotic voice of Ríoghnach Connolly, every artist really made a difference even given the short span of time.
Waite said, “The best and most surprising result of the whole project for me is how each song is so representative of each artist. You see it immediately in their choice of instrumentation, or their use of technology, or their use of speech, or the themes they choose to draw from the previous piece. We picked artists who had a very strong sense of musical identity, and so even though we ask them to respond directly to a piece written by someone else, they all did so in a way that was entirely in their own language. This balance between embracing someone else’s creation, while maintaining its uniqueness, is incredibly special and exciting to hear.
The artists themselves seem to have learned a lot from the process. Catching up with the team after songwriting is done, Lisa Knapp said, “You put yourself in a very vulnerable position… it’s a lesson in letting go.” It was a sentiment shared by Jackie Oates, who said: “It was really good for me to fight that self-awareness and still produce a ‘thing’ – and its roughness and imperfection is part of the charm.”
There seems to be, among the artists, a mutual agreement that the experience created a sense of closeness, despite their distance. “There was a kind of sense of connection in that chain, I don’t know how – kind of psychic connection that I really enjoyed – I liked the idea that other people had to do that too, but also that there was this thread that crosses everyone in this short period of time; psychologically, there was a kind of resonance felt, ”says Knapp.
Kate Young explained how the project has tackled the isolation felt over the past year: “The experience of songwriting is such a lonely process, and through the lockdown it is sometimes so easy to get in. in a circle of doubt. Remembering that there are other people in the world doing this work as well, sometimes that is all you need to feel a little encouragement for your own practice.
In addition to six musicians, the project also includes a visual element, with beautiful portraits created by Jo Elizabeth May adding another strand to an already complex project. The six songs will be woven together with glimpses of Jo’s creative process to create a final film to release to audiences.
Overall, this has been a hell of a business for the team – but would they do it again? “Absolutely” replied Waite “Actually, I hope we can repeat this project as often as possible. Nothing replaces live music, but this event, straddling live creation and digital performance, is really something else, it is truly unique.
The film Folk Effect will air on June 16 at 7 p.m. on Ondervinden’s Facebook page, Youtube channel and website. It is free to see, with donations encouraged to help Ondervinden to do more projects in the future. The Folk Effect is supported by the Arts Council England.