Humanity Hallows Issue 5 Out Now
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By Alice Denison
Images courtesy of Mike Guest
With vibrant arrangements full of rich harmonies, energetic fiddle playing and driving piano, Fara’s shows and recorded music is always an exciting and energetic experience. With a mixture of self-penned and traditional Orkney tunes acompanied by stunning vocals, the four-piece’s combined musical experiences and friendships produce an exciting and individual sound.
Humanity Hallows spoke to the Scottish band about their upcoming gig at The Met in Bury.
Tell us about the band. Who are you all and how did you get together?
Fara contains four emerging musicians at the forefront of today’s young Scottish folk scene, Jennifer Austin, Kristan Harvey, Jeana Leslie and Catriona Price’s three fiddles and a piano, to produce a fiery sound, rooted strongly in their upbringing among the music of Orkney.
Having been friends since early childhood, the girls grew up under the musical guidance of Douglas Montgomery (The Chair, Saltfishforty) with the three East Mainlanders of the band in fiddle group Hadhirgaan at Kirkwall Grammar School, and Kristan, a West Mainlander, in Jenny Keldie’s Shoramere at Stromness Academy. The four girls then went on to study south, and hold degrees from The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Strathclyde University, The Royal Northern College of Music and The Royal Academy of Music. They have all since established themselves in the Scottish music scene winning prizes along the way which include the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award, The BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year, The Deutsche Bank Award in Performance and Composition, and the Danny Kyle Award.
The idea for the band came after several appearances as ‘The Chairettes’, The Chair’s backing band. At one gig, the girls were put on stage to play a couple of sets on their own, and Bob Gibbon, The Chair’s Accordionist and Orkney Folk Festival director, suggested they form a new band. To the Chair’s disappointment they decided to loose the name, and a liking to one of Orkney’s uninhabited island ‘Fara’ was born.
How has growing up together influenced the musical bond between you?
We all have a love for Orkney. Orkney’s music is lesser known than the likes of the Shetland Isles but it still has a great style, with quite a driving swing to it. We appreciate our tradition and the opportunities we have been given growing up in a small community and being able to mix with all ages of musicians on the island. There is a real sense of community that is still very strong at home and I think it is the friendships that are forged through playing music together – whatever age you are – that makes growing up in Orkney the strongest bond we have.
You are all classically educated in music. How do your combine your musical education with your current sound?
We have all played classical music to some extent, be it in graded music exams or orchestras, but only two of us went down the route to study classical music at university. We don’t sit down and say, right, we are going to combine classical music in with this set…. I think, if we do combine them it is almost subconsciously. We work together on three part harmonies. We all have a different way of playing a tune the first time we have a go at it but once we are more comfortable with it, we might dive into who is doing what bowing and does changing it to all be the same add anything to the overall sound, making it clearer etc. We also draw aspects from other genres like jazz as well.
How would you say the folk genre is received currently by modern listeners?
Folk music is certainly on the rise. With the likes of Ed Sheeran having used our good friends ‘Beoga’ from Ireland on his two most recent records which are just out, there is an increase in wanting to mix different genres together. In some ways because folk music can be readily available – being heard in pubs when musicians are having a session – I think people sometimes don’t appreciate what they are actually hearing or realise the calibre of some of the musicians that might be there. I think the days of the stereotypical view of folk music being full of old men with big beards, woolly jumpers, drinking beer and smoking a pipe are vastly decreasing!
Is your music received differently in Scotland from how it is in England?
I don’t think we can really say yet! English audiences are always up for a song and are certainly great at singing along with us in our chorusy numbers, which we love!
Who are your biggest musical influences?
I think we don’t have enough time to go through them all!! Starting from when we were little, the likes of local folks from home were always people you aspired to be like. They just looked like they were having so much fun! The Wrigley sisters, Billy Jolly, Stewart Shearer, Billy Peace, Douglas Montgomery, Jean Leonard, Tommy Mainland. The list is endless…
You have won prizes including the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award, The BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year and The Deutsche Bank Award. How did you feel about receiving such established prizes?
Obviously we are all over the moon for having separately won these awards over the years but we will all admit that a lot of it is to do with luck and being in the right place at the right time… we wouldn’t change it though!
You are playing at The Met in Bury 11th February. What can fans expect from your upcoming gigs?
We are going to be having a good time and hopefully that will be portrayed to the audience.
You can find out more about Fara and their upcoming tour on their website and Facebook page. Only just listening to them for the first time? Let us know your first impressions at @HumanityHallows and on our Facebook page.