Kerry Fowler’s solo EP, Dance of the Selkie (released by Jagged Roots Music), is a fine introduction to a promising singer songwriter who’s garnering some much deserved praise for her well-crafted and atmospheric ballads. Dance of the Selkie is a really stunning piece of work, with some first-rate moody accompaniment from Robbie Ward and Stuart Fleming. Kicking off with the self-penned title track, Kerry delivers a beautiful and tender tale of the mythical Selkies. Indeed, the coldness, depth, mystery and vastness of the sea is taken as a metaphor for the human condition throughout the EP.
The second track, ‘Tide’, is a much more intimate love-song. Kerry’s soft, enveloping vocals coat the song with warmth and tender sensuality whilst ‘Nothingness’ has the feel of a 1930’s Berlin torch-song, dipped in broad expressionist tones with a sly knowingness and a nice dose of ominously prickly piano.
For trad fans ‘Black is the colour’ is one of the most evocative I’ve heard and really demonstrates the musical talents of both Kerry and Robbie. The song of longing and death is reinterpreted as an achingly sad Balkan lament, sprinkled with bittersweet chilled bouzouki and mandolin.
Dance of the Selkie is an intimate gem; Kerry not only has a beautifully atmospheric voice but is a talented songwriter with a keen ear for originality. Folk Radio UK was lucky enough to catch up with Kerry to talk Jagged Roots, East European Folk music and cross-dressing guitarists.
Thanks for taking time out to talk to Folk Radio UK, your new EP “Dance of the Selkie” has recently been released how has the response been?
It’s a pleasure! The response to the EP has been amazing. It’s the first thing I’ve done musically for nearly ten years, and it’s my first solo project, so to hear it played on various BBC radio shows and podcasts, and to be listed as one of Scotland’s top four releases for Summer 2009 was incredible. The EP is also available online and has been selling all around the world from Iran to Ecuador, from Japan to Nigeria! It’s amazing!
The EP has one of the most beautiful versions of the trad classic “Black is the Colour”; I take it traditional song is one of your interests?
Thank you. I like all sorts of music and I’ve never really been into just one particular genre, but there’s something about traditional folk music, be it Scottish, Irish, East European, that is so old and beautiful, you can’t help but be drawn in. The first time I heard Black is the Colour was when Cara Dillon sang it at an awards ceremony I was at in Belfast. I instantly loved it. I then listened to the Luka Bloom version and loved it even more – I knew that I wanted to record it. I suppose my love of traditional folk music was one of the main reasons I started The Lost Todorovs. Mixing East European folk music with burlesque waltzes and men in dresses was a natural progression for me…
You’ve also got Robbie Ward from Luva Anna on board – how did that collaboration come about?
Ha ha, talking of men in dresses… As I mentioned, I hadn’t done anything musically for quite a while, so when I was asked to support Amber Wilson at her closing gig in Dundee, my immediate reaction was to say ‘no way’! But I thought about it for a while and decided to go for it. I needed someone to play guitar, as my playing skills are ok for writing but not necessarily good enough for performing, so a friend suggested I contacted Robbie. I knew of him but we’d never actually met, and when I called him he was happy to help. We met for the first time on the Tuesday and played the gig on the Sunday…I don’t know how we pulled it off, but we did! He’s an incredible musician and now a really good friend who’s also involved in my band The Lost Todorovs, for whom I’m the main writer and ringmaster!
You also run the Dundee based label Jagged Roots which has a range of really interesting acts, such as Amber Wilson, Panda Su and The Lost Todorovs – how do you manage to juggle your solo work and run a record label at the same time?
It’s not easy, especially as our ethos is to keep everything in-house as much as possible. We aim to try and do everything ourselves so that our artists keep as much control as possible. This is great for our artists, but does mean that we spend more time on things that other labels may ‘farm out’ to other companies. Luckily, we’ve managed to co-ordinate each of our artists’ EP releases and tours so that none overlap, which makes life easier, but in terms of juggling my solo projects, it does mean that I don’t get to spend as much time writing my own stuff as much as I’d like. However, The Lost Todorovs is so much fun and has become a bit of an obsession that I’m managing to find the time somehow!
There is a definite hint of cabaret in Jagged Roots – not only with The Lost Todorovs but it’s also felt, I think, in your own song “Nothingness” – there is certainly a bit of an Eastern European vibe there – is this something you are interested in?
Definitely. I have a house in Bulgaria and have many friends there; the culture, the music, the food and the people are so exciting and interesting. I was really shocked to discover that Robbie was into East European folk music too, so you can imagine my surprise when I found another great musician in Dundee who was equally obsessed with it! Billy Fisher, who was also in Luva Anna with Robbie, is a musical genius and equally obsessed with Eastern music – both were really excited when I propositioned them about the Lost Todorovs…they have now both succumbed to the Todorov way of thinking…
The Lost Todorovs are a pretty mysterious bunch – a kind off Balkan/Cabaret crossover with a heavy dose of Burlesque thrown in for good measure – certainly not something you expect to find in Dundee – where do they come from?
The Lost Todorovs are a musical band of vagrants and strays from deepest, darkest Gorna Ungulugrad. Fronted by my alter-ego, Madame Butterfly Todorova, we have been described as sounding “…like the Gotan Project played on balalaika by a herd of Serbian transvestite badgers and fronted by an S&M Alice in Wonderland…” It’s basically an excuse for me (and my like-minded musical siblings!) to dress up and dance around on stage playing the music we love. Pure theatre!
As to your EP, you’ve written, or co-written three of the tracks on it, how do you find that process? Do you find yourself drawn to particular themes or subjects in your song writing?
I’m not a prolific writer (it’s difficult to find the time when you’re running a business, have a two-year old daughter, and another one on the way!), but when I do write, I tend to have a specific idea in my mind of what I want to write about. The title track ‘Dance of the Selkie’ is based on a story I read in a book of Scottish legends, and from that the EP did end up being rather a tribute to my love of the sea and the myths that surround it, but my next EP will probably have quite a different feel to it. As for the Todorovs, writing for them is a whole other story!!
So what’s next for Kerry Fowler?
At the moment, I’ve had to put my own projects on hold, as I’m due to have a baby in the next couple of weeks. But once I’m able to squeeze back into Madame Butterfly’s corset, The Lost Todorovs will be back! My solo project has taken a bit of a back seat to make way for the Todorovs, but I’m finding it so much more fun dressing up and performing on stage with other musicians with the same mad obsession for gypsy/folk/alternative music, so I’m happy concentrate on that. Our aim is to play more festivals next year and start recording the album, and we’d love to take the ‘show’ to Europe.
But as for my solo stuff, I would like to record another EP quite soon, so as they say, ‘watch this space…’
Download from Amazon: Dance Of The Selkie