Australian born Emily Barker has been playing on the UK circuit for a few years now. We first came across her with her release of Photos. Fires. Fables. back in 2007. She has been honing her song-writing skills and has stirred up an all-girl band to support her, known as The Red Clay Halo. With the release of their new album Almanac things seem to be taking a new direction. They are attracting more attention now then ever before making them a sought after act for festivals this year. We caught up with Emily recently to talk about her past and her songwriting.
Where abouts in Australia are you from?
I’m from Bridgetown, Western Australia which is in the South West in the Blackwood Valley. It is SUCH beautiful place. I grew up on a farm by a river called The Blackwood. I do miss it. I go home every year for at least two months. I miss my family always and I miss the connection with the land there: the smells, weather, landscape in general. I love it but I’ve lived most of my adult life here in the UK and I do love it here too.
What or who first inspired you to write and sing?
My mum. She plays a nylon string classical guitar and sings. She would sit the 4 of us kids down and we’d all sing old folk songs together. She taught me how to do harmonies. My dad also inspired me because he’s such a fan of music- has a great record collection of 70’s folk and rock.
What are your biggest musical influences?
Neil Young, Gillian Welch, Aretha Franklin.
The Red Clay Halo is an all girl band, how did that come about?
Unintentionally an all-girl band but we do love that we are all women. I was doing my first solo album ‘Photos.Fires.Fables.’ and had met Gill Sandell at Cambridge Folk festival in 2002 when we were both guesting with The Broken Family Band. I loved her playing and she was the first person I asked to be on the album. I met Jo Silverston at The Troubadour in London when she was playing cello with Sam Beer. Loved her playing and asked her to come into the studio. She then recommended Anna Jenkins (violinist) with whom she was studying at Trinity. We recorded the album with other musicians as well but when it came to gigging it, we found we could cover most of the parts as a quartet, thus The Red Clay Halo were born.
How long have you lived on your narrow boat?
I lived on a narrow boat for 4 years. I don’t anymore, I’m now in a little house- oh the luxury! I absolutely loved living on a narrow boat. I was a water gypsy in that I didn’t have a mooring. Me and my partner at the time moved from place to place every couple of weeks from West to East London and back again. It was a very special way to live and maybe I’ll end up back on the water one day but for now I still enjoy having a shower every day and central heating!
What is by chance or design that you ended up living on the water?
Chance. When I first came down to London I met my best friend to be: Jon the Boatman at a gig called ‘Come down meet the folks.’ He lives on a narrow boat in Islington. Through him I got to know a lot of other boaters and worked at a pub called ‘The Wenlock Arms’ where boaters would frequent.
Do you find that your surroundings important to your creativity and do you try to create an atmosphere write in?
Absolutely. I need peace and quiet and preferably a rural location. I love the nature and the elements, they inspire me. When writing I like complete solitude. I turn my phone off, put my computer away and cut off from the world for a while. It’s great.
Do you think there are better opportunities in the UK?
Because there are so many people here, there are more opportunities. There is also more competition but then on the flipside of this, a lot of communities. I’ve always done our bookings. I book our tours with help from our manager Phil Nicholas. Getting gigs isn’t the problem, it’s getting paid to do them that is! You gain more confidence in asking for higher wages the longer you’re in the game and the more following you have.
Almanac is an exceptional album that has a fiery passion at its core. Emily Barker’s songwriting is both sincere and incredibly poignant. Her observations of life and her gifted story telling will continue to capture the hearts of many more, especially now with the addition of The Red Clay Halo who’s musicianship gives Almanac a great depth and vibrancy that make it stand out from the crowd.
To find out more or if you’d like to book Emily and The Red Clay Halo please visit their site for details: http://www.emily-barker.com/