With her latest album A History Of Insolence receiving such wide critical acclaim as well as featuring on Folk Radio UK as one of our Albums of the Month (review here) I caught up with Naomi to talk to her about the album, Shirley Collins and politics…
You were invited to play at Shirley Collins Birthday celebrations a couple of years ago. That must have been a proud moment. Tell us more.
I live in Brighton & I knew that Shirley lived nearby in Lewes & I knew that she did folk song workshops. I made contact with her to ask if she would listen to me sing a few songs and maybe give me some pointers – I took her a jar of honey and some flowers as payment for her time and she made me one of the most amazing Avocado toasted sandwiches I’ve ever had! I sang Lord Thomas and Fair Ellendor and Who’s That Knocking. She was very complimentary and gave me extra confidence to forge on with the album that I was working on at the time – ‘Tales from the Weeping Willow’.…Since then we have met several times when Paul and I have played at Vic and Tina Smiths terrific folk club upstairs at the Royal Oak in Lewes. I was told that she requested a few of her favourite singers/bands to play for her birthday celebration and was asked to be one of them – I was so honoured to have been asked and yes, I did feel really proud….like most of the folk fraternity I have been a fan and admirer of Shirley’s for a long long time..
You’ve a long and admirable history as a political activist. What was your first memory of becoming active in politics.
I joined the Labour Party Young Socialists when I was 14 and quickly became active. I was involved in a school students strike when I was 15 – half a million kids came out on strike against YTS conscription and I ended up being expelled from school due to my part in the strike! I became very involved in the Labour Party Young Socialists- at one point I was on the executive committee and I was back and forth to Westminster helping organise different campaigns. However my political ascent came to a crashing end when I was called upon to address a large public meeting …. In one of the most embarrassing events of my life, I completely blanked half way through a speech and promptly sat down mid flow and then didn’t get up again throughout the entire meeting!! – public speaking is a deep fear that I have had to work hard to conquer ever since …..but after this, I went on to be involved for many years in the Labour Party, The Youth Trade Union Rights Campaign, The Militant and was an Artist liaison person for The Anti Poll Tax Federation getting artists like Del Amitri, Nina Cherry and The Men They Couldn’t Hang to sign up…. I was involved in the early Anti Poll Tax demos in Scotland and with the helping of setting up anti poll tax unions throughout the country…
Whilst you mix in a political song circle do you feel that the general political sentiment amongst songwriters today has weakened or got stronger?
I’m not really too sure as I’m not that clued up on all the new young writers and bands around in all the different genres – not sure my finger is especially on the pulse of the music scene right now but I’ve always been drawn to songs and writers with a political edge – I hunt them out…..one of my favourites at the moment is Plan B – I think Ill Manors is one of the best political songs of recent times. But in truth, if I really think about it, political songwriters do seem to be a bit thin on the ground – I do feel we are kinda swamped with a load of twaddle a lot of the time …..
Yourself and Lisa Knapp go back as friends a good few years now. How did you meet…and you used to busk together?
Due to being expelled from school with no GCSEs, I started an evening English GCSE course in my late teens. But what I really wanted to do was to form an all girl folk punk band and Lisa, who was doing the same class as me, happened to come into college with a guitar so I made a B line for her. We sat next to each other and we have been friends ever since …she used to come round to my house a lot and for years we were inseparable, I had a mammoth album collection and I used to play her all my Tom Paley, New Lost City Ramblers, Fairport Convention, Dolly Parton and Shirley & Dolly Collins albums hoping to entice her to join me in a folk, punk country inspired band. We used to write songs together and busk with our guitars in the underground stations in London. – I still have tapes of most of the songs we wrote – I must get them onto mp3s one day! I recently found a really funny rap we made up called BASTARDS! We are still great friends now…..
You’ve performed with Justin Currie before this album, what’s the story there?
Strangely I met both Justin and Paul on Myspace. As a teenager my walls were plastered with posters and album and single covers of both Del Amitri and The Men They Couldn’t Hang so it’s felt like a bit of a lottery win for me to have been able to work professionally with both bands chief songwriters…. I never stop pinching myself really…..
Tell us about some of the highlights from the album?
For me to say that there are highlights, it follows that there must also be parts that weren’t as good…..and I simply can’t accept that as it was all so brilliant!!! All of the sessions with all of the guests, musicians and engineers were fantastic – but one of my favourite little moments from the recordings was on the session we had with Jackie Oates. We were recording in a great little studio in the country but by the sea; on the outskirts of Brighton in a little place called Ovingdean. We recorded the album in 3 studios and the Ovingdean one was my favourite – it’s like a little converted barn house next door to where steve coogan lives (so I’m told).. As well as being a stunning musician and all round lovely chapess, Jackie is a brilliant knitter!! On the day that she came to play she brought with her a gift of one her amazing little knitted people – she made us a knitted Thomas Paine and he’s brilliant – I was so over the moon – he became the mascot for the album….and he now lives in my sitting room where each day I can see him and be reminded of the whole recording process….
Interview by: Alex
Later this week we’ll be bringing you a special playlist by Naomi featuring ten political songs of her choice!
A History Of Insolence is out now.
Order via: Amazon