The Dovetail Trio aim to present ‘England’s traditional songs with a bold and fresh approach.’ Formed in 2013, vocalist Rosie Hood, duet concertina player and multi-instrumentalist Matt Quinn (The Mighty Quinns, Eliza Carthy Ceilidh Band) and guitarist/ vocalist Jamie Roberts (Kerfuffle, Gilmore & Roberts) are currently preparing for the release of their debut album. In the run up to the release, the band will be performing across the UK, including an appearance at Towersey Festival* (28-31 August 2015).
How did you three first come together?
ROSIE: In 2012 I started talking to Matt, who I knew generally through folk festivals and things, about the possibility of working together on a new project – it was going to be something English and traditional, but I hadn’t got much further than that. We eventually met up in early 2013, decided to give it a go, but wanted it to be a band rather than a duo. We definitely wanted a guitarist to balance the sound and Jamie’s name came up, though at that point neither of us knew him that well. I emailed Jamie expecting him to be too busy but he was really up for it. We had our first rehearsal in the following August and it went so well, and we got on together so well, that we’ve kept going!
I gather you’re split between Yorkshire and Brighton – does that mean lots of commuting?
MATT: Yeah we are split up in that way, Rosie currently resides in Sheffield, Jamie is living in Barnsley and I’m based in Brighton. Most of the time, it’s me who commutes for rehearsals, which means spending many hours driving up and down the ‘glorious’ M1. I have no problem doing this though as I love driving and I get to treat band rehearsals as a sort of holiday because I’m away from home.
ROSIE: Though Jamie and I are at Matt’s in Brighton [at the time of the interview], so we do travel south sometimes too!
You’ve stated that your raison d’être is to present traditional songs ‘with a bold and fresh approach.’ What kind of material are you drawn to, and how do you approach arranging it?
JAMIE: We predominantly perform English traditional material and tend to seek out lesser-known versions of commonly performed songs. Rosie in particular has a keen interest in songs from Wiltshire, that being her home county, and often refers to Alfred Lloyd Williams collection for these songs. Likewise Matt often looks to Sussex songs for inspiration. In terms of arrangement, we have all individually come from varied musical backgrounds which we draw on to put the pieces together. I personally am a big fan of a lot of American flatpicking / bluegrass guitarists so have been enjoying applying some of these American style techniques to English traditional material.
Is your repertoire exclusively English traditional songs? Or do you look at other traditions or pen original material?
ROSIE: It’s not entirely traditional English, although that’s certainly what we focus on. The new album has a song based upon an American folk story, a traditional Scottish whaling song, and a French/Canadian tune all in amongst some interesting (we think!) versions of traditional English songs. Jamie is a great writer but those songs can be heard in his duo Gilmore & Roberts, and I’m developing my writing as part of my solo repertoire.
A question for Rosie: you were recently awarded a BBC Performing Arts Fellowship – can you tell us a bit more about what that means to you, and what it entails?
ROSIE: Well my Fellowship is with the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) so in short it means that I get to work with EFDSS for a year to develop my creative and professional skills – I’ll have mentoring, tutoring, go to conferences and generally (hopefully!) improve in all areas as a folk musician. Personally speaking it’s incredibly exciting! There are opportunities that I’ll get this year that just wouldn’t normally be possible at this stage of my career, for example; I’m off to showcase at Folk Alliance International in Kansas City this week! A lot of what I’ll be doing will be kind of behind the scenes; working on my writing, my fiddle playing and collaborating with other musicians to develop the sound of ‘Rosie Hood’. There’s going to be an end of fellowship show at Cecil Sharp House at the end of December if anyone wants to come and see what I’ve been up to!
What are Matt and Jamie presently up to alongside the trio?
MATT: I am currently involved in Mick Ryan’s latest folk opera called A Day’s Work along with Greg Russell, Ciaran Algar, Pete Morton and others. This production will be performed at select venues in 2015 and then touring properly in 2016. I am also performing in English Ceilidh bands Geckoes, English String Band and The Discussion Topic all whilst building up my solo career. I’m also employed as the squeezebox expert at the Brighton Branch of Hobgoblin Music.
JAMIE: My other main project is the duo alongside Katriona Gilmore – ‘Gilmore & Roberts’. We’ve also just recorded a new album due for release later this year with a launch tour planned for October, so it’s quite an exciting time all round. I’ve also been doing quite a lot of filling in for other bands recently. Filling in for James Fagan in the Nancy Kerr And The Sweet Visitor Band and also doing some gigs with a great new band called Alma, who I’m sure will be seen lots around the folk scene. It’s a fiddle-based band (three fiddles and guitar) featuring Emily Askew (Askew Sisters) and Nicola Lyons (4Square) playing some great instrumental arrangements.
Can you tell us a bit more about what to expect from your debut album?
ROSIE: Well we’ve actually recently finished recording the album and got the first rough mix of the first track yesterday. We’re really excited for everyone to hear it as we’ve been working on it for about the past year now, though it doesn’t have a name yet… As I said earlier in the interview the album is not made up of purely traditional English songs; we’ve looked at some songs from other traditions and a couple more recently written including a Peter Bellamy song. There are a good number of trad English ones on there too so don’t worry! I think my favourite track we’ve been working on is The Frozen Girl – it’s a song that Nancy Kerr recommended to us and we found it on the 1995 Cordelia’s Dad album Comet. It’s a tragic, and apparently true, story from America about a girl travelling in the freezing winter. This version is based on Seba Smith’s 1843 poem, and, I think, is quite hauntingly beautiful.
Do you have any other plans for the coming months?
JAMIE: We have a few gigs throughout the spring and we’re then going to be making our first trip abroad in June with a two week tour of Ontario, Canada. We then have a number of UK festivals over the summer – including Towersey – followed by a tour in September to support the release of the album.
Interview by: Dave Freak
* The Dovetail Trio play Towersey Festival on Friday 28 August 2015, in The Big Club. Tickets from £30 (adult) per day or £120 (adult)/ £110 (conc) for full Fri-Mon weekend. Youth, Child and camping tickets also available. Under 5’s free. Details: www.towerseyfestival.com