Lady Maisery have been announced as the headliners at this year’s Baring-Gould Folk Weekend in Devon. Talking exclusively to Folk Radio UK, one-third of the folk harmony trio, Hazel Askew, hints that the festival-goers might be treated to the premiere of some new songs …
With their traditional folk tunes, story-telling ballads, and songs with an element of social and political commentary, Lady Maisery are a perfect fit for the Baring-Gould Folk Weekend on 23-25 October.
The trio – Hazel Askew, Hannah James and Rowan Rheingans – will be playing at the festival’s opening concert in the historic Dartmoor town of Okehampton, and again on the second day.
For Londoner Hazel, who is also half of the Askew Sisters with her sister Emily, the setting couldn’t be better: “The weekend is all about participation which is great because that’s something we’re quite passionate about. We enjoy this sort of intimate setting. Sometimes it’s nice to be on the stage where we can be amplified and make a big sound but our music also works well acoustically. It creates a very special atmosphere and that’s something we’re looking forward to.”
The festival, now in its 17th year, takes its name from Devon parson Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924), who’s best known for writing Onward, Christian Soldiers and for travelling around communities in Devon and Cornwall, collecting story-telling folk songs that had been passed down via word of mouth through generations.
“That fits in with the kinds of things that we sing and play because we’ve always been very interested in story-telling,” said Hazel. “We think a lot about the stories in all our songs, it’s often what attracts us to different things and it’s why we tell stories about different kinds of people and different points of view.”
All three women grew up on the folk scene: Hazel’s mum and dad are morris dancers, Hannah’s parents were folk dancers and Rowan’s father is an instrument-maker. “We all knew each other vaguely from youth projects and summer schools,” said Hazel. “And then we started singing together in 2009.
“But it was just on an occasional basis at that stage. We spent quite a while thinking about what kind of singing we wanted to do because although we knew it would be based around harmony singing, we wanted to do that quite experimentally and do things like diddling.
“Our vocal roles can vary quite a lot. Rowan usually sings low or middle, Hannah sings right through the range, low, middle and sometimes high, and I usually do middle or high. But while we do each lend ourselves to particular parts, we try to change things around. At the beginning we talked a lot about creating quite a blended harmony sound so that we sounded like one voice in some ways. But we wanted to use instruments as well, to make a bigger sound.”
Hazel plays harp and concertina in Lady Maisery (she’s also a melodeon player in the Askew Sisters); Rowan plays fiddle and banjo; and Hannah plays accordion. She’s also a clog dancer, which Hazel says they’re now starting to experiment with: “Hannah does a lot of foot percussion and that’s something we’ve been working with, trying to get different rhythms into our sound.”
Lady Maisery’s big break came in 2011 with the release of their debut album, Weave and Spin, which led to their nomination in the 2012 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards’ Horizon category for best newcomers. “The response to the album was pretty amazing, looking back at it,” said Hazel. “It created a buzz that helped us to move on to the next level. And it enabled us to do more gigs.”
The success emboldened them to produce a darker feel to their second album, Mayday, and they’re now working on new songs for their third album: “We’ve recorded three or four tracks and we’re looking to do some more recording probably in December, hopefully for release next year,” said Hazel. “We might have a few more new songs ready by the time the Baring-Gould festival comes along.”
So what can people expect from their new pieces? “There has always been a bit of a political element to our songs. Mayday had some political songs on it. It was all about the interpretation of the word Mayday so we had songs about May-time traditions, some about distress signals and warnings, and others about workers.
“The new album will probably continue to have political songs on it but we’re looking at wider themes as well at the moment. It’s going to be a very different album.
“Up to now we’ve mostly arranged traditional songs, sung traditional songs that we’ve reset to new tunes and edited, and arranged a few songs written by other people. The new album is likely to feature songs and tunes we’ve written ourselves, which we’ve never done before.
“Who knows, we can’t guarantee it but there may be some premieres at the Baring-Gould Festival.”
Interview by: Laura Joint
The Baring-Gould Weekend is organised by Wren Music. Visit the festival website for latest details and ticket information, including weekend deals.