We recently posted about the Soundpost Singing Weekend: Old Adam (June 16-18, 2017). The short description is “no ordinary weekend on which a community of people of all ages and abilities come together to explore the music up close and personal with some of the top folk musicians in the country.” We decided to delve a little deeper and spoke to Soundpost founder and Folk Singer Fay Hield.
I understand the Soundpost began life as a Singing Weekend back in 2011?
Yep, that’s right, after I finished my PhD I was a bit sad to see it stuck on a shelf and wanted to share some of the ideas I’d been having, so I came up with the idea for a weekend about singing and talking and thinking about singing. In order to get some funding from a local group we had to be an organisation with a bank account, so I asked some lovely friends to be names on the paper, Jon Boden, Andy Bell and Sam Sweeney and here we are.
How has Soundpost expanded since then and was that growth planned?
Planned is such a tricky term. I have no master plan, but I know I’ll always want to do things and have ways I want to do them, so there is some order to the madness, but not much! We have grown though, I got a student, Kate Thompson to help with admin, and she has stayed on and become General Manager, taking on all the day to day bits that need doing and working with artists to design new projects. Nancy Kerr, Bryony Griffith, Jess Arrowsmith and Nicola Beazley all do fairly regular projects, and we work with lots of other artists more casually. Gina Walters helps out with Marketing and Frances Watt, who was heavily involved in the Full English Education project at EFDSS, has joined the directors.
What are you hoping to achieve through Soundpost and what do you feel are your biggest challenges (whether it’s one of education or changing perceptions)?
We want people to learn more about folk music – whether that be exposing people who have never heard it before through schools or other community projects, or running specialised workshops for people who already love it, but want to think a bit deeper about what they do. Our flagship events are the weekends – we get about 100 people flocking to our local village in north Sheffield and run workshops in all the spaces we can find- the pub the Village Hall, a B&B… Tutors are asked to explore whatever they think is interesting, so it’s a real opportunity to get to know what different artists you maybe love from the stage think about their own music. They include practical music making, sessions, concerts and workshops and talks for thinking and sharing ideas, and we really focus on the fun. It doesn’t matter where you start from, everyone is welcome and there will be something to learn at one of our weekends.
What has been Soundpost’s biggest achievement to date?
Keeping going! We are artist-led and, as you know, artists are busy people so it can be really tricky getting their genius ideas off the ground. Kate is doing a brilliant job keeping it all together though, and to be honest, everything I’ve been to has left me feeling on a high. From singing carols with brass bands and school children in the Winter Gardens in the centre of Sheffield with a hundred shoppers joining in the local tradition to the final group sing of the sing weekends where everyone has gone through the nerves, learnt something and ready to go home inspired.
The upcoming singing weekend is based around Old Adam…can you explain how this may differ from past singing weekends?
It’s focusing on the stories in songs and how to get that across – that was my focus when I was putting that album together, and it’s something that a lot of people ask for at the weekends, so I thought a whole weekend dedicated to that, from different perspectives would be interesting. We’ve got workshops for songwriters and people who work with traditional materials, academics who work with the legends and dialect studies will explore how different people take things into their own culture. We’ll look at how to present them too, with sessions on improving your voice and how to accompany songs. There will be lots of singing and chances to explore your own songs and voice too, and listen to each other of course!
There are workshops also being run by the likes of Karine Polwart, Nancy Kerr, Ben Nicholls and Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne, how do you go about selecting guests/tutors?
I pick people I think have something to say that audiences might not usually get to hear. That can be the famous people who you usually only get to see on a big stage, or the not so famous people you’ve never heard of but have great ideas to share. It’s not about the fame and fortune, it’s about the thinking, and lots of great and different thoughts out there. The last thing we want is to present a unified method for folk singing, it’s about getting perspectives and helping you build your own approach.
What is it that makes these weekends so special to both you and others that lead the weekend workshops?
It’s a chance to say what you want to say, and get people talking about things they’ve not through about before. I learn a lot from everyone at the weekend, they really get me thinking too. It’s inspiring just to be surrounded by enthusiastic people, and everyone is so supportive, the buzz is just wonderful.
What can participants expect and does it matter if a newcomer has had no experience of public singing?
Absolutely everyone is welcome, and we have people who have never sung in public, or even really know what folk music is, to hardened floor singers, and even professional performers have booked on. There are around 30 workshops to choose from (you do 4), so you can really plan your own weekend – everyone will experience something different, and you can do as much/little singing as you like. No one is ever forced to sing, but there will be plenty of choruses and opportunities to do so if you want to dabble. And there is absolutely no judgement, you might just surprise yourself – we’ve had people sing with us for the first time who never thought they would… you never know…
Besides the Singing Weekends, what else is Soundpost doing?
We run weekly evening groups for kids and adults, and family ceilidh days, workshop schemes in schools working with Sheffield Music Hub, and one off day-long workshops in all sorts of instruments and interesting things – we had a dry stone walling one once… We recently got funding from the Arts Council, so there are a few new ideas in the pipeline, but I’m not allowed to talk about them yet… watch this space!
Soundpost Singing Weekend: Old Adam (June 16-18, 2017)
Booking is now open. Just head to their website to download an application form: www.soundpost.org.uk/weekends