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Hattie Briggs would not describer herself as a folk singer but it was her nomination as BBC2 Young Folk Singer of Year in 2014 that prompted her to drop out of university and ultimately ended her prospective career as a Russian spy. We caught up with Hattie and talked about, among other things, her new album “Young Runaway” which is set for release on 8th July.
Where shall we start? I know, you packed up a degree in Russian to pursue music, now that makes me think that perhaps you had a different career path laid out for yourself?
To be honest, I really didn’t know. It was more just doing what I was good at, I was a linguist at school. I didn’t know that I wanted to do music before I got to university. I guess I could have become anything really, maybe I would have been a spy or a translator or something.
Last November you played a small intimate gig at The Froize in Chillesford, here in Suffolk, how was that experience for you?
Oh it was really, really nice. David is great. I love playing intimate venues – just as much as the larger ones – we had a full house, everybody was was really into it and receptive, a really good reaction. And the food is really nice, which always helps.
You were a BBC2 Folk Award nominee as Young Folk Musician of the Year in 2014, what effect did that have on your career?
It had a huge effect. Apart from anything it just gave me the confidence to actually believe in what I was doing and go on and do it full time. I was nominated in October I think it was for the following April. It was the end of the first term of my second year at uni. At that stage I wasn’t really enjoying university at all because I was so distracted by music and couldn’t really concentrate on anything else. Having that nomination there just gave me the springboard to go forward and the confidence to do it full time. I don’t think I would have quit university at all had it not been for that.
So we could say that the BBC is responsible for you not becoming a Russian spy then!
Yes, I guess so!
The title of the new album is “Young Runaway”, what’s behind the title?
There’s a couple of different things. Obviously I haven’t run away from home or anything! It is partly because it is a lyric of a James
Taylor song called “My Travelling Star”. James Taylor is one of my absolute musical heroes of all time. My previous album is called “Red and Gold” and that is a lyric from “Autumn Leaves” which Eva Cassidy did a version of, so it kind of follows on from that. And also there was the whole dropping out of university thing, hitting the road, that is also why I thought it was relevant.
The album opens with “The Lake” and finishes with “The River”, was that a deliberate?
It was yeah. I wrote “The Lake” first… or did I, may be I …. “The Lake” was half written and I wasn’t really sure what it was going to be and “The River” I co-wrote with my producer. Both of them were more arty than the other songs on the album and we just thought that they made a really nice frame for the thing as a whole. Especially as it is a summer album, quite upbeat and positive but it is nice to have a darker, more intense framework to the whole thing.
You mentioned dark, and the one that struck me as quite dark is “Talk To Me”.
I wouldn’t say it is that dark to be honest. It has a positive meaning but I guess there is some darkness there. It is really about people who feel like they have to be strong all the time. Saying that it is OK to show weakness and that fighting these things together is the way to beat it – it is mental health week at the moment. We are all very British, with our stiff upper lip and just get on with everything and don’t share our problems – so it is very much about a problem shared is a problem halved and that sort of thing.
You asked a question on social media recently about “The Lake” and what it reminded people of – for you it evokes Lake Garda in Italy, for me the River Shannon in Ireland. Was it written about Lake Garda?
Yes, I was in Italy, staying in the hills above Lake Garda. I was down at the lake every day.
It is interesting that your song about a specific place resonates with others and other places.
I think that is because when I wrote it, even though it was inspired by the lake, it was n’t necessarily about the place itself. It was more an emotional response to being there, if you know what I mean. It was the beauty of the place, the way the sun set over the water and the liberation I felt being near the water and the relaxation of being on holiday – all that kind of thing.
The album is a very, very relaxing album to listen to, was it a relaxing process to create?
It was probably more relaxing that the first album because we had learned a lot when making the first album. For me and for my producer, it was the first album we had ever made. This time however, we knew what worked in the studio with the musicians and how much preparation we needed to do and which musicians we wanted to get involved that we didn’t have last time.
We have a habit in the music industry of putting people in pigeon holes or genre to keep things tidy. You get tucked away under “Folk” but I wouldn’t call this a folk album, would you?
No, not at all. I refer to myself as a singer / songwriter which keeps it broad because there are so many influences there. The folk tag has happened as a result of being a BBC2 Young Folk award nominee. That was really good for me but it can be a little bit narrowing I guess. But it is OK to come from a minor genre and then break out to a wider audience. I definitely wouldn’t call it folk, it has influences of pop and jazz and blues, a bit of everything.
Looking at your touring schedule, you are a very busy woman. Do you ever get tired of that cycle of turning up at a venue, setting up, playing, breaking down and then doing it all again the next night?
Not really. As long as the gig is good then I don’t really mind all of that, especially now as the band are there and we can have a bit of fun and a bit of a joke around. It can be stressful if you are running late and the sound man is in a bad mood and all that kind of thing. As long as everybody is fairly organised and in a god frame of mind then I don’t mind because it is worth it.
Hattie, thank you for taking the time to talk to GrapevineLIVE. Hopefully we will be able to catch up with you on one of the following tour dates:
Jun 02 London Folk Fest, Balham
Jun 04 Jazz in the Wood, Cambridge
Jun 07 Portland Arms w/ Jack Cookson, Cambridge
Jun 08 Bicycle Shop Cafe w/ Jack Cookson, Norwich
Jun 12 Living Room Concert, Kidderminster
Jun 14 Stania State w/ Jack Cookson, Oentsjerk
Jun 16 Live uit Lloyd Radio Show w/ Jack Cookson, Rotterdam
Jun 17 Podium Cafe w/ Jack Cookson, Steendam
Jun 18 Living Room Concert, Bodegraven w/ Jack Cookson, Rotterdam
Jun 24 Frog & FIddle, Cheltenham
Jul 02 North Nibley Music Festival, Stroud
Jul 09 Cornbury Festival, Chipping Norton
Jul 12 The Bulls Head w/ Jack Cookson, Barnes
Jul 16 CITY SHOWCASE w/ Jasmine Scott-Neale London
Jul 23 Chapel Arts Centre w/ Natalie Holmes, Bath
Jul 30 Cambridge Folk Festival, Cambridge
Aug 03 Sidmouth Fringe, Sidmouth
Sep 24 House Concert, Naples
Oct 01 Upton House Concerts, Upton, MA
Oct 08 House Concert, San Francisco, CA
Oct 22 North Dorset Folk Festival, Dorset
Dec 15 Maggies Christmas Carol Concert, Cheltenham
Jan 15 Spilsby Theatre, Spilsby
Feb 25 Under the Edge Arts, Wotton Under Edge
Mar 18 Living Room Concert, Delft
Mar 25 Theaterboerderij Boeket, Nederweert
[box type=”info” align=”” class=”” width=””]”The Lake” and “Here’s to Hoping” (tracks 1 and 3 from Young Runaway) are already available to download on iTunes and to listen to on Spotify: https://play.spotify.com/artist/5d6Mg9TVUdi1Jl7NpVAVkV[/box]