Last month’s astonishing Women’s March laid bare a fairly fundamental truth – that the backbone and much of the driving force of protest movements (certainly the successful ones) are made up of women.
Historically, one of the binding factors of this has been folk music – women singing, women playing, women writing or interpreting, and women inspiring from the stage. Though this kind of music’s often had a rough ride from the fashion police who drag it in and out of style, generally the performers have treated this as little more than an incidental matter – noted, grunted at, and set aside while the serious matter of talk’n’listen is gotten on with. Similarly, there’s nothing saying that folk performers whose public image might mostly be that of making pretty sounds on the radio won’t also retain, sustain or develop deep commitments to social politics, and thereby draw in anyone who’s prepared to think of them as more than an aural accessory to go with the wallpaper. At any time there are plenty of tours and shows taking place and reinforcing this, although I, for one don’t get to hear enough about them. Here’s one which I did get to hear about – six outspoken women on tour in March with a brace of songs and collective commitment, stirring up discussion and solidarity. Past craft; present engagement.
Woven from the usual brace of press releases:
“Coven are a collective of three of the British folk scene’s finest, most formidable and forthright female acts, taking to the stage to celebrate International Women’s Day in a week of unforgettable concerts. The exquisitely harmonic songwriting duo and BBC 6 Music favourites O’Hooley & Tidow (described as “defiant, robust, political, Northern, poetical folk music for the times we live in” by the ‘Independent’) will be joined by the enchanting BBC Radio 2 Folk Award Finalists Lady Maisery (“women with ideas, purpose and urgency… powerful, enthralling work” – ‘Songlines’) and the irrepressible Leicester songwriter, activist and performer Grace Petrie (“a powerful new songwriting voice” – ‘The Guardian’).
“Three years ago, they all got together to celebrate International Women’s Day in March with a series of three concerts. Since then, the tour has extended year on year… Experience these thought-provoking, entertaining and enthralling women debuting the music from their first collective EP, ‘Unholy Choir’ (recorded at Frome’s Cooper Hall in the early part of 2017), and performing both individually and collectively on one stage.”
Here are examples of work by each of the three Coven components; followed by a clip of all of them together, performing an extended harmony-folk take on Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work. A version of the latter is on ‘Unholy Choir’ along with the Maisery’s Rowan Rheingans’ resetting of female labour anthem Bread & Roses, a cover of the late Maggie Roche’s Quitting Time, an a capella version of Pat Humphries ’ Never Turning Back, a new version of Grace’s If There’s A Fire In Your Heart and a full sextet version of Coil & Spring (O’Hooley and Tidow’s Pussy Riot tribute, co-written with former Chumbawamba mainstay Boff Whalley). So far, the plan is for the EP to only be available at the gigs. Early on, at least, you’ll need to attend one to get one.
Full tour dates:
- The Greystones, Greystones Road, Sheffield, S11 7BS, England, Wednesday 1st March 2017, 7.30pm – information
- The Greystones, Greystones Road, Sheffield, S11 7BS, England, Thursday 2nd March 2017, 7.30pm – information
- All Hallows Church, 24 Regent Terrace, Leeds LS6 1NP, England, Friday 3rd March 2017, 7.45pm – information
- The Lawrence Batley Theatre, Queen’s Square, Queen Street, Huddersfield HD1 2SP, England, Saturday 4th 2017, 8.00pm – information
- The Cluny, 36 Lime Street, Ouseburn, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 2PQ, England, Sunday 5th March 2017, 7.30pm – information
- Music Room @ Philharmonic Hall, Hope Street, Liverpool, L1 9BP, England, Tuesday 7th March 2017, 8.00pm – information
- West End Centre, Queens Road, Aldershot, GU11 3JD, England, Wednesday 8th March 2017, 8.00pm – information
- Bridport Arts Centre, 9-9A South Street, Bridport DT6 3NR, England, Thursday 9th March 2017, 7.30pm – information
- St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, London E2 9PA, London, Friday 10th March 2017, 7.30pm – information
- The Ivy House, 40 Stuart Road, Nunhead, London, SE15 3BE, England, Saturday 11th March 2017, 7.15pm – information
- Cooper Hall, Selwood Manor, Jacks Lane, Frome BA11 3NL, England , Sunday 12th March 2017, 3.30pm – information
- The Guildhall, Guildhall Lane, Leicester, LE1 5FQ, England, Monday 13th March 2017, 7.15pm – information