And Nothing but the Truth
Francis Jones talks to singer songwriter Eilidh Patterson
LISTEN to Eilidh Patterson:
That was then, this is now (6.32mb)
Her fluid guitar style, earthy poetics and irrepressible charisma has brought young folk songstress Eilidh Patterson coveted live slots and increasing radio play.
Musically ambidextrous, she has been schooled not only in guitar, her favoured instrument, but also piano, flute and violin, enjoying the benefits of a robust musical background and classical training. The Derry woman explains just why it is that folk and country music, above all other forms, speaks most strongly to her and just what the wide expanse of the future might hold.
You come from a family with a strong musical tradition, how has that helped you in your own endeavours?
'Well I started playing piano at the age of six, then the flute, violin and guitar. During that time the whole family would sing together, at night, sitting around the fire, not like the Waltons! No it was just something that we liked to do as a family, to sing in harmony, all sorts of folk, gospel.
'We got to a stage where we wanted to perform these songs. Alongside my dad and sister, I performed in gospel halls around Ireland. It was a great foundation for me, I knew I liked to sing, but until then wasn’t sure about performing. Eventually, because of other commitments we all had, that folded, but it provided the basis for what I’m doing now.'
How did you make that transition from performing as part of a group to becoming a solo performer?
'Well I knew I wanted to keep it going, but had to rethink how I’d do it by myself. I started learning a pile of songs from American artists that I admired, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle.
'I decided to join the Foyle Folk Club in Derry, a group of people performing songs they’d written or simply liked to each other. There I was able to sing songs by myself for the first time, to get exposure and encouragement. Because of their encouragement and that of colleagues in BBC Radio Foyle where I was then working I decided to record a demo. Since then I’ve been supporting touring artists.'
People have a perception of folk music as the preserve of an older audience; just what does folk offer the younger listener?
'I would hope to see a younger generation interested in it. To me it’s the best music, heart music, that’s what I call it. It’s got soul, it’s got a lot of truth in it, about the way people live their lives and it gives a rounded picture. It’s not all sweetness and light, there’s death, there’s destruction and to me that’s honesty, that’s what I like about it. It’s definitely the music I can most relate to.'
Part of your extensive musical training included a sojourn in Nashville, how did you find the experience?
'Nashville was just amazing. Ever since I’ve been into country, gospel and bluegrass music I’ve been aware of Nashville, that it is the hub for those forms of music.
'I got the opportunity to go when I was eighteen, attending a gospel music school in Nashville. I learnt harmony singing in the shape note style, a style developed in the Appalachian Mountains. It was a brilliant experience and to perform in front of such noted musicians gave me so much confidence.”
Nashville aside, what have been the highlights for you thus far?
'I’ve had the opportunity to perform alongside amazing artists whils Kimmie Rhodes, an amazing artist from Austin, Texas. I think actually that’s one of the benefits of living int they’ve been touring over here, Northern Ireland, it’s a relatively small place, but there are all these artists who want to come over here to sing. If I lived in, for example, Iowa, I would never get the same opportunities.
'Providing support for distinguished local performers such as John Spillane and Bap Kennedy and also playing the festivals, Fiddler’s Green and The Ulster American Folk Park, they’ve all been great.'
You seem very positive about your music, but just how highly developed is your capacity for self-criticism?
'I can be self-critical and I think that it is a useful thing for a musician to have. It helps you progress, as long as you aren’t so critical that it affects your confidence or leaves you depressed after every performance. I make sure now to enjoy every performance, at the same time trying to learn from my mistakes.'
Thus far you’ve been primarily a live performer. Have you any plans to go back into the studio?
'Yeah, actually I’m currently recording some new songs. I definitely want to get something out there for the public, it’s time for me to do that, whether or not that will be a full length album, I’m not sure. I’m working on it, and for me as an artist it’s important to get my material out there, to be able to gauge a response to the new songs.'
What is your own response to the new material; do you feel you’re progressing as a songwriter?
'Recently I feel that I really have progressed. Initially I feel that I was writing songs that, though they were technically competent, good songs, they weren’t written from a position of honesty. The songs that I’m writing now are true to me and that, I hope, will be conveyed to the audience.
'That’s a much better place to write your music from, rather than writing something because it sounds good or the idea’s good. There has to be something deeper behind it, to write about life and love, the things that are important to everyone.'
What do you hope to achieve with your music career?
'Well like many aspiring musicians, I currently have a daytime job. Which is great actually, it gets me out and about, living life just like everybody else. Also I think the life of a fulltime singer-songwriter can be a very lonely one.
'Of course the downside is that I can’t concentrate as fully on my music and writing as much as I might like. I suppose ultimately that a full time career in music is what I’ve always wanted, what I would hope for. I’ve been getting interest from record companies and people inside the music business and you know what, perhaps it is possible.'