SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #173 : KARINE POLWART

One of my mates, Micky, has long been a huge fan of Karine Polwart, trying hard over the years to convince me to give her a fair hearing.  I actually have given it a go, but I’ve found her material just too rootsy and folky for my liking….although I may give her newest material a listen over the coming weeks (I’ll come back to that in due course).

From wiki (edited):-

Karine Polwart (born 23 December 1970) grew up in the small Stirlingshire town of Banknock and had an interest in music from an early age. She has described her whole family as being interested in music and one of her brothers, Steven, is also a professional musician who plays guitar in the Karine Polwart band, whilst her sister Kerry is developing her own musical career with the group The Poems.

Despite an active musical career from a young age, including forming her own band KP and the Minichips at age 10, Polwart was discouraged from studying music at school and ended up studying politics and philosophy at the University of Dundee. After graduating with a First Class Degree in Philosophy Polwart moved to Glasgow to study for a Masters in Philosophical Inquiry.

Her first job after her studies was as a philosophy tutor in a primary school, a job she describes as giving her a “massive buzz.” After this she spent six years working for the Scottish Women’s Aid movement on issues such as domestic and child abuse and young people’s rights and these experiences have influenced her songwriting.

Polwart initially gained prominence as lead singer of the group Malinky. With the release of their debut album Last Leaves in January 2000, Polwart left her job to concentrate on her musical career. After successful periods with Malinky, macAlias and Battlefield Band, and contributions to three volumes (Volumes 7, 8 and 9) of Linn Records’ The Complete Songs of Robert Burns project, she decided to embark on a solo career. In 2003 she released her first solo album, Faultlines which went on to win the Best Album award at the 2005 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

In April 2006, Polwart released her second solo album Scribbled in Chalk. This album was heralded with much critical acclaim receiving impressive reviews from amongst others, The Scotsman, The Sunday Times, and The Independent on Sunday. A UK wide tour followed as well as appearances on BBC 2’s Culture Show, Simon Mayo’s Album show on Radio 2, Mike Harding’s folk show on Radio 2, BBC Radio Scotland on the Janice Forsyth show and the Janice Long Late show on Radio 2.

Like Faultlines, Scribbled in Chalk often looks at the darker side of life with tales of sex trafficking (“Maybe there’s a Road”), the holocaust (“Baleerie Baloo”, which is about the missionary Jane Haining) and the uncertainties of life (“Hole in the Heart”). But these stories of despair are balanced by others that describe the joy of a slower life (“Take Its Own Time”), of hope triumphing over cynicism (“Where the Smoke Blows”) and the wonder of the universe (“Terminal Star”).

As well as her solo work, Polwart spent much of 2006 collaborating with other artists on a variety of projects; Roddy Woomble, the lead singer of Idlewild, asked her to help co-write and provide backing vocals for his solo album, My Secret is My Silence.  Polwart also supported The Beautiful South on their tour and she guested with David Knopfler at The Globe Theatre for a charity benefit for Reprieve.

At the 2006, Hogmanay Live celebrations on BBC Scotland, Polwart played several of her songs and also dueted with Paolo Nutini. Toward the end of the year, she became one of the founder members of  musical collective The Burns Unit.

She took time off from live performance during 2007 as she was pregnant with her first child. During this time she recorded two albums: Fairest Floo’er comprising mostly traditional songs, and This Earthly Spell, containing only original compositions.

Polwart’s website announced in February 2010 that she intends to take a year’s “maternity leave” (Polwart’s daughter, Rosa, was born on 1 April 2010) but would perform with the Burns Unit in the summer. She also recorded an EP with Lau which was released through her website in July 2010.

Polwart released her fifth studio album, Traces, in August 2012, to a strongly positive critical response. It became her first official UK Top 75 entry, entering the albums chart at number 57.  Polwart releases music through her own Hegri Music imprint, named from the Gaelic word for heron. Polwart describes the heron as her favourite animal and her song “Follow the Heron”, which she has recorded both solo (on the Scribbled in Chalk album) and with Malinky (on the 3 Ravens album), has been much covered by artists including The McCalmans, Robert Lawrence and Cathie Ryan.

The only song I have is from her participation in Ballads of The Books, an album curated Roddy Woomble, and featuring collaborations between Scottish musicians and Scottish writers. The album is considered a joint effort by all those involved. It was released on Chemikal Underground in March 2007, and Karine’s collaboration was with Edwin Morgan (27 April 1920 – 17 August 2010), who was one of the foremost and left-leaning Scottish poets of the 20th century.

mp3 : Karine Polwart and Edwin Morgan – The Good Years

I mentioned earlier that I may be tempted to give the singer’s new album a listen. Here’s the promotional blurb:-

Award-winning songwriter and folk singer Karine Polwart reimagines a clutch of beloved songs that cut across fifty years of Scottish pop. Eighties classics from Deacon Blue, The Waterboys and Big Country sit alongside the stadium balladry of Biffy Clyro, while maverick legend Ivor Cutler rubs shoulders with the electro pop of Chvrches and the immaculate song craft of John Martyn.

Recorded at Chem 19, Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook features regular band mates Steven Polwart and Inge Thomson, with Graeme Smillie (bass and keys), Calum McIntyre (kit and percussion) and Louis Abbott of Admiral Fallow (vocals, guitar & percussion).

Karine says, “To me, these are songs of resilience and resistance, cries of despair and dreams of something better. They’re pop songs, but also love songs to people and places we all recognise. They totally fill my heart up”.

Tracklisting:

The Whole Of The Moon (Waterboys)
From Rags To Riches (Blue Nile)
Dignity (Deacon Blue)
Since Yesterday (Strawberry Switchblade)
Swim Until You Can’t See Land (Frightened Rabbit)
Chance (Big Country)
The Mother We Share (Chvrches)
Don’t Want To Know (John Martyn)
Whatever’s Written In Your Heart (Gerry Rafferty)
Machines (Biffy Clyro)
Women Of The World (Ivor Cutler)

Ballads of the Book was produced at Chem19 studios by Paul Savage and Andy Miller.

There was a very positive review in the Guardian newspaper which adds to the intrigue:-

The C90 cassette unspooling on the sleeve makes an apt motif for an album that is both a tribute to Scottish pop and a personal testimony from Caledonia’s reigning folk queen. Not that there’s much folk involved; most of the songs Karine Polwart interprets here are from the mainstream, drawn from a live show in turn inspired by an Edinburgh exhibition, Rip It Up, celebrating Scotland’s distinctive contribution to British pop. Big Country’s Chance, for example, was an air-punching anthem for a teenage Polwart in smalltown Stirlingshire, though it’s here transformed into a meditation on domestic abuse and an abandoned young mother.

Polwart works similar reconstructions on the likes of Deacon Blue, the Blue Nile and John Martyn. Strawberry Switchblade’s Since Yesterday morphs from bubblegum romance into a commentary on Alzheimer’s – “I’m scared I’ll have to say/ That a part of you is gone since yesterday” – while the Waterboys’ rocking The Whole of the Moon gets a minimalist treatment, with deft backings of glockenspiel and clarinet from a fine band. Whatever the song, Polwart’s vocals, austere rather than exuberant, tease out underlying themes of resilience and resistance to make a compendium of small-p political pop.

Here’s a video for one of the tracks:-

 

JC

3 thoughts on “SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #173 : KARINE POLWART

  1. Decent cover of a great song, as I said was disappointed to miss her doing the covers album live at Celtic C.

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