Ahead of their gig at Cecil Sharp House next month, the musicians share their thoughts on the pros and cons of collaboration, working with traditional material and what the budding folk singer can learn from Jimmy Eat World...
How did you both get into folk music?
Cohen: I became interested in folk music while I was at primary school. I started learning the violin at school at the age of 6, I had classical lessons but through that I learnt the odd folk tune. I found that I enjoyed those more than anything else that I had been playing and I was inspired to investigate further. At 10 I started going to local sessions and festivals and started to discover the rich variety of folk music and became particularly interested in English music and songs. From going to sessions and festivals I found myself surrounded by people playing squeezeboxes of various kinds and I was very keen to have a go at these myself, so eventually I did, starting on the concertina at 12 and the melodeon at 13.
Rosie: I got into folk music when my mum took me and my brothers to Sidmouth Folk Week for the first time when I was about 7. I danced at ceilidhs, sang at the Middle Bar sessions, swam in the sea and generally had a great time! I played the violin at the time too but became much more interested in singing though I really wish I’d kept playing the violin as well!
Do you think there should be more emphasis on exposing young people to folk when growing up?
Rosie: It would be great if more young people experienced folk music at school – one of the first folk songs I learnt was from my primary school head teacher and it didn’t cross my mind until later that it was a folk song, to me it was just a good song that I enjoyed singing!
Cohen: I think that introducing young people to folk can be a great way to broaden their musical education and to inform young people of the social history of England (or indeed any other country that the music may be linked to).
Leading on from that, you’re both leading a folk music workshop for young people here next month – how important is the educational aspect of folk music to you? Is it something you would like to do more of?
Cohen: I always find sharing knowledge and ideas to be very fulfilling. In the past I have been to a number of folk music workshops and had some one-to-one time with a range of influential musicians, which has had a marked impact on me musically- and to be able to pass those experiences on to others is very rewarding.
Rosie: I really enjoy passing on the songs and skills. I’m currently focusing on leading music workshops for children and young people with SEND, something I started with The Dovetail Trio through Live Music Now and find it incredibly fulfilling.
Who are some of the artists who have influenced you most?
Cohen: The playing of John Spiers in Spiers and Boden was one of my main influences for taking up the melodeon. I have also spent a lot of time with Pete Coe and he had a major influence on my playing and singing. My playing is influenced by many other great squeezebox players- John Kirkpatrick, Tony Hall, Steve Turner, Adrian Brown to name a few.
Rosie: I grew up listening to Nancy Kerr & James Fagan, Kate Rusby, Karine Polwart as well as Spiers & Boden who Cohen already mentioned and their singing and performances certainly informed what I do now. Singing in sessions also influenced the way I sing and the material that interests me. Although that said I think I first learnt to sing harmonies by singing along with Jimmy Eat World when I was a teenager!
You both work with traditional folk material – do you ever come across potentially problematic folk songs which feels outdated today? Have you ever felt a responsibility to re-work this material for modern audiences?
Cohen: My inclination for songs that feel outdated is generally to not sing them!
Rosie: I agree! There are a lot of old songs that to me are no longer acceptable to sing. Sometimes that will mean that I won’t learn it at all or if I think that the rest of the song is worth performing then I’ll cut verses or change them. Folk music is a living tradition and needs to keep moving with the times otherwise modern audiences could be ostracised by the content which is completely unnecessary.
You’re both solo performers who also play in other bands. Is it quite a different writing / arranging process in each situation and what do you enjoy about each?
Cohen: Working in a band can involve a lot of compromise and a lot of discussion about ideas- this can be great, having multiple opinions on a piece of music can lead to a much better final product. Working solo, all of the musical decisions are my own, and generally I just do what feels natural to me as a singer or as a musician - which is a much easier process. Both are very different processes and rewarding in different ways but enjoyable nonetheless.
Rosie: Yeah it’s definitely quite different in each group as the dynamic is always different depending on who you’re working with. I find writing/arranging on my own probably the most challenging as there’s no-one else there to bounce ideas with around and I become very indecisive!
What do you like about playing at Cecil Sharp House?
Rosie: Having had my BBC Fellowship year at Cecil Sharp House back in 2015 I really love coming back as it always feels a bit like a ‘home’ gig. I think I’ve performed in all of the rooms of the House now in various guises!
Cohen: It is great to perform at a venue that is so closely linked to the promotion and preservation of all things folk.
What are your plans for the next few months?
Cohen: As well as touring in October and November with Rosie I am working on promoting Granny’s Attic’s newest album ‘Wheels of the World’ which we released this September. We’re touring the album this autumn, and we have two special gigs in Leeds and Worcester to celebrate our tenth anniversary of playing together as a band.
Rosie: Over the next year I’m working as a music specialist at a SEND school in Hull, through the charity Live Music Now, where I’ll be using folk song and music in workshops and music making sessions with children and young people with a range of ages and needs. I’ve enjoyed the first few weeks and am looking forward to getting to know the young people more and getting them playing and writing some music themselves. After mine and Cohen’s tour I have some shows with The Dovetail Trio in November and then I won’t be playing as much for a while as I try to finish writing my second album!
Rosie Hood & Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne play at Cecil Sharp House on Wednesday 23 October.