Here are a few of the people who have really inspired me to take up folk singing, and whose music gives me great pleasure.
One of my favourite singers, and one whose technique I have learned the most from. She inspires me for two reasons – firstly, she has a low, rich and powerful voice that has just got better and better with age, and secondly, she is purely a singer, and has other people to play instruments if needed, which they are often not. She has perfected the art of the traditional, totally stripped-back ballad, in which the words and the song are paramount. I had the privilege of seeing her in Howden in November 2009, performing songs from her latest album Apples.
The daughter of folk legends Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson, Eliza is a feisty Yorkshire bird after my own heart, and a supremely talented musician as well as singer. She’s recorded some great versions of traditional ballads and tunes, but isn’t afraid to mix things up a bit, fusing folk strains with all sorts of other styles from dance to reggae. My favourite albums of hers include Red/Rice and Anglicana.
Another Yorkshire lass with a truly angelic voice. Some of her stuff sends shivers down my spine, particularly the song Underneath the Stars when the brass band kicks in… I wouldn’t say she directly influences the way I like to sing, as her voice is quite high, unlike mine, but the way she reinvents traditional songs and creates new ones using classic themes and phrases is wonderful and, I think, helps to keep the genre alive in the way that the balladeers of old constantly reinvented songs and passed them down the generations.
Not a folk singer, obviously, but quite simply one of the best female singers who’s ever lived. The first time I heard her voice I was captivated. Such rich, pure tones and character. She, again, grew better with age, although she hit her peak in the 1950s when she signed to Verve Records and recorded the Songbook series of albums, singing classics by composers such as Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, making many of them her own.