Scarred For Life
Love, Heartbreak, Abuse, Addiction, Essex, Caravans and Dysfunctional Relationships …. What’s Not To Like?
I sometimes wonder why my favourite musicians aren’t all millionaires; then last week I turned to the delightful Emma Scarr; one half of London duo Black*Scarr who I know is also a poet; to record a poem or two for our Music Hour Podcast; giving it a bit of culture and hopefully Class.
Happy to do so; she sent three (all rather wonderful btw) and at the end of the e-mail, casually mentioned that she had a new Solo Album and ‘wondered if I might give it a listen; even though I don’t like Folk Music!‘
Emma is a ‘friend’ and surely knows the eclectic nature of RMHQ; but the bottom line I think; is that she is naturally shy and a bit embarrassed at asking ‘a favour.’
I doubt she’s alone in that way ….. hence many talented individuals barely scraping a living while less talented acts with pushy parents get the record contracts. Grrrrrrrr.
Any hoot ……. the music……
All of the mentors will tell aspiring writers to ‘write about what you know’ and that’s exactly what Emma does; and every song here tells a story; sometimes funny sometimes harrowing and regularly both at the same time.
The first song here; Kathy O’Toole is the latter; you will find yourself smiling as the tale of a female Irish painter and decorator unravels like a kitten with a ball of wool. It’s sung and recorded in a very traditional London/Irish manner; and for the first but certainly not the last time; Emma shows her wonderful dexterity and skill on a variety of instruments that will make you wish you were in an Irish Bar somewhere/anywhere, hugging a pint of something dark and oaky as the young lass in the corner sings her little heart out.
While this is very much a Folk Album at its heart; starting with the charming melancholia of When I Used to Drink; Emma’s love of Country Music oozes through the gaps like gaps in the Cumberland River, which brings me to The Ballad of Hollow Ponds and Sirens in July; if theses weren’t about people and events in East London, but about Nashville and you were hearing Emma Scarr in the Bluebird on a Saturday night, you would be on your feet at the end; and both songs deserve that response.
Even the titles of her songs make you want to listen to them; and you are never disappointed …… Last Year’s Joke; a love story fuelled by booze starts with a wheezy harmonica, which adds more pathos than you can ever imagine; Blackberry Picking (a quintessentially English activity) could easily be a Kate Rusby song; and Emma’s use of metaphor (not just on this song) is exemplary to the max; as is her self-taught fiddle playing; which drifts in and out like a Summer breeze.
Drinking, in its many guises features in several songs; but never in a Yo-Ho-Ho manner; these songs, and especially Molly What’s Your Poison are about people and situations about real people who ‘love alcohol’; but alcohol doesn’t reciprocate.
How often are you going to hear biting lyrics like;
“Was it because you were young
you were on the dole
no washing machine/no telephone
‘Cos you were always tired of being alone
rats in the alley/piss on the stairs
no one told you, you deserved more
you were constantly ready
fight or flight
of course you need something to get you through the night
Molly what’s your poison?”
Think a feisty flame haired Kirsty MacColl fronting a re-vamped Pogues!
Hmmm …. for my Favourite Track it’s a difficult choice between River Blackwater, with it’s swishing melody fuelled by a slightly less than jaunty piano-accordion that simply transcends what I know as English Folk Music; and the other, Vince is about another troubled love affair between two deeply troubled people, that again will have you smiling as you fight back the tears welling in your eyes. Will it have a happy ending? That’s for me to know and you to find out.
SCARRED FOR LIFE is as far from Easy Listening as music gets; but baring in mind March 2021 is International Woman’s Month or some such like; this album is or should be essential listening and Emma should be a guest on Breakfast TV an/or the One Show singing these songs to the masses and scaring the bejasus out of the Middle Classes!
“Scarred For Life” was recorded on a home computer, with a borrowed mic and recording programme. Apart from Garry Smith adding some magic with his guitars on 3 songs, with slide guitar, tricone resonator and mandola. Emma uses a collection picked up over the years from boot sales, charity shops, eBay and a decent guitar given to her one drunken night after a session by Fergie Campbell. But the main outcome of this is that she just got on with it; and played them, mandolin, banjo, keyboard, viola, whistle(!) as well as the more familiar fiddle – it’s not virtuoso playing, but, as her primary school violin teacher said,
“What she lacks in talent she makes up for in enthusiasm.”