Heidi Talbot Interview 24th March 2011
Singer-songwriter and current star of the nascent British Folk scene; Heidi Talbot was born and raised in Co. Kildare then left to seek her fortune in America before moving back across the water to Edinburgh where she now lives with husband (and Folk superstar) John McCusker and one year old daughter Molly Mae.
As Heidi’s album THE LAST STAR recently received a 5 star review in Maverick and picked up glowing reviews in several UK broadsheets we decided to find out a little bit more about this young rising talent.
Because Heidi isn’t touring in the near future; but only playing a handful of Festivals across the Summer I arranged to interview her on the telephone at an agreed time. But that proved difficult as on the allotted day Heidi was in the middle of arranging a birthday party for her daughter and her phone was constantly engaged with venues squabbling over the rights to host a party for the Scottish Folk Royalty (not quite; but I did tease her about her place in the grand scheme of things).
As soon as Heidi settled down with a cup of tea and the baby was being amused by her Daddy the legendary Folk singer and producer, John McCusker I began by asking about the latest album, THE LAST STAR.
“It’s doing really well, thank you.” Heidi replied, “I should be more confident about these things; but its going surprisingly well – the reviews have been fantastic and it’s still selling online and in the handful of shops that still exist, with very little promotion from me.
I know its my job to keep it in the public eye but with having the baby then getting married I only managed to fit in a short tour in September and October last year then I supported Eddi Reader for a couple of weeks. I know we should be on the road more, but being a Mum is my full time job now and I’m loving it.
I’m really proud of the album, as it’s the first time I’ve written some of the songs myself. My husband, John McCusker really pushed and encouraged me to finish the songs that I’d been writing on and off since my teens. Like most aspiring musicians I was an avid writer but never had the confidence to do anything with them; always relying on others to suggest songs for me to record.
But John was having none of that and sat down with me and guided me through the process of writing and adding melodies, so three of our songs; Tell me Truly, Bleeker Street and the title track The Last Star that made the final cut were all written by me and my husband and I’m thrilled that all three have been liked by the reviewers.
The others are a mixture of traditional songs that John has arranged to suit my voice and he also co-wrote a couple with our friend Boo Hewerdine who produced IN LOVE & LIGHT in 2008 and there is a gorgeous Kris Drever song on it called Hang Me alongside my actual favourite on the album which is Sandy Denny’s At The End of The Day that I’ve been singing for years.
The Last Star was originally written for and about a close friend of ours who couldn’t bring themselves to record it and we knew it was too good to throw out; so John suggested I sing it and I’m so pleased I did as it’s a beautiful story.
Because I was involved in the writing process for the first time I think I feel a little bit more precious about THE LAST STAR compared to my previous albums. I’m still incredibly proud of each one especially IN LOVE & LIGHT which managed to win an award; but LAST STAR definitely has more of a ‘band feel’ to it too. Plus it only took a couple of months to record; (Love & Light took over a year) and the studio was full of friends (Boo, Kris Drever, Ian Carr, Andy Cutting…the list goes on and on).
It was great fun and I felt very comfortable and happy with everything and I think that comes across in the finished work.
Having John (McCusker) produce it was a bonus too. Boo Hewerdine produced IN LOVE & LIGHT and did a fantastic job as he always does; but John had a different approach as he is a 100% Folk Genius (don’t put that in!) (I won’t) and he has given it a much more ‘folk slant’ which is just what I wanted.”
As a long term fan of all things Boo Hewerdine I had to ask how their friendship came about.
“I was playing Celtic Connections in Glasgow in 2003 with Cherish the Ladies and Boo had seen us play and introduced himself; which was weird because he is even shyer than I am! We talked about the album I’d just released and he eventually e-mailed me a song (Muddy Water) that I eventually recorded on DISTANT FUTURE and we kept in touch irregularly over the following years and when I got together with John, I found out that Boo was already a friend of his too (but he likes me best….cue laughter).
When I first left Cherish the Ladies Boo was the first person I turned to for advice. He’s offered guidance and help all along the way and now when I’m on tour he and John and sometimes Kris Drever form my backing band; it’s not quite a ‘supergroup’ but I’m incredibly lucky to have players of that calibre on stage with me.
I’m lucky too to be involved in Folk Music at the moment because there appears to be a bit of a resurgence with the likes of Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling crossing over into the mainstream and getting on national TV and Radio which opens doors for the likes of me, Roddy Woomble and Kris Drever. As a young girl in Ireland I grew up listening to the Chieftains and the Dubliners who could fill Carnegie Hall in New York twice over; so it just goes to show that fashions always come back around; but the downside is that the media can move onto something newer and shinier just as quickly. We just have to make the most of the opportunities that are offered to us when they are there.
That’s what I did when I was working behind a bar in the Bronx singing for tips and out of the blue got offered the chance to join Cherish the Ladies for a couple of weeks while one of the singers went on holiday.
I eventually stayed with them for 7 years singing lead in Concert Halls all over America and even Dublin, Glasgow and London.
My favourite ‘on the road’ story occurred while I was with Cherish the Ladies. We were playing Celtic Connections in Glasgow and after the concert, in true Irish-American tradition we went looking ‘for a drink’. It was quite late and the bar in our hotel had closed so someone suggested the Central Hotel a few streets away so off we went. We arrived just after midnight only to be told ‘the bar was for residents only’. Thankfully someone recognised my accent and said ‘the girls are with us’ and led us into the bar where………Shane McGowan and the rest of the Pogues were sitting.
After singing ‘the old songs’ all night we eventually got chucked out at 6am when the staff came in to set up the breakfast tables. So I can honestly say I’ve sung and drunk with Shane McGowan and lived to tell the tale.
I was meant to join Shane on stage at the Connections this year alongside Imelda May and Sharon Shannon but he was too ill to travel, which was a shame, perhaps next year?
Singing with others can be intimidating but great fun and I love learning new styles of singing and the challenges it offers; so I take every opportunity I can to ‘guest’ on albums as diverse as Eddi Reader and the Indie band Idlewild. Because of my relationship with John and Boo I meet a diverse range of musicians and we always end up saying “we must get together when I’m in the studio”; sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t, but I’m always on the look out for new challenges.
I played the accordion as a young girl then moved on to the ukulele (a most under-rated instrument in folk circles) and at the moment I’m even learning to play the harmonium which might get an outing in the Summer when we play a few Festivals or possibly the UK Tour in the Autumn but it will definitely be on the next album when it gets recorded in 2012.