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those days. Living in London, been important to Janet, as Never Happen, written after the be a good idea to run a group
you’d travel for hours before you highlighted on her previous CD Chernobyl disaster - that suited that I could walk to from my back
got anywhere, and that I found Bright Shining Morning? with its me down to the ground!” door, which would bring in some
stressful, although once I got lingering question mark. “One money. So ten years ago I started
to the gig it was usually a nice can’t help but be concerned about In Sisters Unlimited, Janet joined up the Silsden Singers, and it’s
experience.” it, and annoyed about what big Sandra Kerr, Peta Webb and still going strong. I set up another
business is doing, and the lack of Rosie Davis. “I first saw them at group in Settle, and I started doing
At the same time, Janet began government action. Comments the Empress of Russia, one of the guest work with local choirs, so it
to gain confidence in her song- need to be made!” best folk clubs in North London at became a good steady stream of
writing ability. “I’d written poetry the time, and really enjoyed them; income, and it didn’t involve the
as a child, and at university I Talking to Janet about songwriting, I liked the fact that they were travelling and the getting home at
began to think about singing my brings me to Jim Woodland’s funny, and bold about pointing three in the morning!”
own songs in public, but it wasn’t songs. “What I love is that they’re out certain issues without being
until I developed my political fearless; they have a fierce sense too heavy. Sandra is a force to Community choirs have sprung
agenda in London that I seriously of humour, and he’s not scared be reckoned with: she’s a great up all over the country, and
began writing songs. Initially of weird emotional content. Why singer-songwriter, concertina several singers from the folk
they were written for other people Are You Dead is a very beautiful, player and guitarist – I remember scene are involved with them.
But they’re by no means an
“... Sandra Kerr was my mentor in the field
exclusively folkie phenomenon,
with eclectic repertoires from the
Beach Boys to Ladysmith Black
Mambazo, and sometimes a
of voice workshops. I always admired the
political agenda. “Music within
the socialist movement is very
old, through the Workers’ Music
Association and so on. Of the
way she made people feel comfortable, and
three choirs I work with regularly,
the East Lancashire Clarion
choir are the most political. I
was out with them in Burnley
knew technically what she was doing.”
on Mayday singing Raise Your
Banners High with the local brass
band, and we’re very involved
with community work and racial
who weren’t particularly folkies, she was really indignant when integration - a big issue in Burnley,
but sometimes I’d try singing one someone tried to compliment her these days. ‘Settle Voices’ are
myself and get a good response. by saying she played guitar like a more interested in the songs of
Secretary’s Song was part of that man!” their area, so we’ve researched
process - I’d done some temp local traditional material and
work to make extra money in Sisters Unlimited gave the members have contributed songs
London, and I was talking to other impression that they really - one has written a nice song
women who were exploring that enjoyed working together. about dry-stone walling. ‘Silsden
‘office wife’ concept. They knew “Oh yes, it was a lot of fun - we Singers’ are open to everything:
all about computer software, used to laugh a lot, and we did Eastern European, African or
could take shorthand and type at good stuff. But in the end there newly-written stuff; we took part
ridiculous rates, and knew how were different pulls and pushes on in a multi-cultural project called
to run a business, but no matter people, and although we still get Bradford, The Musical, which
how good their skills were, they together for gigs, we couldn’t tour included a lot of different ethnic
were always being asked to make regularly any more. I’m absolutely influences.”
the tea and coffee and collect the not saying that all the issues for
boss’s suit at lunchtime. They women are done and dusted, but The choir work has been beneficial
said that, if the boss wasn’t there, maybe the time for that group is to her musical understanding,
things would run completely passed, and I feel the name itself explains Janet: “Stopping regular
smoothly without him!” is a product of its time.” performing was really sad - I felt as
if I’d cut off my leg, or something.
The resulting song, with its honest song about grief, and how Sandra Kerr was an influence But though I’ve been further
barbed wit and ironically frivolous people get angry with a person in another way that proved very away from performing music,
“Tippy-toppy typing” hook line, who’s died, but a lot of people important to Janet’s career. teaching it has made me more
had listeners’ letters and phone had very strong reactions when “Sandra was my mentor in the thorough and systematic about
calls pouring in from the first play Jim sang that. Sanctuary was the field of voice workshops. I what I’m doing. With the choirs,
on Folk on Two. And although one that I really liked to do…..” always admired the way she I learned why certain things work
Janet’s new CD concentrates on Here Janet goes off on a chortling made people feel comfortable, and others don’t, and scoring
the tradition, she’s still writing digression: “Margaret Thatcher and knew technically what my own harmony arrangements
songs, including a reworking was such a loss, don’t you think? she was doing. I did a course taught me a lot, as well – it’s very
of Lakes of Ponchartrain from She was such a great figure to with Frankie Armstrong; she’d different from working them out
the woman’s point of view, rail against – it was great fun! But started up the Natural Voice spontaneously with a group.”
and a song about present-day the way working class women Practitioners’ Network, of which
environmental problems. “The got politicised during that miners’ I became a member. Christine One of the reasons for the
Pigeon and the Sparrow is about strike was huge, and Sanctuary Kydd had a qualification in voice popularity of community choirs
the funny fact that although the encapsulated that. Bury My and speech as well, and we did is surely the physical experience
world is warming up, Northern Heart was another one with an workshops together - we didn’t of singing together, as church
Britain could become colder if environmental message that I always see eye to eye, but it was congregations, football fans and
the Gulf Stream cools - it’s just loved, although it wasn’t quite a very interesting exchange of the drunks at the back of the
a daft little song about two birds within my comfort zone because knowledge. I realised that singing bus have known for generations.
talking to one another about how it had a rocky beat to it, so I don’t workshops and community choirs Janet explains that it’s not just
confusing it all is.” Degradation perform it much. And I really were becoming more and more about ‘feelgood’ hormones and
of the environment has always liked the bitter irony in Accidents popular and I thought it would emotional highs, but physiology
The Living Tradition - Page 1
Issue80.indd 16 14/7/08 14:48:33
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