The charms of Lady Maisery: meeting folk music’s finest

Arts Ambassador and 3rd year BA English and History student Gabriela Gurycz shares her thoughts on pre-concert meeting and live performance of 3 piece folk harmony group Lady Maisery at Turner Sims.

It doesn’t take a folk music enthusiast to be transported by Lady Maisery’s  harmonies with thoughtful lyrics of their songs, whether hearing their recordings through speakers or live. The gig took place in Turner Sims, a concert hall renowned for its fantastic acoustics, so I was sure that in the flesh, Lady Maisery would sound even more magical than I could imagine.

I had the amazing opportunity to meet the group beforehand, it was the first time I ever interviewed anyone. As expected I was giddy with nerves, but Lady Maisery were so interesting and fun that I had nothing to worry about. I loved hearing about their work and naturally, it helped me understand their music better. They gave me such thoughtful answers and fascinating insight into the world of folk.

“We all grew up with families that were involved in music and a lot of folk music.” Hannah James described their beginnings. “There’s quite a big folk scene in the UK, and there’s actually quite a big scene for young people to participate in as well, so we all kind of knew of each other. In 2009, Hazel decided that she wanted to have a vocal trio and then spoke to me about it, and then we looked for someone with a lower voice, and Hazel and Rowan ended up living together”

As soon as their performance began I found myself choked up, their arrangements were thoughtful and passionate. Their voices were beautiful, blended but distinct, each word they sang offering three various routes if one listened carefully enough. The way the songs moved were always intricate and complex, as fascinating to listen to when they sang a cappella as they were when they had a fuller sound.

Rowan Rheighans commented, “When we formed this band the idea was that the voice would be central to our project. And even though we all play many instruments in this band and the arrangements are often quite complex, the centre of the idea is really vocal work.”

Hannah: “It’s very much focused on three voices together rather than any one voice. We spent a long time trying to make our voices blend and make one sound in our songs. I use my voice quite differently in this trio to how I use it in other projects.”

Each song held a different story. Katy Cruel sings of a woman alienated from society; London Lights is the voice of a destitute mother left behind by her man, and Honest Work describes the plight of an unemployed man. Lady Maisery are extremely effective in bringing out our empathy for these characters who are judged or mistreated by the world, their issues highly relevant to people today. It made me contemplate how struggles and joys can be universal across time and space. Hazel Askew said, “We spent a lot of time together in cars and journeys talking about the world and politics and feminism, so I think all those things kind of wove their way into our song writing.”

Hannah James added on the nature of folk: “I think a lot of folk songs are political with a ‘small p’ because they’re about real people and their struggles and their lives, but they’re not necessarily talking about party politics.”

For me it was a gig that was not bound by the space, but instead took you into another world, one just beyond the concert hall, amongst nature and trees, perhaps gone, perhaps imagined, perhaps still here. Rowan Rheingans discussed their most recent album, “It is called Cycle and it’s not the first time we had a sort of more thematic approach but it’s probably the time we did it most like that. So a lot of the writing and arranging was informed by this theme of life cycles and cycles in nature.”

The sound of their fiddle, accordion, and of the harp accordions, the bells and foot percussion produce this timeless sound that seems intrinsically linked to a life that seemed purer and more connected to the world. Their songs contemplate life, and their joys of it through songs such as Sing For the Morning. Their joy is infectious and wholehearted, but they also don’t shy away from the ending of cycles and death. Their contemplations in songs such as Order and Chaos, dedicated to the late Stephen Hawking, are moving and thoughtful, tranquil in their acceptance of the vastness of time and the world.

I walked home singing to myself, feeling privileged at meeting three wonderful women and hearing them play. I’m grateful to them for igniting this new interest in me and I’m excited to explore more folk music for myself. I would love to conduct more interviews in the future. It is a great experience when someone is willing to sit with you and let you pick their brains and what they had to say before the gig made a huge impact on how I understood and enjoyed their performance. Thank you to the team at Turner Sims for arranging this opportunity for me and hosting yet another beautiful act in their venue.

Lady Maisery performed at Turner Sims on 18 March 2018

Find out more about Lady Maisery here .

Arts Ambassadors is a paid opportunity, supported by the Careers and Employability Service’s Excel Southampton Internship programme, University of Southampton.

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