June 2017 supported by Gareth Lee & Annie Baylis
How Was It For You?
The Willows are a folk roots family band from Cambridge. Fronted by the breathtaking voice of Jade Rhiannon, supported by rich vocal harmonies and sensitive acoustic musicianship the band draw inspiration from the Americana and British folk traditions in equal quantity. Debut album ‘Beneath Our Humble Soil” was championed by the likes of Mike Harding and Bob Harris. Their second album “Amidst Fiery Skies” received a 5 star review by the Telegraph.
First seen by one of the ACE Space volunteers at the 2014 Shrewsbury Folk Festival they were scheduled to play ACE Space in October 2015 but that whole tour had to be rescheduled (due to Jade discovering she was pregnant). The rescheduled gig for April 2016 turned out to be the first (and only up to the date) gig the band had to cancel due to illness. So, at last we were able to introduce Newbury to the wonderful music of The Willows and they proved to be well worth waiting for. Originally booked as a 5 piece band they appeared as a 6 piece which included new bass player John Parker. It also turned out to be the last gig with one of the bands founder members Prue, Prue’s place in the band has been filled by Katriona Gillmore who we have seen at ACE Space as half of the duo Gillmore & Roberts,
Those ACE Spacers sufficiently old (er, mature) may well experience the same tingle they experienced when first listening to early Fairport Convention (i.e. before Liege and Lief).
Unpublished interview that Stephen Ottner did with Ben Savage, who plays guitar and dobro in the band, a couple of weeks before the gig.
I understand the band has been together for 7 years – how did it all start?
We formed as a bit of a family band! Cliff & Jade were recently married, & Prue is Cliff’s sister… They were all looking to form a band. I had just moved to the area and didn’t know anyone so put an ad on Gumtree listing a few of my writing/playing influences and within a week or so we met up and formed The Willows! We’ve had such a blast since… we’re so lucky we all hit it off in the first place!
What musical influences and interests did the various members of the band bring?
We did a lot of music swapping and influence checking in those early days and it was amazing how much we all had in common at that point…. Primarily a shared interest in both North American roots music and folk music from the British Isles. Jade and I love lots of singers from the 60s folk revival over here (Shirley Collins, Anne Briggs, Bert Jansch etc.); Cliff and I bond over a load of Americana and alt-country (Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt, Ryan Adams, Gram Parsons etc.); we all admit the massive influence of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings on our writing; and whilst our particular penchants vary, 70s rock is never neglected in these conversations either… We once convinced Bob Harris to spin the extended version of Fleetwood Mac – Gold Dust Woman from vinyl for a R2 show… In fairness, he needed very little persuasion!
The Telegraph’s 5 star review of your “Amidst Fiery Sky” album categorised your music as “folk-country” and commented on the Americana influences. Is that the way you would describe your style of music?
We’d probably have taken the 5 stars without moaning even if they’d have put us in the Trance section to be honest! It’s tricky for journalists I guess… Although we’d We’re definitely influenced by people from both sides of the Atlantic, we write our own songs, but also arrange traditional songs; so they often call us things like that, or “roots” or “folk roots” or “transatlantic” or whatever. It’s certainly never been a case of “now we’ll arrange a folk song”, “now we’ll write a country song” etc… It’s just how it sounds! How long does the world have to enjoy singing a country song for it to be called a folk song anyway?
You’ve played with some of my favourite big names such as Seth Lakeman, Peatbog Fairies and Lau and some of the most prestigious festivals. Indeed, it was Shrewsbury Folk Festival where I first saw you. Are there any gigs that stand out as particularly memorable or special?
We love playing live; always have and probably always will so this question has a thousand different and legitimate answers! Cambridge Folk Festival is pretty special for us, as it was the one that gave us our first big step up, a lot sooner than any of us imagined. We landed a spot there in the club tent during our first year together I think, and really didn’t expect anyone to notice or care that we were there but the response from the crowd that night was amazing and after that things really took off for us. We were really fortunate to be put in the tent with those people on that night!
The economics of touring with a 5 piece band must be tough but you have recently added a 6th member. What prompted the decision to add an extra person?
The live show has grown a lot over the last couple of years and as we’ve played bigger stages we’ve craved more and more depth of sound, wider dynamic ranges and more variety. John’s a fantastic player so we were delighted to welcome him aboard. It’s a really exciting time for us a live band and we’re really enjoying playing for people again!
I notice that from May to August this year your tour has very few dates, certainly compared to previous years. This makes your inclusion of ACE Space even more special to us. Is there any particular reason for the slow-down?
We’re writing and recording a record… Not allowed to tell you when it’ll be out yet, but it’s happening, and we’re really excited for it! Aside from that we’ve all got other music happening… Cliff is doing some shows with the Megson band, Eve with Sam Kelly, and I have duo shows with Hannah Sanders.