Scottish folk singer Karine Polwart will celebrate the release of her seventh solo album with an England-wide tour beginning in Cadogan Hall, Chelsea, next week.
The singer-songwriter won BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer of the Year 2018, and has won six other BBC Radio 2 Folk awards since recording her first solo album Faultlines in 2003. Her new album, Laws of Motion, will be released on 17 October on the same day her tour begins.
Polwart has an idiosyncratic style of songwriting; she writes songs about other people’s stories.
She said: “I think the themes drew me to tell the stories.
“I like the stories because they connect with you—though if you listen to the songs you can still find me in between.”
Though much of Polwart’s work seems to be in eavesdropping on the lives of others, it’s not always human lives she draws upon.
Her previous album, A Pocket of Wind Resistance, began as a theatre piece about the pink-footed geese that migrate to near Polwart’s home in Fala, just outside of Edinburgh.
Polwart says that folk music has a rich tradition of telling stories about how we move through our lives, about understanding those movements, and the natural world has always been a major backdrop to these stories.
TELLING STORIES: Karine will play Cadogan Hall ahead of the release of her new album
The fifth song on the album, Cornerstone, for example, is about the Isle of May National Nature Reserve, and it compares the ritual, solitary, mindful practice of ornithological research with the religious rituals of the 12th century Priory that once called the island home.
The next song, Matsuo’s Welcome to Muckhart, tells the story of a Japanese man who sailed 5,000 miles to Scotland after losing his family in Japan’s Great Kantō earthquake of 1923, and how he set up a Japanese garden that still stands to this day.
I Burn but I am Not Consumed is a spoken word piece on Donald Trump, written from the point of view of the rock of the Isle of Lewis, where Trump’s Scottish mother was born.
The lyrics read: “That son of Mary Anne MacLeod is powerful; so too is the North Sea.
“The marbled, metamorphic rock of Lewis is two-thirds the age of Earth — amongst the very oldest found on our planet. It knows about power.”
Place is very important to Polwart, as is the rooting of our lives in the natural world.
She says that she is working on a project with writer Robert Macfarlane next year in a mission to bring back natural words dropped from the Oxford Junior Dictionary — words like ‘heron’, ‘lark’ and ‘acorn’.
She said: “If you lose language, you lose all sense of care for the lost things.”
Given the complexity, the sensitivity and depth of her songs, Polwart says that playing live gives her a chance to contextualise the stories.
Besides nature and politics, Polwart’s new album also touches on stories of holocaust surivivors, WW2 and allegorical folk stories.
She said: “My desire is always to connect with people; bringing them in beside the fire.”
Though she admitted her first performance at Cadogan Hall would be her biggest and most stressful venue, she will undoubtedly take listeners on image-rich soliloquies to Scotland, to Earth, and back home again.
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