Friday, 30 October 2015

ANGE HARDY

INTERVIEW

We are all guilty of missing the history on our own doorstep, so often it's other people who point out what's interesting or historic about the places we see and visit every day. 

Ange Hardy
This happened to folk singer Ange Hardy in a spectacular way, she was unaware of one of world's most famous romantic poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, literally being under her nose but even more remarkable is the way she addressed the shortfall in her knowledge.
Hardy lives in a little village just outside Watchet in Somerset which is about half way along The Coleridge Way, a trail which the poet, famed for such epics as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan walked, but was blissfully unaware of the significance of the route.
"I have walked past the statue of the Ancient Mariner a thousand times. I had never heard of the Albatross or anything like that.
"I think having left school really early and though my past of running away and being out of the education circles from about 13 onwards I was just never in the right place or around the right people to learn about Coleridge. Then I moved down here as a mother, so it’s just not something I had ever come across. I didn’t even realise it was a he.
"I thought it was just the name of the walk. So I really had no idea at all."
This makes what happened next all the more remarkable.
"My husband came up with the idea. He started talking about Coleridge and suggested I write a song about him.
"I knew straight away that it was something I could write about."
Hardy went one better with a whole album, Esteesee - taken from how Coleridge liked to write his initials, but the award-winning singer knew it wasn't going to be easy.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
"It was a huge risk. The worst part for me is that I am not a hugely literate person, although I have kind of taught myself over the years and learned to read. I am still a very slow reader.
"One book in particular which I fell in love with, A Bondage of Opium, it was absolutely huge, a great big thick, brick of a book.
"It was quite daunting because it’s very dense, but the great thing about Coleridge is although he was writing in old English times it’s still very accessible, it’s not wordy in an unapproachable way. So I was able to get into it?
So then there was a massive cramming session until she could get to a point where she felt able to start writing.
"I spent about two weeks with my head buried in books from morning until night and I listened to a lot of audio stuff when I could.
"As ideas came up I saved them. I had almost a month in December(2014) to research and then I had 24 days in January to write the 14 songs.
"I just pieced together all the bits that had inspired me along the way. Songs jumped out at me very quickly, it was a different writing experience but quite an easy one in that I was really inspired by the poems and the man himself.
"Of course you have the starting point, you have the bones for songs there already. Especially for things like the Foster Mother’s Tale, which is already this fabulous folk story.

So how did building up the songs differ than if you started from scratch?
"I never allowed it to restrict me, it was never a case of I am going to put this poem to music, it was always I am going to interpret this poem through music.
"I allowed it to grow and change, and I never got stuck on ‘Oh! It’s got to be the exact words’ or anything like that.
"I added verses and obviously some songs, such as My Captain haven’t got any of Coleridge's words in it at all.
"But they were just inspired by a particular chapter or verse it was all very organic.
"The writing process is something I really find just flows, so it helped to have a starting point, definitely as long as I didn't get hung up on it."

Were people surprised when you admitted that he was unknown to you until this project?

"I have always made no bones about the fact that I didn't know anything about him so I have tried to make it as clear and transparent as possible.
"Mostly because you can only do so much research in a month and obviously your research can only be based on what you discover within that time, therefore it can’t always be accurate.
"I think it’s important people knew that, so that when they listen to this album they've got this in mind. I was slightly embarrassed about it at first but then I realised it was a strength not a weakness and people seem to see it in that same light, they've very rarely question it.
"I was worried people would judge or question my research or they would think I was not clever enough to take on something that should only be taken by scholars or by people who are completely literate.
The Coleridge Way
"The thing that cracked that for me was I stumbled across a piece of writing from Coleridge talking about how poetry in 18th century wasn't accessible to normal people.
"And how you were only allowed to read it or have an opinion on it if you were a scholar, he wanted it to be accessible to everyone, literate or not.
"Once I came across that I thought, actually perhaps Coleridge wouldn't mind me doing this and perhaps not being perfect at understanding the meaning. A lot of Coleridge's followers have said it’s refreshing to hear the view on the poetry that has come from an inward understanding rather than a taught understanding.

Have you had chance to gauge the reaction to your album and your research?
"It’s been hugely positive from the Coleridge Society and the Friends of Coleridge, the response has been really affirming and amazing.
"One of the things I was expecting to perhaps be a stumbling block was Kubla Khan. I felt I really had to keep it as a poem and I also didn't want to hide it away at the end of the CD.
"I knew that was a big risk and thought a lot of my fans would say 'I just don’t get it',  I just thought people wouldn't like it. But everyone seems to get why I took the approach I did. It’s one of the standout tracks which gets mentioned a lot."

Obviously there is a lot more to be discovered about Coleridge so did you have difficulty finding a finishing point?
"Because I had such a set amount of time, then it was the songs that flowed quickly and instantly which made the cut so there were things where I was quite inspired such as the Lime Tree Bower but just didn't have time to write that song and it didn't flow as easily as some of the others.
"There is a whole album just in the Ancient Mariner, so trying to condense it was a real challenge.
"What I did was focus on the bits that jumped out at me and flowed out, and made those the pieces which made the album come together.
"It became cohesive because it was all from the same place and the same vein of writing because I wrote it so quickly. Had I been given two years to write it I think it could possibly have been harder to make it cohesive because it’s such a big topic.

Is there likely to be an Esteesee II then?
"I don’t think so, what was so lovely about this project is that I came from a place of nothing, a place of no understanding to a place of understanding and I am really happy with it.
"I kind of want to leave it in that happy place. I don’t want to make it any more sophisticated or dig any deeper because I think part of what’s lovely about it is that it was me discovering poetry for the first time in my life, that’s what for me makes it very special.
"I think it will definitely influence my writing in the future but because of Coleridge, I am a lifelong fan now, but would I ever use his work again, I don’t think so.

Did you ever get to a point where you thought this is too big or felt overwhelmed?
"Yes, when I first held that book I thought 'Oh, come on I can’t read that!', but it’s surprising what you can achieve if you just try.
"That was my fear getting into really dense books and heavy language.
The Ancient Mariner
It's a little like reading something like the King James Bible. When you are reading old English you have to read it for a little while, you kind of have to get into that frame of mind, and that happened to me.
"I got to the point where the words started flowing a lot easier and make sense, rather than reading a line 10 times over, I only had to read it twice.
"So it was daunting; it was a big project."

Did the process of getting it done in those two months give you focus or are you very focused anyway?
"I am a very, very focused person, I think the writing was fine because I am quite a prolific writer.
"The bit that I struggled with was putting together the tour in the time I was given.
"I found that harder because I am not good at picking up the phone and calling people, and there was a three-day period where I had to call up all the B&Bs along The Coleridge Way and say, 'Hi my name is Ange can you give me a free room?' Which was really awkward and not the way I normally do things.

Where do you start the process of creating songs and albums?
"There is really no rule or rhyme to it. There will be bits come to me when I see a beautiful bit of scenery when I am driving home from somewhere and I will start humming a tune, or a few words will come to me.
"But then there is the other approach of just sitting down with a guitar and coming up with the riff and building on that.
"I have recently been looking at more structured writing. But generally there is no rule it’s just how each song happens to happen."

You have admirably taught yourself to play the guitar and song writing so do you ever feel intimidated by people who have learned through more traditional routes, do you ever feel you have missed out?
"In some ways yes, I always feel gutted that I can’t just sit down at a piano with a book and play.
"But at the same time I can always sit down at a piano and play it’s just a different approach.
"There was a really sweet moment when I was in the studio with Patsy (Reid) and she asked 'what key’s it in?' and I said 'I don’t know. I don’t do music.' She just rolled about on the floor laughing.
"I don’t know what key my songs are in and sometimes that can be a bit of a pain when you are working with session musicians, it helps to know keys and that kind of basic terminology which I am starting to get a grip on.
"I know what most of my chords are called now."

Have you got a clear vision of what you are going to do next?
"Yes, we have plans for another album and for a couple of tours. As for ambition the only thing I want to achieve is to get to a point where this doesn’t take from my family, that’s the only thing that worries me at the moment is that because we have been investing so much in it I worry about taking time from my family."

Ange Hardy is performing songs from Esteesee at the Kitchen Garden Cafe, King’s Heath, Birmingham on Monday November 9. The show starts 8pm and tickets are £9 in advance or £11 on the night.