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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

An interview with Rapunzel and Sedayne on the release of new album Songs From The Barley Temple

Folk musicians Rapunzel and Sedayne have crafted an astonishing new album from the very best of old time and modern day influences. Find out more about their unique process in this in depth interview.

Written by Amelia Gregory

rapunzel_sedanye_by_ada_jusic
Rapunzel and Sedanye by Ada Jusic.

It’s no secret that I am partial to a bit of old time folk music: it’s the sound of many a campfire singalong, a narrative tradition of music that is participatory rather than merely made for an audience to consume. And I love to discover new folk that dwells on old time tunes but with new arrangements, new harmonies and new stories to tell. I fell for Rapunzel and Sedayne as soon as I heard them on Soundcloud, a gorgeous duo clammering away on a variety of exotic instruments to create subtly haunting tunes that sound as relevant and wonderful today as their influences.

Can you tell us a bit about your life up to now? It sounds most intriguing. For example how did you come to fall in love with folk music, and what other things have you done before this album?
Rapunzel: I’ve always loved singing since I was a child – influenced by my dad who is a great harmony singer himself, but not musically trained so he made sure my sister and I got music lessons early on. I started piano at six, but far from being a child prodigy I hated it and really only started understanding music in my late teens when I stopped trying to read it and started listening to what I was playing. There is an annual folk festival in my home town and I remember seeing the likes of Fred Jordan, Jim Eldon, Peter Bellamy and June Tabor who all had an influence on me as I was growing up. In my late teens and twenties I did the singer-songwriter thing with my guitar, but in recent years and by working with Sean I have got back in touch with the old folk songs.

Rapunzel and Sedayne cover
Sedayne: Folk was part of the zeitgeist of my childhood. Everything from Dr Who and Catweazle to Strawbs, Gentle Giant and the Third Ear Band and a shelf load of books on folksong and folklore most of which are now entirely discredited but still mean a lot to me. It was integral to the landscapes in which I grew up – ballads and legends and bagpipes – all of which informed my own approach and most crucially in the areas I explore with Rachel. We’ve done a number of projects over the years from experimental music with Martin Archer to neo-folk tracks on various compilation albums such as Infernal Proteus and three volumes of John Barleycorn Reborn. We’ve just done a song on the subject of Werewolves for a project in Sweden – it is an exquisite facsimile of a 19th century study of Werewolves in Swedish folklore with a disk of specially composed songs. Think Porcupine meets Being Human


 
Fairytale Folk by Claire Jones
Fairytale Folk by Claire Jones.

Sedayne, I understand that you are a specialist in ancient and traditional instruments, and on this album you play kemence, violin, crwth, flute and kaossilator. I don’t know what three of those are, can you tell us more about them and the sounds they make?
Sedayne: At the high end is the kemence from Turkey – also known as the Black Sea Fiddle. It’s small, extremely versatile and ideal for the music we do. At the bottom end is the crwth – a medieval bowed-lyre that was made for me in 1983 by Tim Hobrough (long before the current crwth revival I might add) so it’s a big part of my musical life and thinking. In the middle is the violin – which is an extension of both in a way, though people say I play the violin like a crwth and the crwth like a violin. I was playing crwth and kemence long before I got into the violin, which Rachel insisted upon when she got into the banjo some years ago. The banjo and violin make good bedfellows. The Kaossilator is a looping phrase synthesizer from Korg that replaces the tyranny of the keyboard with a X-Y pad because it’s primarily designed for DJs! it’s also the size of a decent slice of toast. Along with an electric Shruti box, we use it for loops, drones and washes. 

rapunzel and sedayne by sarah-jayne
Rapunzel and Sedayne by Sarah-Jayne Morris.

You’re a couple – did the music or the romance come first and how does it inform the way that you work? 
Rapunzel:  We were friends for several years before we became a couple. We met at the Durham City Folk Club which at that time was at The Colpitts. It was a golden age for that club in terms of harmony singing and it’s true that Sean and I were communicating through singing together long before we had a conversation. 
Sedayne: Rachel’s musicality had always impressed me & she always did amazing things. It’s odd but the only time we really row together is when we’re working on music. Maybe that’s why we do it? It’s a natural catharsis that always gives rise to something because Rachel is invariably right anyway. We always record live – in real time, no multitracking, which is part of that energy too.
 
Barley Temple - 30-1-11 - Rapunzel
You have quite an old fashioned folk sound. What are your influences and how do you think you differ from those influences or include elements of them?
Rapunzel: Melodically and vocally my influences probably come from the artists I’ve listened to most: Jane Siberry, Judee Sill, Laura Nyro, Tori Amos, David Bowie. But the old songs are lyrically so much more straightforward, telling a story, reporting an event, simple but effective imagery, no hidden meanings, and that is what I love about them. 

Barley Temple - 30-1-11 - Sedayne
Sedayne: The songs are the main influence. I keep saying that we’re not trying to breathe new life into them so much as draw new life from them. It’s a cultural communion as much as it is about doing something in our way, or being deliberately idiosyncratic, though people say we are, but we’re not conscious of that. It’s an old thing as you say, but so is language, baking bread and sex. Most of time we’re listening to pop or classical or early music or jazz or tuning into Tim Westwood but when it comes to doing our own thing it tends towards something pretty archaic to most ears – even folk ears, because we’re less interested in revival conventions than we are more ancient and traditional forms. It’s folk art basically; rugged, earthy and hand-crafted.

Rapunzel & Sedanyne, Tales from The Barley Temple, by Celine Elliott
Rapunzel & Sedanyne, Tales from The Barley Temple, by Celine Elliott.

How important is the folk scene in Lancashire to your process? And are there any folk clubs or meet ups or festivals that you recommend a visitor should go to?
Rapunzel: Strangely enough I didn’t start performing until I left Lancashire, having neither the confidence nor the encouragement. But settling back home, and particularly singing and playing with the Preston Club has helped to make this album what it is.
Sedayne: The Preston Club is the Holy of Holies for us as far as the local Folk Scene goes. It’s very small though. Not select, just awkward as far as audiences or visitors go. I think of it more of a master-class where we can bask in the genius of musicians like Hugh O’Donnell, Tom Walsh, Neil Brook and Dave Peters although what we do is very different to what they do. We do things at the Fylde Folk Festival either just as ourselves or working on projects with other artists, like Ross Campbell and local song-writer Ron Baxter who has an approach we quite like. We’ve only been in Lancashire for four years though – so I don’t think we identify that much with the local scene which I get the impression hasn’t changed in fifty years, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing just Rachel and I are both essentially nomads with itchy feet. We’ve lived in Worth Abbey, Brancepeth Castle, Durham City, the Deerness Valley, Lytham Saint Annes, Lancaster… I’m amazed and disturbed that you can live in a place for over four years and still be regarded – and resented – as a newcomer. After four years I’m thinking – where next?

Rapunzel rach
How did you choose the old songs that you covered? have they been much loved for years or were they specially sourced for the album?
Rapunzel: The Max Hunter archive - an online resource from Missouri State University – is particularly important. I love the songs of Ollie Gilbert that feature on there. Silver Dagger and Diver Boy are from her singing.
Sedayne: We spend a lot of time browsing old field recordings and archives. I always think it’s best that you let the songs choose you, that way they’re easier to learn, they don’t resist you. A lot of those songs we’ve been singing since we met, like Poor Old Horse which I got off Jim Eldon twenty years ago or more. That’s the thing I really remember Rachel singing on before we talked to each other. Her harmony was the most amazingly different thing in an otherwise normal Folk club chorus, so over the years we’ve kept evolving that feel in terms of how our voices work together. I don’t think anyone can own a song, but you have your own way of doing it which is what a song is – it becomes a vehicle to help you find your own voice, which is what you hear from the old singers anyway – a gladsome diversity of an infinity of approaches. Contrary to a lot of Folk thinking, there’s no right or wrong here, and what happens happens. We also improvise a lot, so things change, and always for the better. I must stress that, because we’re doing songs now that I used to do years ago but they’ve never sounded better than they do now even though to some people the old ones will always be best, which is absurd. New fruit is always best I find…

Repunzel and Sedayne by Jennifer Crouch
Repunzel and Sedayne by Jennifer Crouch.

In Porcupine in October Sycamore there are all sorts of incidental sounds including ducks and a dog barking to the beat – what informed your choice to include these kind of sounds?
Rapunzel: What sounds like a dog is more likely a goose. The version with wildfowl is on the Soundcloud rather than the album version.
Sedayne: The field recordings are of diverse wild-fowl from Blackpool Zoo - where the Porcupines live who inspired us to make that song, which is an old-fashioned sounding song about the sorts of non-native elements we embrace as our cultural whole. I was born a multi-cultural UK – I’m a product of that, and I cherish it very dearly. In the local Folk Scene you routinely hear songs in which it is lamented that that the local fish & chip shop is now a Chinese takeaway. I despair at times, I really do. The best thing someone said about Porcupine was that they thought it was a Rudyard Kipling poem set to music by Peter Bellamy. Maybe they were confusing Porcupines with Armadillos?   

Rapunzel and Sedayne interior
In real life you are known as Rachel McCarron and Sean Breadin. Where do your pseudonyms Rapunzel and Sedayne come from?
Sedayne: Rapunzel got her name from a song she sang when we first met. No one knew her name at the time and in the song she sings Call Me Rapunzel, so we did, and the name stuck, even with people who knew her anyway. Sedayne comes from Brian Sedane which is a very old anagram of my given name. I don’t know how or when it acquired the Y or at which point I lost the Brian. There’s no mystical thing here, it’s just random. The best anagram of Sean Breadin is Insane Beard.
Rapunzel: I think Rapunzel was the second song I wrote, when I was 19. Still sing it occasionally.
Sedayne: You can hear Rapunzel on Rachel’s myspace page, along with Sarah Sometimes, another song about naming. People always call Rachel ‘Sarah’; it’s one of these weird things that’s happened all her life, so she wrote a song about her imaginary alter-ego. You can also hear my folk:funk remix ‘Sarah Sometimes’ which reveals some of our other sensitivities. Someone even called her Sarah on the phone the other day! Maybe we’ll do Rapunzel on the next album as people have expressed bafflement over the name, or think it’s in some way contrived (in Folk? Heaven forefend!) but Rapunzel & Sedayne is what we call ourselves because that’s what people call us anyway, and no-one could pronounce Venereum Arvum, which is the name we use for our darker projects, without making it sound like a social disease. We did our last album Pentacle of Pips of Venereum Arvum (download it on bandcamp) and are releasing Fire and Hemlock as Venereum Arvum (on vinyl) in the new year. The name means Field of Pleasure – an erotic metaphor from Sir Richard Burton‘s translations of The Sportive Epigrams of Priapus from ancient Rome.

Rapunzel and Sedayne by Rebecca Oliver
Rapunzel and Sedayne by Rebecca Oliver.

Your music is described as ‘haunting’ and I’ve certainly had it on repeat since I first received it. How do you hope that it will be enjoyed and what do you hope its effect might be on people?
Sedayne: The songs are haunting in themselves and the music we make comes from the songs. Some people see that as being weird and esoteric but we’re really just a husband and wife Folk ‘n’ Fun duo even though we like the spookier Gothic side of things which is there in spades in the old ballads and songs of ceremony. We love MR James and Diana Wynne Jones and Phil Rickman and HP Lovecraft but it’s essential to keep things in perspective regarding what they actually are, or what their actual function might be. People hearing us doing The Gower Wassail (for example) might think it’s a very occult or pagan song, but when you go to the source (the great Phil Tanner – check him out!) you’ll find it’s nothing of the sort. These things run pretty deep though and people relate to them on all sorts of levels, which is fine by us.

§Rapunzel and Sedayne Songs from the Barley Temple cover art
Will you be touring this album at all and what next in general for Rapunzel and Sedayne?
Rapunzel: We’re always finding and developing new old songs, and some new new ones, so we’re already trying to reduce the longlist for the next album.
Sedayne: We’ve been featuring a lot of those songs in our repertoire for a while now – as Rachel says we’re always evolving new songs and revisiting old ones, so our shows are always a mix of whatever it is we’re up to at any given time. We’ve got some gigs coming up in November & December which will feature a mix of things from the Barley Temple album as well certain inevitable Seasonal Material you’ll find on the Soundcloud site nearer the time. We’re playing at the Kit & Cutter club in London on 3rd December, the Kirkby Fleetham Folk Club on the 19th of November, and The Chase Folk Club in Staffordshire on the 2nd of December.  We’re also doing a session for Radio Shropshire on 23rd of October for Genevieve Tudor‘s folk programme… We have this thing of Singing the Calendar Round, but I like the fact that Songs from the Barley Temple has been called ‘The ideal October album‘ (by Stewart Lee in the Sunday Times no less) because one thing about the old songs is that they bring you home in a way – home to the hearth, the orchard, as the days get shorter and year darkens. These things are no longer literal – they’re part of a mythic idyll and that’s a very ancient which we still feel today, even if I do find notions of the viscera of pagan sacrificial victims living on in Christmas Tree decorations a little far-fetched, it still gives you a notion of continuity and of home, and belonging, which (getting back to the previous question) is maybe something we like to share with our audiences and listeners, but I bet (and hope) no one feels it in exactly the same way.

Songs From The Barley Temple is out now on Folk Police Recordings. You can hear more of Rapunzel and Sedayne on Soundcloud and Bandcamp.

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