Saturday, 21 May 2016

Eight questions with Lewis Barfoot

(c) Patrick Dodds
1. Who is Lewis Barfoot (a short introduction)

Lewis Barfoot is a female nu-folk singer songwriter. She’s half Irish, half english & currently living in Brockley. She released her 5 track debut EP “Catch Me” this January and is working toward her debut album.

2. When was the recent EP ‘Catch Me’ recorded, and where? If there is an interesting story behind how you and any producers & session players met and started playing together, please do share.

My debut EP “Catch Me” was recorded last summer at Alex Forster’s Studio in Wimbledon, London. I met Alex at the Asylum (Peckham) in 2013, an awesome crumbling old chapel that opens its doors to performance. My boyfriend was performing a solo dance theatre show which Alex had composed the music for (with Jamie Catto), and he was also the sound engineer. I met Alex before the show and we totally clicked, we nattered away about the acoustics of the asylum and how awesome it would be to sing in the space. Two years later I recorded title track of “Catch Me” in the Asylum with Alex.

That night was a special night - not only did I meet Alex, I got engaged! Not to alex! At the end of the performance my boyfriend said there was going to be an “extra scene” in the show, he invited me onto the stage and took me for a little walk around the “set” whereupon he found a little box which had been hanging under a helium ballon for the whole performance. It contained an engagement ring, he proposed in front of everyone and I said yes! Alex recorded the whole thing and was part of the whole set up.

3. How was the EP launch show at St Pancras Old Church earlier this year, how did the EP go down with the audience? Whenever we're helping artists play there, we bring candles and velvet cushions - what did you bring to make the show a special experience for fans?

The launch was a delight - we packed the venue out, I had a superb team of friends who made the place look stunning. Nao Nagai - a live artist and lighting designer friend of mine was in charge of set and lights: she arranged Fresh Ivy (cut from my neighbour's garden) around the mic stands, stage & the keyboard. There were candles everywhere and it felt like a sacred medieval folk celebration with a twist of Game of Thrones - partly due to the faux furs as it was pretty chilly inside! The ambience was magical. I’ve worked for 10 years as an actress and theatre maker so staging and setting is an integral part of any performance I make - when I have bigger budgets to play with I can't wait to introduce more theatricality to my gigs. I saw Antony from Antony and the Johnsons at the Opera house a few years back and his use of light and space was stunning, opening up more and more of the space as the concert progressed, and I think Boy George appeared for a duet. I didn't have Boy George but we created a cracking night with great sound and an audience to die for who, as well as brilliant support from 'I Am Moon'.

4. Who is your audience and how do you connect with your fans? Any crazy, fun, exciting stories are very welcome…

My audience is primarily those who have seen me live and fans and artists I've met through social media. I find Twitter is the best way to engage and a great forum to connect with people directly. I send out a monthly message to my mailing list, telling people what gigs are coming up and trying to inspire them to do and be what they want to be and to create their own magic and artistry in their own lives.

For my EP recording I crowdfunded with Fundrazr. There was such a positive response and it was really exciting to engage with people. I had some lovely feedback about how my pursuit of my own artistic journey was an inspiration for other people to follow their own dreams - I love to inspire people like that.

Oh - one really cute thing- a friend send a video of her 5 year old daughter dressed up as a princess, painting pictures and singing her own rendition of “Taranaki” that was priceless. It made my heart so happy. And another thing, I have sung directly one-on-one for people, in exploration and workshop space, whereby I either improvise what I see energetically in the person or sing a prewritten song for them whilst bearing witness to what is energetically happening to them at that time. Like a sound bath or a vibrational healing session. It has been positively & powerfully received in the past and I look to explore this more in my creativity in the future.

5. Tell us about where you get inspiration from. How has your time singing with Gaelic a capella ensemble Rún influenced your solo work? Likewise, how have your Irish roots had an influence?

My inspiration comes from a pool of unpredictable places. In 2013 I toured the world visiting 21 countries and writing a song for each. Sometimes I was totally inspired by the place or the people I met - for example “Taranaki” was written as a response to attending a Powhiri, a traditional Maori welcome to a community. I was in New Zealand in a town called New Plymouth and the local community held a Powhiri for us, involving singing, dancing, touching noses and breathing in the same spirit - it was breathtaking and magical. Ben and Mary was written in Columbus, Ohio, America - a vibrant university town in early spring, where sunshine, blue skies and pink cherry blossoms filled the air with possibility. I was performing at the Wexner Arts and was excited because there was a film tribute to Brazilian Bossanova legend Carlos Jobim, (“The Girl from Ipanema”) There was a post film discussion led by director Nelson Periera dos Santos & I had complimentary tickets. I missed the film but the Bossanova had got into my blood & there was no stopping me - Ben and Mary was born. I’d just met Ben Folds so I named it after him!

Sometimes I write a song because of what needs to be heard in that moment - what is whirling around in my heart or my spirit- so in the last year after the death of my Mum the songs have been about the journey of grief, or bereavement. So I’ve 3 new songs “Sweet Dreams” “Hecate” and “Wise Owl” which fly around those subjects.

I’m currently adapting The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald for stage for YMT, so I’m writing song lyrics and that is great fun, I’ve written blues and a very tip top charleston number which I’ll have the pleasure of hearing 36 young singers perform this August. Somedays I sit down and I write the whole thing, like catching a passing breeze of air. I’ve heard about the songs lines in Aboriginal cultures that the songs are there waiting to be heard or picked up by humans, it is like that, I tune in and they appear. Sometimes I commit to write something and the process needs more crafting, shaping. My commitment to songwriting is to show up on the page, sit down, take the guitar, get present and let the songs appear - writing is, with performing live, the best part of the process for me.

I sang 5 part harmonies with this ensemble for 3 years, leaving them to focus on my own material. At the time my only instrument was my voice so my songs were all vocal loops with multilayered harmonies and vocal percussion at first. After 18months looping and gigging I picked up a guitar and then piano and now I mainly use them, adding a good few harmonies where I can. Folk music tells stories and a large number of my songs are story based.

6. Have you been working on new material and will you be sharing any on the run of Summer Sundays, to see what audiences make of it? Sometimes we have artists who've written all their songs while holed up for winter, only to find that playing them under the sunshine brings out new unexpected qualities that they'd not intended when putting in the focussed writing.

I’ve written 3 new songs since the EP recording “Sweet Dreams” “Hecate” and “Wise Owl”, all exploring aspects of death and therefore life. I’ll be playing these on tour. Half of the tour I’m playing solo, half with my cellist Maria Rodriguez Reins and a couple of gigs with Clarinetist Matt Dibble. My two guitarists are not coming on tour!

My biggest challenge is that I’ve written some songs on keys and I‘ve had to learn them on guitar or as is the case for "Taranaki" I’ve had an awesome guitarist Josh Flowers write a fingerlicking guitar arrangement and I’ve had to learn their line - which is really challenging!

7. How do you usually prepare for a show... Any tips about warmups or meditations? What have you been doing to specifically prepare for the Summer Sundays apart from making sure you've packed sunglasses & parasol? Can you tell we are excited about the warm weather?

I always set an intention about what I want for the show, for the night, for the audience and then I focus on that intention. I drink lots of water, I never drink alcohol before a performance, I rest well, and I try and feel into the audience as much as possible. There is no point me going on an awesome journey if I’m going alone. I transport the audience with me on a vocal voyage - if they're up for it!

For warm up’s I love a bit of yoga, breathe work, and some lip trills, sirening. I judge it from night to night, what my body and voice need. I used to warm up so much I’d be tired going on stage.

8. What does your dream gig look like? Which kind of venues create the best atmosphere for you? Will there be a big event this Autumn building on the success of your sold out show in St Pancras?

This Autumn I plan to return to the studio so unless something extraordinary appears the next big one will be new year 2017!

I want to play at the Union Chapel where I sang with Rún back in the day. I really want to do a tour of old churches around the world, and when I was in Armenia there were some stunning old buildings with exquisite acoustics where I'd love to return to and sing! The open stage at The New Plymouth botanical gardens in New Zealand is a dream stage set behind a lake with a backdrop of the mountains and tropical plants.

Lewis starts her Summer Sundays Tour next Sunday, 29th May, in Stroud at the Prince Albert (free entry!) The rest of the dates are on the poster above (including a show for us in Winchester on 5th June and a show in Oxford next month.) Keep up to date with her live dates through her Facebook page here!

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