All-female band full of prowess

Three strong vocalists alongside astonishing instrumental prowess is the promise as all-female band The Shee head for Shoreham’s Ropetackle Centre.

They play the venue on April 5 as part of an extensive Easter tour promoting their third album, Murmurations.

As Laura-Beth Salter (mandolin /voice) explains, a murmuration is the collective noun for starlings and more particularly the shape they make en masse in the sky.

“It’s like a great helix shape, like a formation of birds, like they are all joined together.”

To celebrate the idea, the band has come up with a different cover image, based on different formations, for the first couple of thousand copies of the album.

“It has been a massive task!”

As for the band, they all met on a traditional and folk music course at Newcastle University.

“Shona (Mooney – fiddle) and Lillias (Kinsman-Blake – flute), the oldest, had graduated or were just about to graduate, and the rest of us were still doing the degree.

“Shona and Lillias were friends and had the idea that it would be really good to have a band that didn’t have any boys in it, that there wouldn’t be any dramas. That was the main idea!

“And we just thought it would be really interesting. At the beginning there was The Poozies, an all-female band, but there were not really that many in folk music. There is usually a bloke somewhere playing guitar!

“So it does mean that we don’t have a guitar which does make it interesting.

“All the different instruments take accompaniment, so it is interesting how you fill the holes!”

Laura-Beth does it to some extent with her mandolin; the fiddles also step in.

The result is an adventurous brew of folk, Gaelic and bluegrass, which has brought them considerable recognition along the way with high-profile performances at festivals including Cambridge and Celtic Connections, as well as concerts across Europe and Canada.

Their debut album A Different Season was released in 2008, followed by best newcomer nominations in both the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards and the BBC 2 Folk Awards 2009. Their second album Decadence saw them nominated for Folk Band of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards.

Now comes Murmurations.

“It is very much a collective sound. That’s what we have always done, but we know each other’s playing so well now we have been playing together so long, and I personally think this album really brings it together.

“It is all written in the vein of traditional music, but we play a lot of our own compositions. At the moment, the traditional thing is really strong.

“A lot of traditional musicians at the moment are writing their own stuff, which is great because a tradition can be lost if you don’t keep adding to it.

“I would say that our music is contemporary folk music. We are an amplified band. We have to be amplified because of the electric harp, but basically it is an equal mix of instrumentals and songs, a lot of modern compositions with a grounding in tradition – though we are all from different backgrounds.

“My background is that my parents play bluegrass and old-time music and a lot of blues.

“I don’t have a really strong traditional background. I add the bluegrass!”

The rest of the band are: Rachel Newton - electric harp/voice; Olivia Ross - voice/fiddle / viola; and Amy Thatcher - accordion/clogs.