Folk favourites Nancy Kerr and James Fagan play Chichester

The BBC Concert Orchestra returns to its regional home, Chichester Festival Theatre, in a celebration of British folk music with acclaimed folk duo Nancy Kerr and James Fagan (November 18, 7.30pm).

Chichester date
Chichester date

Nancy and James have twice won Best Duo at BBC Radio 2’s Folk Awards and are known for their melting vocal harmonies punctuated by beautiful instrumentals. They have been playing together internationally for nearly 20 years and married in 2007.

The current gig was sparked, James explains, by Nancy being named BBC Folk Singer of the Year 2015. But there is also something very natural about the hook-up with the orchestra. As well as performing solo sets, the pair will collaborate with the BBC Concert Orchestra, who will play a selection of classical music inspired by British folk traditions including Britten’s A Time There Was and Holst’s A Hampshire Suite: “This isn’t such an out-the-blue concert as it may at first seem. The music that has been used is music by English composers of the 20th century like Vaughan Williams and Grainger, composers that had a deep fascination with the folk music of the British isles. These were composers who weren’t content just to arrange other people’s folk songs, but really wanted to search it out.”

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Originally from Sydney, James met Nancy 20 years ago: “I moved full-time here in 2004. Before that Nancy and I used to tour around the world regularly.” Now he considers himself English insofar as his children were born here: “I am a citizen of both countries, but remain a supporter of Australian sporting teams!

“When we first met, Nancy was 20 and I was 23, and she was already a full-time musician, working a lot with Eliza Carthy. I was a newly-qualified medical doctor with an interest in music, and medicine was going to be my career. But Nancy and I met and fell in love and started making music together. We just hit it off. It’s hard to say which happened first, the relationship or the music-making. They emerged simultaneously. In those early years, all we really cared about was we were doing something we both loved with the person we loved. We played around the world. We played everywhere.But then we started wanting to start a family, and so about six years ago, we changed our work processes quite a lot. The main difference now to ten years ago is we are not constantly on the road as a duo. What has changed to make it all commercially viable is we have now diversified a great deal. We now play in several different groups each, but the duo remains our best-known work. We just do a bit less, more performing in school holidays or in short chunks when the grandparents are available! But the other big change in the past five years is that Nancy’s priority has shifted from arranging traditional music to writing her own music. The last two albums have been 100 per cent original. Her own writing has taken huge steps forward.”

As for the medicine that James left behind: “I worked for a couple of years as a locum, and I was building up an idea of what I wanted to do in medicine, but whatever job you do, you have to give it all your energy, and my energy was subsumed into the music I was making with Nancy.”

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