Isobel Morris and Jim Kimberley began their music careers in folk clubs before meeting and forming alt-rock duo Bruise. After years of jamming folk songs with friends the couple have returned to their roots, teaming up with Nottingham based guitarist Gary Southwell to form A Murder of Rooks. FFS caught up with Jim and Isobel in The Pelton Arms in Greenwich at the monthly Sunday afternoon folk session which they host.
FFS: Where do the songs on the EP come from?
ISOBEL: The songs on the demo have come from a variety of places. I learned the ‘Handsome Cabin Boy’ from Kate Bush. ‘Sam Hall’ is on there too. The third member of the band who lives up in Nottingham, (Gary Southwell) is quite a historian and he likes to spend a bit of time at the British Library. He found the version of ‘Sam Hall’ through a bit of historical research.
JIM: The other thing is you go and see people play and they sing a song that really gets to you and you just want to sing it yourself and that’s how you pick it up. Things are quite easy now there are data bases where you can go online and find the lyrics.
ISOBEL: I like singing traditional songs because you get that sense of somebody’s story and the historical nature of what folk music is about and it can be so moving to listen to somebody’s story from three hundred years ago.
FFS: So it is more than a quaint heritage thing – these songs are still relevant.
ISOBEL: You can feel it and I guess quaint is a word that could be applied but it is not how I feel about it. It is like universal human experience and that’s what folk is to me.
JIM: I also want to see if there is enough of a demand here (for the songs). I think there is. It has been brilliant to find out how many different contexts the word folk is used in but I know what I like and I just wanted to see if we could do that.
FFS: Are you talking about a folk revival?
ISOBEL: I really see it. In the charts and stuff there are folk influenced musicians and I really like to hear it. About 10 years ago there was that quiet is the new loud sort of movement and I think this is a progression from that.
FFS: The songs on the EP are very pared-down, almost shockingly spare.
JIM: With a recording, you are going to listen to the same thing over and over again so it has got to be really on the money, or else you are going to get bored or glitches are going to irritate you. So the idea was that the recording should be just the elements that we were able to deliver at any given moment. And make it all count. So play as little as you possibly can because then you have always got somewhere to go if you need to. That was my thinking about it.
ISOBEL ; As far as the vocals go I do really enjoy singers who ornament songs and the traditional way of singing, but I think I had been listening to too many singers who do that too much. I really wanted to just sing the melody and to keep it to just what the fundamental notes of the song were and not indulge myself. It almost becomes athletic or a sport when you really over ornament and I wanted to keep the song at the very front and not show what my voice can do but what the song is and so it is a very naked sound.
FFS: Do you plan to write your own material as A Murder of Rooks?
ISOBEL: We have started doing a version of ‘Derwent Waters Lament’ which comes from the Jacobian wars and we did write the melody for it. We had the words and we had the melody as well but we didn’t like it and so we wrote a new melody. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that because there are so many different folk songs which share a melody.
JIM: The songs were not written down at the time and depending on how far back you are going that it will have been the melody line, that is to say the words and what someone might sing that was what was being passed on and any instrumentation has always been what somebody might have felt they wanted to do.
ISOBEL: We want to keep it traditional because I have got an outlet for my own personal song writing. We do have a couple of really folky songs in the Bruise set but when it comes to A Murder of Rooks we want to keep it straight traditional because there are a lot of clubs around and there are a lot of acoustic clubs and folk clubs. I enjoy the variety of listening to people singing old songs and new songs and self-penned songs but with A Murder of Rooks we really wanted to focus on what was traditional just so people know where they are.
Interview: Jon Cheetham
Listen to A Murder of Rooks’ EP, Never Came He on their myspace or hear Jim and Isobel play on the second Sunday of the month at the Pelton Arms, Pelton Road, Greenwich between 5pm and 7pm. Admission free.