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At the heart of English folk
Hannah & Sam

Sam Sweeney

A quick-fire interview with one half of the formidable folk duo Hannah James & Sam Sweeney.

Multi-instrumentalists and long-time collaborators Hannah and Sam bring their Farewell for Now tour to Cecil Sharp House on 8 May. A poignant moment in both of their careers as exciting times lie ahead for both.

Ahead of the gig we got hold of Sam, also a member of folk super group Bellowhead, to ask him a few questions about their career together and what's coming next.

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Is it nice to be coming back to Cecil Sharp House?

I think this will be my eighth gig at Cecil Sharp House and it's always a great venue to come back to. As a bit of the London-phobe, it's great to drive into the car park and know that everything will be OK – good coffee, cake, beer, lovely people and a great gig. You almost always bump into someone you know unexpectedly, which is lovely. It's also really cool to play in a building that you know has seen so many incredible things. Whether you're in Kennedy, Trefusis or the bar, you know that some incredible music has been made there, so it's an inspiring place to play!


You've been involved with several English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) projects. What have you enjoyed most about working with the Society?

Working with EFDSS is always a privilege. Knowing you have the backing and support of the most important organisation in English folk music is a fantastic feeling. I remember playing at the launch of The Full English digital archive and thinking “Wow, this is something truly incredible”.


Congratulations on the two BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards with The Full English band! Tell us about working on the project.

It was a brilliant project to be involved in. I think it says a lot about the band that we managed to source, arrange and record the whole project in only a few days. I also love the fact that it didn't sound like a 'project' band. By the time we recorded, we had really developed a sound that was unmistakably The Full English, which I think is quite an achievement. The tour was a blast and I can't wait to do the gig again this summer in front of some festival crowds. We also have a few dates this October so look out for those.


You’ve said this tour marks your ‘farewell for now’ as a duo.  What have been the highlights of working together?

We have played together for so long that it's really hard to pick specific moments. Listening back to our recording of The Hole In The Wall for the first time was an enormous buzz. For me, it's the best thing we've ever done and it's still a huge rush to play it live. Being nominated for Best Duo at the BBC Folk Awards two years ago was also a great honour!



You’ve recently announced your September tour Made in the Great War. What else is on the cards?

To be honest, Bellowhead and Made In The Great War are taking up every spare minute I have. After Made In The Great War has finished and I have a little rest, I'll mainly be focusing on my new band Leveret. It's me, Andy Cutting and Rob Harbron and we play entirely instrumental English music. We have only done six gigs so far, but I love where the music takes us as a collective. Every time we play together I learn something new. Andy and Rob are two of my favourite musicians of all time, so it's a hell of an experience being on stage with them and not having any arrangements – we just sit on stage and effectively improvise tunes with each other. There's nothing like putting yourself out of your comfort zone!


What’s on the agenda for the festival season?

Our last gig together is this May, so the festival season is full of Bellowhead for me. We have just announced the release of our new album so I can't wait to get out there and play some of the new material to festival audiences and see their reaction. I also have two festivals with Eliza Carthy and The Wayward Band, which is one of my favourite gigs. I can't wait to do that band again after over a year off!


Musical recommendation for 2014/15?

Apart from Bellowhead's new album Revival (!), everyone needs to check out Spiro. Their last two albums were life changing for me, and this Autumn they are re-releasing their first album Pole Star and touring it. Buy their stuff and get lost in it – it's astonishing.

Find out more about Hannah and Sam



National Youth Folk Ensemble

National Youth Folk Ensemble


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