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At the heart of English folk
Gilmore & Roberts with the Youth Forum

Gilmore & Roberts

by Lauren Ward, EFDSS Youth Forum member

At our last Youth Forum meeting on 26 October, we had the chance to meet with Gilmore and Roberts before their gig at Cecil Sharp House. The musical duo are currently celebrating their 10th year of music making together, and are nearing the end of their tour showcasing their new live album.

Kat [Gilmore]: “We met at Leeds College of Music. For the course we were both on, we had to write songs and demo them, so I would come and sing or play violin on Jamie’s songs, and he’d come play guitar on mine. Then we thought we would just give it a try playing these things live – that’s how we started. We’ve made 4 albums together and we pretty much play just our own music, but we’ve done traditional stuff as well.”

Jamie [Roberts] added: “We are very much on the folk scene, but on the more contemporary side I think – as we all know, folk is such a broad term now, it encompasses quite a lot.”

When asked about influences, it became apparent that the two had very different styles:

K: “I quite like a lot of American roots and bluegrass music. I first got into English folk when I was about 12 years old, and my biggest influences were The Albion Band and Nancy Kerr – people who I saw around at the local folk club and who were technically good at their instruments.”

J: “As I was growing up I was listening to a lot of rock and heavy metal music, but from quite an early age I was taken to folk festivals and clubs with my sister who was doing it professionally. I resented it at the time – it wasn’t until I got my acoustic guitar at 15 that I gradually started getting more and more into acoustic music which then ended up being incredibly folky. Some of my favourite bands aren’t necessarily folk – I’m a big fan of Dave Matthews Band; they’re sort of acoustic-rock.”

K: “The story side of traditional stuff is something that’s really come into our music; musically we draw on all sorts of genres.”

We asked the duo about their highlights of the past 10 years working together, and learnt about their time supporting Fairport Convention on a UK tour, receiving large audiences every night. Speaking of the experience, Kat explains: “It was an eye opener in terms of playing big crowds and venues, and was also a real profile-raiser for us.”

However, the story that caught our attention was on their trip to Canada:

K: “Another highlight would be Canada a few years ago – they do something at festivals over there called ‘workshops’, but not like workshops how we might think of it. They pick 5 or 6 bands, put you all on stage together and give you a theme for the concert, then you have to think of one of your songs which relates to the theme. You play your song but any of the other bands can join in.”

J: “It means that every single performance is completely unique!”

Then we got to asking about the real reason they were here that evening – touring the live album.

K: “We try and do 2 tours a year - spring and autumn.”

J: “We released our new album last September, so this year has been incredibly busy - we had a really busy summer of festivals this year.”

K: “We’ve also started doing some shows in Europe too which has opened things up a bit. It’s different because new audiences, and starting afresh – you are going in at a slightly lower level because people haven’t heard of you, but it’s still cool.”

Why Europe?

J: “It’s another avenue – we can do another tour there so we don’t over-saturate ourselves in the UK!”

K: “We enjoy it [the gig lifestyle] – if you don’t enjoy it, you quickly find out it’s not for you.”

On the live album:

K: “We’re both perfectionists towards performances and felt unsure whether we could make a good enough live recording that we’d be happy with to release, but then thinking about it some more we realised it doesn’t need to sound perfect – otherwise you would’ve just made a studio album. So we recorded as many shows as we could, and picked out the best recordings. It meant we had to spend ages going through about 10 shows – it was quite tedious but also interesting at the same time.”

J: “We tried to think about the performance as a whole – getting the audience to sing along for example. One of the tracks was recorded in a church, so it sounds different to the rest of the album because it’s so ambient and you also can hear the singing - it sounds like a choir.”

K: “I feel really pleased we were able to do it!”

When writing a studio album:

J: “We write the songs separately, then come together with the bare bones to do the arrangements. It’s a big part of our music – it all comes down to the arrangement. Then we like to gig them a few times before recording them, but it’s not always the case.”

K: “I feel that you can do better in the studio if you’ve played the music live, so what would be ideal is to play that stuff live in another country, to test it out on a different audience… However, it’s all different when working with guest musicians on the album – the whole process is different. It’s cool working with other people.”

So, what’s next for Gilmore and Roberts?

K: “We’re prioritising writing in the next few months. You have to sit down with intention of writing, with lots of time and floor space!”



National Youth Folk Ensemble

National Youth Folk Ensemble


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