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At the heart of English folk
The Changing Room

Exclusive interview: The Changing Room

The Changing Room, the creative collaboration of Tanya Brittain and Sam Kelly, comes to Cecil Sharp House on Wednesday 24 February. We had a chat with Tanya to find out a bit more about the band.

How did you approach arranging and recording Behind the Lace?

Sam Kelly and myself never actually met in person until the day we turned up at the studio to record our first EP as The Changing Room. I asked Sam to get involved in the project by email. I’d written songs and had a clear idea of what I wanted to do with them, but Sam brought something special to the partnership and together we created something magical.

After the EP it was an easy decision to work on a full length album together. Initially I’d send songs through to Sam by email as he was still living in Norfolk and me in Looe, Cornwall. Sam would work remotely on production ideas and arrangements before we met up at the studio.

What’s your favourite song on the album?

I suppose it would have to be I’ll Give You My Voice, which I wrote for Sam when his granddad will very ill in 2014. We were chatting in the studio one day and he was talking about his childhood telling me how important his granddad was in his life, and how influential he’d been in his music. Its an intensively personal song, but the sentiment seems to resonate with people.

You’ve recorded a number of songs in Cornish. How important are your geographical roots to your music?

I was born and raised in South Yorkshire and I’m fiercely proud of my roots. I’ve always been fascinated by dialect and how the industrial heritage of different areas of the UK affects community culture. I think its important to acknowledge and embrace the culture, heritage and traditions of the place that you choose to make your home, wherever that happens to be. I’ve lived in Cornwall for 10 years and before moving here I never realized there was a Cornish language.

Cornish is one of the most endangered languages in the world so we’re happy to do our bit to raise awareness and encourage its use through music. We usually conduct a quick Cornish language lesson at our gigs. Folk music is the perfect way to preserve and share important and fascinating stories from our past, that impact our future.

What’s your relationship with the songwriting process? Do you find it to be more introspective, communicative or a bit of both?

My songs are definitely communicative and story-based. You’ll find lots of well-researched facts packed into the lyrics. I’m inspired by things people say, and things I’ve read about. I often give myself a clear brief and do lots of ground work before sitting down to write. The process is a solitary one initially. Once I’m happy with the words I’ll allow myself to venture to the piano, but not before. Melodies evolve and develop over time. Eventually a complete song emerges.

Sam and myself ended up co-writing a couple of the tracks on Behind the Lace and we’ve done much more co-writing for our second album – it’s a lot easier now that he’s moved to Looe.

You’ve worked with quite an impressive list of people. How did you meet Boo Hewerdine?

Everyone I’ve asked to get involved with The Changing Room has said yes. It’s amazing to have had such support from people such as Boo Hewerdine, Jon Kelly, John McCusker and Jon Cleave amongst many others.

I actually met Boo when I attended one of his songwriting workshops in Cornwall in 2013. He’s been a fantastic mentor over the past couple of years and his support and enthusiasm for The Changing Room has been incredible.

As well as being a musician and songwriter I organise a large annual music festival in Cornwall and run the music-focused charity that delivers the event. I have a substantial network of contacts which I’ve utilized to the full for our recording projects.

The name ‘The Changing Room’ came from the desire to be able to change the people in the room/studio/venue at any point. Special guests, different line-ups, and one-off performances. So, expect new guests on our next studio album.

Pulling a touring band together was a natural process. Jamie Francis (Stark) and Evan Carson (The Willows) are established members of the Sam Kelly Trio so it was inevitable that they would be involved in The Changing Room. I met harpist Morrigan Palmer Brown via a friend, and after a year of getting to know each other in the close-quarters of budget hotels and minibuses we’ve cemented ourselves as a 5-piece band. 

What have you got planned for the rest of the year?

We can only tour as The Changing Room in winter as we’ve all got other music projects on the go.

We’ve got four more dates on our current tour and then we’re going to add the finishing touches to our second album. We’ve been recording through the winter and we’re gearing up to release in a few months time.  

Sam has just been nominated for the Horizon Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2016 so he’s going to be busy on the folk festival circuit through the summer with Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys and the Sam Kelly Trio.

I’ll be working on Looe Music Festival and funded project work until the end of September and then we’re planning to take The Changing Room out on the road again in November so if you can’t make the next four dates we’ll see you next winter.


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