Going places

Esther Swift’s appearance at the recent Song of Peebles evening reception was just one of many live performances this year by a young artist who is making quite a name for herself on the folk circuit – and beyond

Catching up with Esther Swift is no easy task. Peebles born and raised but now based in Edinburgh, the 26-year-old musician and songwriter has been touring for much of the summer. When we speak, she’s just finished playing the Bromyard Folk Festival in Worcestershire with Twelfth Day – a folk duo with fiddle player and musical soul mate Catriona Price – while further dates across the UK, plus a major tour to Germany, await.

It’s been quite a schedule, but Esther’s not complaining. “It’s been a very busy year of gigging, but I’ve enjoyed it,” she says. “Music is not a job, it’s my life – I’m very lucky.”

A classically-trained harpist, much of her music and song-writing combine traditional folk with classical elements to create a sound that is difficult to define. Listening to The Devil Makes Three, the second full-length album from Twelfth Day, released in June, is a soothing and at times slightly eerie experience.

It follows a debut album, Northern Quarter, released in 2010, and an eclectic mix of other ventures that confirm Twelfth Day as no ordinary harp-fiddle duo. Having been asked by BBC Radio Manchester to produce a cover of Morrissey’s You’re The One For Me Fatty, the pair were inspired to produce Speak From The Start, an EP of covers that includes their take on tracks from the likes of Blondie and Kanye West.

As if that is not enough to be going along with, Esther plays regular solo sets (she released a solo EP, The Mairches, earlier this year) and composes original music for the Clouds Harp Quartet, which also tours extensively.

For many who attended the Song of Peebles evening reception on 30 August – held in honour of the winners of a writing competition about the town – it will have been their first chance to hear Esther play live. It was a special evening all round with prizes awarded by Jackie Kay, one of the foremost Scottish writers working today, who later gave her own entertaining performance in the main auditorium at the Eastgate.

At the reception, Esther played two songs from yet another project, Fiere – a one-off collaboration with Gaelic singer Joy Dunlop that puts the works of several female Scottish poets, Jackie Kay included, to music. At the reception, Esther played musical interpretations of two of Jackie’s poems, the title track Fiere (Scots for ‘friend’) and Darling. “It’s so inspiring to have that kind of material to work with,” says Esther. “It was wonderful to play in front of Jackie – I’m just glad I didn’t mess up any of the words.”

True to hard-working form, Esther couldn’t stay for Jackie’s performance as she had another gig that night. It’s the kind of energy that has stood her in good stead while working with Catriona Price on perhaps their most ambitious venture yet – an international folk music sharing project called Routes to Roots that involves musicians from four countries on four different continents. With funding secured thanks to winning a Deutsche Bank Creative Enterprise Award, the pair have already travelled to Quebec, Malawi and Brazil, sharing folk traditions with local musicians, recording sounds and writing new material based on their experiences.

The final journey in the project will take them to Mongolia in spring 2015, after which the intention is to tempt some of the musicians encountered on their travels over to Scotland to record an album and tour together.  

Further info

Members of the Clouds Harp Quartet will play a collaborative concert together with acclaimed Ayrshire tenor David Douglas at The old Parish Church, Peebles on 24 October (starts 7.30pm). Tickets available by phoning 07842 911612, or on the door. 

Esther Swift’s solo EP, The Mairches, is available to buy at the Eastgate Theatre, Peebles.

And for much more on Twelfth Day, click here

Photograph: Esther Swift in action

Blog teaser image: Esther (left) with Twelfth Night partner Catriona Price