Why so serious, Emma and Jason? The newly formed, temporary (or is it…?) duo of Tricca McNiff has adopted a very dour pose on the cover of their recent EP, Southern Star, quite in contrast to the cheery friendship they display on stage. In fact, these two singer-songwriters are so close, and trusting, that they not only honoured their years-ago promise to work together, but in this new collaboration, mostly sing each other’s compositions. So, cheer up, you two, you’ve made some bright, almost old-school folk in Southern Star.
In the years between starting off in Italy and Yorkshire, respectively, and forming Tricca McNiff, Emma got into the Oxford folk scene and recorded two well-received albums for label Finders Keepers, while Jason released his first LP “Off the Rails” in 2000, had some fun with the band the Lone Malones, and got tagged with the hey-no-pressure-at-all-thanks moniker of “the Yorkshire Bob Dylan” by Mojo magazine. His path crossed with Emma’s in and around the London scene, especially at the legendary 12 Bar Club, and while a bond was formed, they never quite found the time to record together.
But, a promise is a promise, so last summer, after rehearsals in a farm house in rural Italy, the duo got with Grammy-nominated Muse producer Tommaso Colliva and laid down Southern Star, making room for three songs from each writer.
Southern Star, Tales of Travel
All that gigging and travelling has paid off in a cohesive EP, full of soulful tales of movement, both physical and spiritual, and the desire to find out what is permanent in life. Lyrically Southern Star wanders through small towns on a bicycle (“Hills of Rome”), imposingly big cities on foot (“New York”) and from gig to gig via late night trains (“Southbound Train”). To these narrators, the walk is alone, and tomorrow is “such a long time” away (“Southern Star”). The vocals may remind you a bit of Gordon Lightfoot harmonizing with Iris DeMent, and Colliva showcases their unique tones, keeping the production bells and whistles to a minimum. The resulting EP has a wonderful vintage intimacy.
Tricca McNiff debuted their collaboration at an album launch night last week at the Betsey Trotwood, in London. The venue couldn’t have been better for such personal songs. The small crowd was almost reverent at times, an attitude occasionally matched by Emma. It seemed she couldn’t decide which was more thrilling, hearing Jason cover her songs or getting the chance to interpret his (that, dear reader, is a friend). She charmed the attentive audience while Jason was more reticent, perhaps concentrating on his finger-picking, but their harmonies and partnership shone. Aside from the album in its entirety, the duo included a few extra songs from their canons, and covered a classic song from one of their major influences, legendary Scottish folksinger Bert Jansch. The choice of “Open Road” fit the vibe of Southern Star to a tee.
Tricca McNiff will appear with Cobalt Chapel at London’s St. Pancras Old Church, Wednesday November 9, at 7:30pm. They took time out to take our Quick Six Interview:
What inspires you recently?
Everything can be inspiring: a walk through China Town, a newspaper flying in the wind, a poem, a book, the city lights, an old tune.
What is an artist’s relationship to their label? What is yours?
Difficult to say. One would hope a label would nurture the artist by letting their creativity come to the fore and without controlling them.
We’re very lucky, we work with independent labels that pretty much let us do what we want. They believe in artistic independence.
What would you be doing if you weren’t in the music industry at all?
I don’t think we’ve ever thought about that. Don’t even think we are in the music industry. We’re into songs; hard to know….
What song do you wish you had written?
Too many far too may…. It’s rather impossible to reply to this question, but…how about “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” or “Cross the Green Mountain,” both by Dylan…but, especially in the case of the latter, you don’t get to write them without having LIVED it. I’d have loved to have written “Hallelujah”, but apparently it took Cohen 20 years!
If you could duet, vocally or instrumentally, with anyone alive or dead, who would that be?
For Emma, Mimi Farina. For Jason, Buddy Holly.
What would be your perfect weekend?
Guitars, guitars and then more guitars and songs.
What’s next for you?
Keep on keeping on
THE QUICK SIX: POP CULTURE BEAST LETS ARTISTS CHOOSE FROM OUR STANDARD TEN QUESTIONS – WE LET THEM TELL US WHAT THEY’D LIKE YOU TO KNOW.
Info and dates: www.triccamcniff.com
A former ABC National, Dallas and Atlanta radio personality, Martina O'Boyle is now making movies and covering culture in London, Dublin, and as far in Europe as the cheapie flights will take her, for Pop Culture Beast.