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Olympic Call for Singer Emily Barker Who Is Playing At Towersey Festival
TIM HUGHES talks to Australian singer-songwriter Emily Barker about her part in the Olympic opening ceremony, an upcoming appearance at Towersey Festival and her move to the wilds of the Cotswolds
WITH the eyes of millions of spectators upon her, Emily Barker could be forgiven for feeling a bit nervous.
After all, it’s not every day you get asked to help open the Olympic Games. Yet, despite the gaze of 120,000 in East London’s Olympic Stadium, and more than 27 million more watching on TV in the UK alone, she remained pretty cool about her part in the greatest show on earth.
“It was incredible,” she says, of her set with singer-songwriter Frank Turner, which warmed up the crowd before Danny Boyle’s ceremony proper got underway. Turner and his band The Sleeping Souls, which includes Emily, were asked to perform three songs by Boyle, the spectacle’s artistic director, who is a fan.
The band were perched on the grassy slopes of a scaled-down version of Somerset’s iconic Glastonbury Tor – a location not without its challenges, as Emily recalls.
“We had done the songs so many times before so everyone was well-rehearsed we didn’t feel anything could go wrong,” she says. “But one thing we were worried about was getting into position on the Tor as the grass was muddy and very slippery.
“The audience were all up for it though. They seemed to enjoy it and were so loud.”
Looking back, she still can’t quite believe she was asked to play with Turner, who also features on her new single Fields of June – a Nick Cave and Kylie-style murder ballad duet “We have worked a lot with Frank,” she says. “We recorded with him on his last few albums and have toured with him.”
Yet the call, when it came, was out of the blue, she says.
“He said ‘you won’t believe it, and it’s totally top secret, but I’m playing the Olympic opening ceremony and would you be up for it?’ “The next thing I knew we were playing the dress rehearsal then the actual event, up on the Tor looking up at the stadium. It was surreal; the whole experience was difficult to take in.
“I was buzzing for ages after and was in my own world.”
Her life-changing performance follows a remarkable journey for the singer-songwriter from Western Australia, who now lives in Stroud, in deepest Gloucestershire, where she is talking ahead of her set with her band The Red Clay Halo at the more low-key Towersey Festival in south Oxfordshire this weekend.
“I love it here,” she says. “I lived in London but realised I didn’t want to live there any more. I love the Cotswolds and Stroud is great. It’s nice to be able to live somewhere quiet and be able to walk and run in the woods.
“It’s quite like home for me,” she adds. “It’s undulating with valleys and rivers – though it is a lot colder.”
Emily describes her music as “contemporary folk with elements of rock and four-part harmonies and a little bit of Americana.”
And it has many admirers. She holds a coveted Ivor Novello award, while her song Nostalgia was picked as the theme tune for the Kenneth Brannagh series Wallander. The track won her a BAFTA and a Royal Television Society Award for best soundtrack.
“That kind of thing changes your career,” she says.
“You can’t afford to put your music in front of that many people normally. I think the show goes out to six million viewers. But off the back of that a lot of people have discovered who we are, have bought albums and come to gigs.”
She admits ‘landing the gig’ was all down to good luck, saying: “We were doing a bunch of gigs to raise money for the launch of our second album, and a guy at one of the gigs in North London said he really liked the song and asked would we be up for having it used on the show.” They did, she admits, have to make a few changes first.
“We had to record a new version as they didn’t want a folkie feel,” she says.
She concedes that, when it comes to success in the music industry, artists have to make their own luck. “You’ve got to get out there and opportunities will come your way,” she says.
So, with the Olympics over and the countdown now on for the start of the Paralympics, what does Emily make of the spectacle which she, in her own small way, helped to launch?
“The Olympics were amazing,” she says. “So was the opening ceremony. I really enjoyed it and it was cool seeing it live. But it was also good watching it on TV later as there were lots of details I didn’t pick up live. “It was brilliant and touched the quirky nature of British culture and achievements.”
Though she adds: “There were moments when I felt ready for the next thing, though, and some parts went on a bit too long. And being Australian there were also a couple of cultural references I missed. “Internationally, people would have been bemused, but that’s good as British culture is individual and quirky.
“It was pure enjoyment, though. I felt so happy to be there and so proud of Frank.
“It will be a hard one to top.”
Emily Barker and The Red Clay Halo have completed their fourth album which will be released next year. Single Fields of June is out now.
- Emily Barker and The Red Clay Halo play Towersey Festival on Sunday.
- Other names to appear include Bellowhead, Kathryn Tickell, The South, Edward II, Martin Simpson, Donal Lunny, Padraig Rynne & Sylvain Barou, Peatbog Faeries and Roddy Woomble.
- Tickets are £119 for the full festival, without camping, £139 with. Youth and child tickets also available.
For tickets and further details go to towerseyfestival.com
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