Tim Hughes talks to alternative folk artist Bethany Weimers before she adds her mesmerising melodies and storytelling to an Oxford homelessness project fundraiser this Saturday

WITH her haunting songs about a long-lost Oxford street, hidden truths and forensic explorations of the human condition, Bethany Weimers is far from your usual singer-songwriter. Describing her music as “atmospheric and alternative,” singer, guitarist and pianist Bethany is among a new breed of acoustic artists who are redefining what we understand as folk.

Uplifting and melodic, her story-telling touches on a darker underside. Accompanied only by her guitar or piano, her shows are a haunting, mesmerising spectacle.

When not performing, recording or writing, Bethany, who has a masters degree from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, runs music classes at city nursery schools.

“I’ll write a song by having a burst of inspiration — often about small insignificant things that grabs my attention - and then go back and craft it,” she says. “I always want to try something new. Because I produce my own stuff, I love layering up sounds to give an ethereal and haunting feel. I like to play around with different instrumentation and have fun with what I’m doing. I also enjoy deconstructing other people’s songs and learning from them.”

And Oxford occupies a prominent position within her work. “Oxford is my home town,” she says. “I moved away but came back and have been for seven years.

“I’m really interested in local and family history.”

It was that drive to get below the surface of her hometown which inspired her debut album Harpsichord Row. The title refers to a long demolished street, off St Clement’s. Now a patch of grass, only traces remain of what was once a community.

“I took inspiration from the idea of hidden stories below the surface,” she says. “It no longer exists but you can still see the scars if you look closely enough. I grew up in Marston and often walked past it, but it never occurred to me. Now it jars; it feels like a foreign body, and started me off on the theme of looking below the surface and searching for traces.”

That fascination with the past spurred her to take in local history with Oxford University’s department for continuing education. “I didn’t feel I knew much about my home city,” she says. “Learning about the past puts a new light on things.”

Gig-goers will be treated to an insight into Bethany’s secret world on Saturday when she performs in a night of new music at the PinDrop Christmas Party, at St Giles Parish Rooms. The annual event raises money for Gatehouse, which works with local homeless people and those at risk of homelessness.

She will be joined by Winchester trio Provincials and Oxford country-rockers Swindlestock. Other musicians, Richard Neuberg, Matt Sage, James Bell, Julia Meijer, Huck Astley, The August List and Trio Copacabana will also provide songs.

So what can we expect? “First of all, it should be captivating,” she laughs. “It is music to sit and listen to. But there will also be moments of poignancy.

“It will be reflective but passionate. I enjoy getting close to the audience and telling stories and explaining the background to my songs.”

Having previously played with her own band and the local group Samuel Zasada, she now plays alone. “I’ve always preferred playing solo as it gives me more freedom to play and tour without having to negotiate with other people,” she says.

The night also sees Bethany airing her new single, the appropriately-named Winter Heart. “It’s about hope and light guiding you out of darkness,” she explains. “And, for me, it’s about finding that one person that makes you feel warm inside.”The tune will be accompanied by a stop-motion animated video by her artist boyfriend Merlin Porter.

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“This will be my first live rendition of the song,” she says. “There is also a mix of songs from Harpsichord Row and new songs from my second album out next year.

“It should be a wonderful night for a great cause. The Gatehouse is something everyone should be aware of and, as a musician, it’s good to be able to help and support the project.

The night’s organiser is musician and Pin Drop promoter Seb Reynolds. He explained why the project was such a worthy cause. “An old and dear friend, and celebrated local musician, Bruce Douglas used to work for the Gatehouse and inspired me to support their work. The Gatehouse offers a daily drop in service for those sleeping rough or in vulnerable housing. It is an essential support network for those in need, and deserves as much support and investment as we can raise — and this is as much about raising awareness as anything else.”

In the previous three years, the parties have raised more than £2,000 for the project.

“This year I decided to hold the event in St Giles Parish Rooms, where the Gatehouse holds its drop in sessions, to make it more real to the gig-going crowd who may not be so aware of their work. I’m thrilled by all of the acts we have on the bill. They are mostly artists we have worked with closely over the past year — including Huck, who debuted his Alexander The Great Folk Operetta in 2014, and The August List who dropped their first long player O Hinterland to great acclaim.

“I am very excited about the set from Bethany and Provincials, who have both released winter themed tracks to tie in with Christmas, and headliners Swindlestock, who always get the party started.”

Snacks served, but no alcoholic drinks allowed on the premises.

PinDrop Christmas Party
St Giles Parish Rooms, Woodstock Road, Oxford
Saturday. Doors 6.30-10pm
Entry by donation

Take a look at the music video for Bethany Weimer's Winter Heart: