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Saturday, 20th April 2019
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The Girl with the Golden Voice

North West Folk music clubs picOr, the confessions of a goldfish murdering whisky fiend.

One of the aspects of folk music that adds to the appeal, is its rich variety of instrumentation. Panpipes send a shiver down the spine and a lively fiddle or mandolin can raise the most mundane of tunes into the stratosphere. Why not add an accordion, autoharp or bodhran into the mix?

Other genres, particularly rock, a star guitarist can quickly acquire a legion of adoring fans. Yet for all that, the emergence of a new vocalist with something different to offer is still what arouses most excitement.

What makes a compelling singer? It's not just about the ability to hit the right notes. Sadly, the mainstream record companies and media take the view that bland is best, which why Katie Melua has a personal worth of 13 million. Do we care how many bicycles are in Beijing? No we don't, and if that really is the closest thing to crazy she's ever been, then Ms Melua needs to get pissed and shagged a lot more.

Gifted artists move you. They make the hair on the back your neck stand on end and convey the impression of being in the same room, although their only presence is that silver disc spinning in the CD player. It is to that select group of performers that Rachel Hillary belongs.

The Withington based songwriter has recently released Hope for the Heart, an EP of self penned numbers available at the link below, which is worth more than a cursory listen. This is not instantly accessible girly pop, but a selection of personal statements with winding melodies that pop into you head when least expected, and lyrics where a deliberate attempt has been made to avoid the obvious.

But it's the voice that draws you in. It's assertive, delicate and haunting at the same time with a sense of the wounded. It's not hard to imagine her sat on a corner in nineteen sixties Greenwich Village belting out protest songs. The thought would probably appeal.

"I'm more of a Joni Mitchell type folkie," she explains. Melanie Safka, another gal with a guitar is also mentioned, as is Led Zepplin, Stevie Nicks, Lyndsey Buckingham and perhaps surprisingly, seventies glam rock. Those TOTP2 repeats on BBC Four have a lot to answer for.

Hope for the Heart isn't the finished product and isn't intended to be. It's more of an advertisement. The plan is to establish a collective, a pool of musicians who see something in her writing, and can be called upon for specific projects. That might sound rather grand, but the idea comes from childhood.

"My dad's from Belfast so the family home was always alive with Irish music and traditional folk songs," she told City Life a few months ago.

"We'd have these family get-togethers where we'd sit around the living room playing instruments and singing songs. That's been a huge influence on me even though I write this heartfelt acoustic music, I'll always want it to have that sense of fun and togetherness."

We meet at Manchester's Lass O'Gowrie pub, at an open mic night, where she's mildly traumatised, after inadvertently slaughtering a friend's goldfish. The unfortunate creature was housed in an unheated room and succumbed to the cold as its tank was engulfed by a miniature iceberg. Resuscitation attempts proved unfruitful.

Bar that, she's in a cheerful frame of mind. The project is going well. Living in a house full of musicians helps.

And the end game? A record deal maybe? "That'd be good," comes the reply, although you get the impression that the desire to express herself is the most important thing, to a point where it can get almost overwhelming.

"There are times on stage when I feel as if I'm going to cry," she confesses.

There are a few jitters pre-peformance. "Do you realise," she declares to her friends, "that I've been drinking whisky for five hours." Very rock 'n' roll you might think, but there's a plausible explanation. She was double booked and had another spot around tea time. Well, you can't sit around sipping tea can you?

Not that there's any hint of wear, in her demeanour or the short set that follows, where she's accompanied by Amy Clarkson, a mandolin player who packs a mean rhythm, and who is also a talented photographer.

Four songs later and it's over, quite low key, but received with solid applause and a few whoops and whistles. So we can all go home happy. Apart from the fish, who is beyond salvation. At least there's a coming to terms with events.

"I feel Mr Fish was there in spirit," she tweets later.


Rachel Hillary - Hope for the Heart
Amy Clarkson Photography

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