Interview: Award-winning Cambridge folk singer Nick Hart
More than just a singer and multi-instrumentalist specialising in traditional English folk music, Nick Hart was awarded the Christian Raphael Prize in 2021, in association with the Cambridge Folk Festival, and now he’s set to perform there this year.
Nick’s most recent album, Nick Hart Sings Ten English Folk Songs, was released in April and was preceded by Nick Hart Sings Eight English Folk Songs in 2017 and Nick Hart Sings Nine English Folk Songs in 2019, which begs the obvious question: Will there be a ‘Nick Hart Sings Eleven Folk Songs’?
“I don’t know, it’s difficult to say,” admits the 32-year-old, who grew up in Cambridge but now lives in Bristol. “I think the next project probably won’t be an album of folk songs, but it’s not to say that I won’t return to it again at some point in the near future – whether I will carry on this silly pedantic little joke... maybe I will have grown up by then!”
It could go on forever, couldn’t it? “It could do,” agrees Nick, “I’m making a rod for my own back, really.” He adds: “There’s various other things I’m working on; I started writing a load of settings of William Blake songs and poems a while ago, so that may be the next project.”
Launched at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2018, the Christian Raphael Prize is aimed at developing young talent and contributes £2,400 a year towards the travel and marketing costs of touring, as well as time in a rehearsal space or recording studio.
Nick notes that the recognition has been “massively helpful” in terms of financial support – “which meant that I was basically able to pay for a music video, which I wouldn’t have really been able to afford otherwise, and the fact that Richard Wootton, who’s a kind of radio plugger/PR whizz, has been helping me out as part of the prize, which has been also very helpful indeed.”
He adds: “It’s difficult to measure the impact of such a thing [the prize] but it definitely feels like it’s been a massive help. It’s a huge honour to have been selected for it – I’m very, very grateful.”
Recorded during the first lockdown of 2020, Nick Hart Sings Ten English Folk Songs is in many ways a departure from the stripped-back live approach of his first two albums. “As awful and as strange as it [the first lockdown] was, it was quite well-timed in that I’d just turned my back bedroom into a studio,” recalls Nick, “so for the first time ever I kind of had a dedicated space to work in.
“And having all that time with very much nothing to do, it was great that I was able to use that time to make an album very slowly and take as much time as I wanted over it – and obviously the fact that I finally had the space to do it myself from home was very fortuitous.”
Nick Hart Sings Ten English Folk Songs has generated praise from various quarters, including The Guardian, who named it their Folk Album of the Month, calling it “stark and sweet”.
“Yeah, that’s right – four stars, that’s the one you want,” says Nick, “that’s the coveted prize really. I mean that’s been a bit of a game-changer, I have to say, over the last couple of weeks, people’s response to that really does help. Jude Rogers, who writes for The Guardian, is a very well-respected voice so to have got that feels like a very big thing.”
Aside from his work with traditional song, Nick has made frequent forays into the world of theatre. As an actor musician he has performed on stages such as the Old Vic and Noel Coward theatre, and as a composer/musical director has contributed to pieces by companies such as Iris Theatre and Flabbergast.
He attended Cambridge Folk Festival regularly as a child but has only performed there once before – at The Den – and will return this year to play on the Sunday (July 31).