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Interview: Folk musician Siobhan Miller bringing two musical worlds to Cambridge

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Following a recent UK tour as part of the popular Transatlantic Sessions, multi-award winning Scottish singer-songwriter Siobhan Miller is set to embark on a solo jaunt throughout May.

Siobhan Miller
Siobhan Miller

Accompanied by her band, Siobhan, who became a mother during the pandemic, will play shows from Worcestershire to Orkney, calling in at Cambridge’s Stapleford Granary this Friday (May 6).

A featured vocalist in Transatlantic Sessions, she duetted with renowned Irish singer-songwriter Paul Brady, and with multiple Grammy Award-winner Sarah Jarosz, backed by the all-star house band under the musical directorship of Jerry Douglas and Aly Bain.

Douglas, a famed dobro and lap steel guitar player, has been part of bluegrass icon Alison Krauss’s highly prolific backing band, Union Station, for more than 20 years. Listening to Siobhan sing reminded me of Krauss’s angelic tones.

“Thank you very much,” laughs the hardworking musician, speaking from her home in Glasgow (she orginally hails from the town of Penicuik, near Edinburgh). “It was really interesting for me because you take your own songs to the mix, if you like, and Jerry chooses out of that material what you play.

“I’ve always sung traditional songs, for as long as I can remember – my family are really into folk music and folk singing – but I also like to write my own material, and the album I brought out a few years ago called Mercury was, I guess, more contemporary-sounding.

“It was all new songs and it was interesting that Jerry picked the title track from that, Mercury, as one of the songs that I would do. He said to me, on one of the first days, ‘I absolutely love that – I love the folk stuff you do but I also really love the more kind of contemporary sound and songs’, so it was really interesting for me to work with him and have, I guess, that more Americana sound on my music.

“The beauty of that show is the collaboration of the transatlantic element, that your songs kind of have a new presence, and I was approaching those songs in a slightly different way because of the instrumentation – and even though the arrangements were close to what is on the albums, they just had a different feel to them.”

Siobhan Miller
Siobhan Miller

Elaborating further on Transatlantic Sessions, which unfortunately didn’t come to Cambridge this year due to it being a smaller run, Siobhan says: “That was a lot of fun for me, after going to see that show for as long as I can remember. In Glasgow, in the Concert Hall, I’ve gone to watch that and see my musical heroes over the years.

“So being asked to do that was just incredible, especially after the last couple of years – heading out on the road and touring with all of those amazing musicians and singers was a dream come true.”

Siobhan’s soulful renewal of traditional song has won her the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Best Traditional Track, and the BBC Alba Scots Trad Music Awards’ Scots Singer of the Year an unprecedented four times.

Her fourth solo album, All Is Not Forgotten, was released in 2020, achieving radio play and interviews on BBC Radio 2, 3 and 4 during the height of the first national lockdown – with no accompanying touring.

Was it all written and recorded before the pandemic? “It was, yes,” says Siobhan, whose acclaimed version of Andy M Stewart’s The Ramblin’ Rover featured on her sophomore album, Strata, has amassed more than 1.5 million streams on Spotify.

“We had written it the year before; it’s the first album I’ve made where I brought the songwriting and the traditional material to one place. I’ve always kept those separate when it comes to recording and then always performed both live – and I decided that I wanted to marry those worlds because I love performing them both.”

Siobhan Miller
Siobhan Miller

As well as touring extensively throughout Europe, Australia, the US and Canada, Siobhan has collaborated with many of Scotland’s top musicians, including Eddi Reader, with whom she has toured widely.

Siobhan’s husband, Euan Burton, plays bass in her band and also usually records and produces her albums. She has written a number of songs with fellow Scottish folk musician Kris Drever, who will be appearing at the Cambridge Junction on May 30.

Siobhan, who hopes to release a new album later this year, has also played Cambridge on a number of occasions. “I’ve played the festival, it was one of the first that I played,” she recalls, “many years ago when I won the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award with Jeana Leslie.

“Part of that prize is to play a slot in the BBC Tent at Cambridge Folk Festival – I just loved it. And then a few years ago I was invited to come down with my own band.

“I’ve also played the Junction supporting Eddi Reader, who I spent a lot of time out on the road with as her support act. We’ve become great friends over the years and she’s sung on a few of my albums as well. I’ve also been down with my own band and played the smaller room in the Junction as well.”

Siobhan Miller
Siobhan Miller

This time around, Siobhan will be at Stapleford Granary – a venue she has never played before – this Friday (May 6). For tickets, visit staplefordgranary.org.uk. For more on Siobhan, go to siobhanmiller.com.

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