Actors, activists, artists… bookshops; we’ve focused on ’em all with #LiverpoolLessOrdinary. This week, we turn the spotlight on someone who sings about being “the jack-of-all-trades, master of none” on her startling song, ‘The Wisdom’. But, she’s wrong… let us introduce you to singer, songwriter, painter, teacher and master of them all, Elizabeth Anne Jones – a.k.a. Elfin Bow. By Alan O’Hare.
A singular voice is something to have and to have it inhabit your work across many different mediums is truly a gift. Elizabeth Anne Jones is unique – art teacher by trade, alt-folk musician by craft, the magically-monikered Elfin Bow is here to slip something into your palm and then be gone.
Not forever, though… she’s here to stay: “I was brought up in a house that valued and treasured music and art, albeit in a very traditional way,” she says. “It was a pretty strict baptist upbringing in the seventies – we didn’t have a TV and weren’t allowed to listen to pop music – that’s why I suppose now a day doesn’t go by where I don’t find something new to feel inspired by.” The JMU graduate, who was awarded the ‘Stuart Sutcliffe Fellowship’ and embarked upon a series of commissions, residencies and research projects on creativity in education, started out as a teacher and slowly watched as her creative instincts became her daily pursuits. “I watched a Joni Mitchell documentary last year,” Jones reveals. “She talked about the interplay of art and music in her life and about how intense the songwriting process was, and how her painting gave her a completely different head space to escape into, and I guess it’s similar for me.”
We’re glad the teacher of six years decided it was time to make the jump into a full-time creative life. Now dividing her time and talent betwixt and between exhibiting art and illustrations, delivering community art classes, developing the Penny Lane Creative Network and writing and singing as Elfin Bow, the softly-spoken Liverpudlian is also the subject of our latest #LiverpoolLessOrdinary…
You say music and art are inseparable for you – does one influence and act as a catalyst for the other?
Absolutely! I felt like a jack-of-all-trades in the past – with my finger in many creative pies – wondering if I should concentrate on one or the other… whenever I tried to do that, however, it felt like something’s missing. Painting and drawing can be a very meditative process that allows my thoughts to wander and to grow new ideas and sometimes songs, too. My art is often quite insular – whereas the performance of my music is all about engaging with the audience in a magical moment. Both are often about telling stories or depicting a moment in time or a realisation. The regular practice of both disciplines builds confidence, sharpens creative skills and certainly allows me to be myself.
Presentation and aesthetic is vital to your work… would you ever do a gig in just jeans and a t shirt?!
Ha, ha! Sometimes I would love to be that casual, the effortlessly cool gal about town, but it’s just not me. I love expressing myself through the aesthetics of everything I do – whether it is my stage outfits, sets, album artwork, posters, videos or photography. Maybe I am creating a kind of alter ego that gives me permission to look however I want, but most of all it’s having fun and being playful. I certainly like visual metaphors and interpreting songs and concepts visually, like in the video for ‘The Wisdom’.
It’s a much neglected piece of the puzzle, that…
I love to be entertained and experience something memorable, so hopefully I do that for others too. Generally, presentation-wise, I strive to be professional and to make an effort for the people who show up to my gigs or buy my artwork – being known for quality in everything I do is important to me.
The whole gestalt of what you do reveals that… tell us a bit about your influences?
Wow, there are so many! I found ways to rebel during my upbringing, but it wasn’t until my late teens when I discovered the likes of Björk, PJ Harvey, Tori Amos and Kate Bush… all super strong women and creative forces that were in control of all aspects of their art. Björk, in particular, blew my mind – I haven’t always liked what she has done, but I always appreciate her adventures into new territory. She doesn’t stand still and she is an artist in the fullest sense of the word.
There’s a dream/child-like quality to your music, particularly, that you share with those artists…
I think that may come from going through some difficult times, but coming out the other side with a determined resolve to make the very best of my life and to give my creative ambitions a higher priority. I am a glass-mostly-full kinda’ girl anyway and tend to work through challenges that come along. It’s not that I don’t see the world can be a horrible place at times, I just don’t see the need for me to add to that and a child-like state of curiosity, discovery and enthusiasm is how we all start out before we are conditioned to have insecurities, inhibitions and limits.
We’re guessing there’ll be more sides to your story on the upcoming Elfin Bow debut album?
There are some songs about much darker subjects that reflect on western rituals of death and observations of suffering around the world, but hopefully they are still beautiful, if not haunting and moving musically, and will allow the listener to reflect in a meaningful way.
How’s the recording going and what else can we expect?
I’m in the final stages of mixing and mastering after a successful crowdfunding campaign. There’s a lot of variety in the songs on there and a fair amount of experimentation…
Tell us more!
There’s vocalisations of nature sounds by Siberian musician, Saydyko Fedorova; fretless bass interacting with iPad apps courtesy of Oscar South; and some very unusual sounds and textures created by English folk fiddler, Tom Kitching. I’ve been experimenting to find the Elfin Bow ‘sound’ – which is magical, ethereal and punchy in equal measure. I think the closest description so far has been ‘pastoral psych-folk’.
Something tells us you’ll be involved in every step of the creative and release process, too…
Of course! I’m doing all my own design work and have done a painting for the front cover too. As an independent musician, I don’t have a label or manager and power all the cogs in the musical machine myself – I’m planning a big album launch in Liverpool and currently booking a UK tour on the back of that for next year. Exciting times!
Let’s talk about the other strings to your, erm, bow – what else are you involved in at the minute?
I returned to freelance work, after leaving my post as Head of Art in a secondary school due to a period of ill health, as I’ve always loved teaching and often gravitate to it in one form or another. I run art and songwriting classes that are an opportunity to share the best bits of the teaching and learning experience without all the bureaucracy – I especially love the after-school art clubs that I run in primary schools… they are all about learning to be independent, to inspire a love for the creative process and to empower individuals to begin their own creative journeys.
And your art and charity work?
Recently, I’ve returned to the immediacy of drawing, painting and craft, as well as branching out into illustration and design. I started an artists’ network, Penny Lane Creatives, as a way to connect with other creatives to develop our practices with support and encouragement and have also launched a house concert project with my husband, Gary Edward Jones, called ‘Give Gigs’ – which gives 10% of all our takings to charity. This year, we’re supporting Brain Tumour Research.
There’s a link there with your past and winning JMU’s ‘Stuart Sutcliffe Fellowship’. Tell us about that…
When I left school I went into primary education with art, music and drama, but left my degree course to have my first son. That break in my education helped me to realise that I wanted to pursue art – so I studied Fine Art at John Moores University and was heavily involved in the Liverpool art scene, starting an artists’ network and running reading groups and seminars in conjunction with the main galleries in Liverpool and artist-led ventures. I think, at times, tutors were threatened by us being so proactive and, instead of supporting us, they made our education there very difficult. By the end of the course, I began to lose confidence and was unsure which direction to go… winning the ‘Stuart Sutcliffe Fellowship’ gave me a reason to keep going and I began combining my art with my background in education – all kinds of exciting projects then followed, including action research projects that explored creativity in the curriculum, which ultimately led to me training as a secondary teacher. I have always believed that no experience is wasted and life takes us on a path full of twists and turns… sometimes it can be difficult to see where you’re going, but that’s also the adventure.
You’re a great example of a modern creative, with your hands in lots of pies and many plates spinning…
I certainly do spin many plates, so much so, I start spinning myself until I don’t know which way is up anymore.! But I love being involved in many things and I always have ideas and projects in the pipeline. There is never enough time in the day.
Your songs suggest you count every grain of sand, though.
I’m generally a very busy lady, but I do love kicking back in nature – you can find perfect beauty and highest art in a leaf, the sound of wind in the trees, a beautiful sky. Without that, I think my perspective on everything would become very insular and narrow.
Whereas, right now, it would appear your visions are part of something special?
My community has been evolving for some time and I think the most important thing for me is to value the people who support me – I love meeting people at gigs and getting to know them. That’s why the house gig project is so special, because you can create magical moments between you, your music and the people who come to listen. The crowdfunding project for the album was amazing, too, because of the support people gave – it became a really special creative exchange between me and those who had pledged for art, music and design work.
What’s next for Elfin Bow, then?
I’m playing on Wednesday 5th October, at The Baltic Social, for We Shall Overcome, where I’m on the same bill as my husband, Gary Edward Jones, and Henry Priestman. I first got involved with WSO in 2015 when I donated a painting to the art auction… it’s a great cause and I’m very happy to be involved again this year.
… and beyond that?
The future for my music might not be about millions of fans (although that would be nice!), but in growing a loyal fan base who follow the music and join me on my journey.
Pic by Michael Cusick