FAMILY AFFAIR: EMMA POLLOCK

We were watching Celtic Connections a couple of months ago, when Emma Pollock appeared on the screen and blew us away. You remember The Delgados, right? Well, Emma was the singer and guitarist, and for the last few years she’s been releasing brilliant solo records on the seminal Chemikal Underground label. And, this year, she put out the best work she’s ever done. By Alan O’Hare.

“One song was a direct result of both my parents being in hospital during the same week in different places and me travelling between them. The sun was out as I was driving up and down the M6 and it struck me that the world always continues turning no matter what strife meets you… ” Emma Pollock is talking about ‘In Search Of Harperfield’ – her new album and one of the best records of 2016 so far.

You’ll know her as the co-founder, guitarist and singer of Scottish indie magicians, The Delgados, and one of the many brains behind the Chemikal Underground label. But, it’s her solo material that strikes us: beautiful, strange and full of twists and turns. Pollock is a melody maker of the highest order and has been creating works of understated beauty – with her husband, Paul Savage (former Delgados drummer) – for a while now. Each one has improved on the last and this year’s ‘In Search Of Harperfield’, her third album ‘proper’, is the sound of an artist arriving at the apex of their powers.

Loathe to ‘box’ the music, but very keen to entice you to discover it, we’ll just say that if you could imagine, say, Laura Marling was braver with electric instruments and turned a melody left more often… you’d be close. There is a dash of Damon Albarn’s curiosity in there, too, but the Scot stands alone and is an inventive and enticing singer. Pollock’s music travels from punky guitars to chamber pop and stops off for a sip at the coffee cup of rhythm and tunes at every point in between.

She’s in Liverpool this week, so we got in touch to find out what we can expect at the Arts Club on Seel Street and to ask her more about the new album and it’s extraordinary set of lyrics and meandering moods…

The new songs sound like a conversation with the singer’s many selves. Would that be fair?
I guess so. I put myself in many different shoes when writing lyrics and try to empathise with different situations that I might not have experienced directly, but have witnessed others going through. It gets tiring writing from the first person all the time, too – it’s healthy to broaden out.

You have a knack for finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Do you write simply?
I’ve always suspected that the simplest things in life are the best and we’re so overwhelmed with white noise these days – social media, TV, constant Internet – that it’s really easy to forget how great it can be to step out of that for a while. I think I also harbour the hope that life is more than just practicality – but, again, that’s really hard to hold onto when we are all so busy.

The music comes across as very confident. Did you have a set idea of how it was going to sound?
Paul (producer/husband) and I let the songs dictate initially what might suit them best, as regards production. ‘Alabaster’, for example, was written on piano and was initially recorded on piano, too, but didn’t sound that engaging so we sacked that and started again with a much more ethereal sound. We used different keyboard sounds, programmed drum kits etc. and mucked about with rhythms, making it all sound a bit uneasy.

It worked! How is it working with your husband to make a record?
It can be tough, as we don’t have a professional barrier that’s usually there and we can end up not exercising an essential filter when talking about how we feel about certain things. That honesty goes both ways, though, and Paul always gets the best out of me… he knows me better than anyone, so I listen carefully to what he says.

The record tackles some big subjects and delves into the pasts of your mum and gran…
My gran fell pregnant with my mum out of wedlock and was banished to Glasgow to have the baby – which was adopted immediately afterwards. The experience was quite horrific and typical of the thirties and beyond in Ireland and the long-term damage that it did to both my gran and my mother is something I find it hard to forgive… I can’t help but focus on the church and its wider influence at the time when looking for explanations. There was terrible hypocrisy back then – the denial of a life to keep ‘face’ is contemptible and my gran and mum never had a proper relationship as a result. In fact, they had been estranged for ten years when they both died last year.

Their stories play a big part in the album, in particular the song ‘Cannot Keep A Secret’.
Yes and I guess I only started to really pay attention to the whole thing when I became a mother. I tried to imagine what it would feel like to have a child taken away from you and be forced to watch it be adopted… these were just stories before, but, as you get older, history becomes more real as you begin to experience the complexities of family and all that it brings.

That particular song sounds great on record – but live, it’s something else…
Thank you. I like playing in all different forms, it allows me to get to know the songs in different ways which is actually really satisfying.

Watch a live performance of ‘Cannot Keep A Secret’

Emma Pollock
Thursday, May 19th 2016, Arts Club, Seel Street, Liverpool
Get tickets

Pic courtesy Chemikal Underground

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