In January 2016, in order to mark their ten year anniversary, The Shee took to the stage in front of a sell-out audience at Celtic Connections to launch Continuum – a project in which they asked six of their favourite folk musicians to compose pieces for the band. Amy Thatcher, their accordion player, talked to Tom Keller about their exciting ten year journey.
Tom Keller: The Shee celebrates its 10th anniversary. But how did the band come together ten years ago?
Amy Thatcher: We decided to form a band while we were all at university. We all studied at Newcastle at the time. Rather than deciding specifically to form a 'girl band', it actually attracted us all because we had a similar sense of purpose, a good work ethic and we were all friends.
Tom: Do you like to tell us something about each band member!?
Amy: We have six members. I am from Stockport and grew up around folk music in school. I joined a folk music education group when I was eight and was hooked from then. Laura-Beth Salter sings and plays mandolin, and her upbringing was in old-time and bluegrass. She spent a lot of time playing music in pubs when she was younger – and still does!
Rachel Newton sings and plays harp. She studied Gaelic at school and had a fantastic traditional musical education there in Edinburgh. She has just released her third solo album, Here's My Heart Come Take It. Shona Mooney plays fiddle. She grew up in the Scottish borders. She completed a Masters in performance at Newcastle University and is heavily involved in composition, with her recent album, Sensing The Park, her latest venture.
Lillias Kinsman–Blake is our flautist. From the Scottish borders, and like Shona, Lillias also grew up in a fantastic traditional music scene. Lillias also does graphic design and has designed all four of our album covers so far. Perhaps most notable for its ambition is Murmurations, our third, where each of the 2,000 designs were unique! Olivia Ross sings and plays fiddle. She is from the Scottish Highlands where she still lives and where traditional music is still thriving. She became more interested in singing ballads at university and caught Chris Wood's ear while she was there.
What has been and still is the musical philosophy of The Shee?
We always try and do something different, not always the same tricks every time. We like to play around with tune, shift the boundaries. It's hard to come up with influences specifically because we all have different tastes and I think that's what we like about the process: that everyone’s equally involved.
By the way, what made you choose the group's name I wonder?
‘Shee’ is a Gaelic word meaning ‘peace’. It's also a play on the word ‘she’. It just fitted!
Looking back these ten years, what immediately comes to mind?
We played at the Vancouver Highland Games festival a while back. It was an interesting trip… among other events which I dare not bring up, we ended up on stage with no less than three highland bagpipe bands. Not fun if you play the accordion, by the way!
But I don't think we could really top our recent show at Celtic Connections (January 2016). It really came together brilliantly and having organised it ourselves, it gave us such a sense of self-worth. Flops? It's sometimes been hard going through your 20s; there have been a few moments from each of us at various times when we just couldn't keep life out of the way!
You mentioned Celtic Connections 2016, where you have launched your new album. Continuum is a special thing. What is it all about?
We wanted to celebrate our 10 years with something special. A big holiday was on the list at one point, but this idea was too good! We also wanted to do something a bit different for our fourth album and the idea of asking our favourite folk musicians to compose pieces for the band was too hard to resist.
Who are the musicians chosen for this project?
We decided to approach our heroes for the project and, thankfully, they said yes! I chose English accordion player, Andy Cutting, while Rachel chose Scottish singer and songwriter, Karine Polwart. Shona approached English Northumbrian piper and fiddle player, Kathryn Tickell, while English songwriter, fiddle player and guitarist, Chris Wood, was Olivia’s choice. Laura-Beth chose English songwriter and guitarist, Martin Simpson, and finally, Lillias chose Irish flute and whistle player, Brian Finnegan.
I understand that you played venues and festivals all over Britain. However, did you ever perform on the continent?
We have played in Germany quite a few times thanks to a friend of ours, Keith Melville. He's organised several German tours for us. We've also played in France a few times. I’m sure we'll be hopping over the water at some point again soon, too.
Photo Credits: (1)-(6) The Shee, (7) Martin Simpson, (8) Chris Wood, (9) Andy Cutting, (10) Kathryn Tickell, (11) Karine Polwart, (12) Brian Finnegan (unknown/website).