The Argotist Online
Elfin Bow's music has been described as a fairy tale experience for grown ups: pastoral psych-folk with an undercurrent of electronic ambience. A storyteller of the finest kind, with a voice that is as vulnerable as it is strong; she weaves together art and music in a way that is truly captivating. With imagery that blends her twin passions of music and art, her songs and stage presence exude colour, charisma and a gentle charm. She loves to pen her own unique songs as well as collecting jewels from the musical history books to reinterpret in her own way, playing guitar, mandolin, violin and piano.
Energetic and driven, she has always embraced new challenges, whether it is song writing with primary schools or collaborating with videographer, Brian Roberts, on her video for her first single, ‘The Wisdom’. She has supported Robin and Bina Williamson, the Sam Kelly Trio, Harp and a Monkey, James Findlay, Tom Kitching and Mississippi artist, Bonwynne Brent.
She has performed live sets and interviews on various local radio and TV stations, including BBC Radio Merseyside, Halton Community Radio, Wirral Radio, Bay TV and That's Manchester TV and has had regular airplay on Fab Radio International, Eden FM Radio and BBC Radio Shropshire.
This summer she was selected to play the main stage at Folk on the Dock, hosted by Janice Long; and she has been selected for the Fatea Spring Showcase Session, ‘Thawing.’
After a successful crowdfunding campaign, she completed her debut album, Elfin Bow. Some of the reviews so far have said: ‘An album that sets the mind thinking, the body moving and the spirit soaring’ (Neil King), ‘Lyrically astute, melodically inventive and in possession of pure singing tones... an album full of intimate, homespun charm and mystery’ (Shindig Magazine) and "Elfin Bow is a rising star of the modern folk scene... she is clearly going to be one to watch in 2017’(Fatea Magazine)
Q: Do you think of your lyrics as poetry?
A: For me, poetry and lyric writing are two distinct disciplines, when thinking about poetry as a literary work. However, there can be poetry in lyrics, just as there can be poetry in a well-designed building or landscape. In this sense, poetry gives us expression, a quality of beauty and an intensity of emotion, all of which may or may not be expressed in the words of a song. Therefore, my lyrics certainly contain poetry but they are lyrics because they are set to music and there is a symbiotic relationship with the formal elements of music; melody, dynamics, instrumentation etc.
Q: Do you think it is important that songs rhyme and if so why?
A: Many of my songs have rhyming elements but it is not because I think that that is an essential ingredient. It’s just the way the words tumble out of my head and how they fit with the music. It is down to personal choice and taste in both the songwriter and the audience. If you are writing a nursery rhyme for young children to learn, rhyming words are more memorable (hence why often popular chart songs have a nursery rhyme-like melody at their heart and easy to learn rhyming words.) Maybe I have been culturally conditioned to like songs that rhyme, maybe they are easier for me to remember, maybe the songs ask for it. Maybe there’s a part of me that knows that the audience will be able to sing along. But that’s me and my audience… It wouldn’t stop me from appreciating a song that didn’t rhyme, so long as it was able to move me emotionally and allow me to connect with the song in a meaningful way.
Q: Do you think song lyrics must conform to recognised song structures or that songs can be like free verse?
A: Again, it’s down to personal choice of what you find aurally, intellectually or sensorially pleasing. I think that songwriters write how they can at the time, armed with the cultural capital and precedents that influence them. As they grow and explore new territory, there can be more experimentation away – or towards – more recognised structures. An artist who is writing for pop music, may well be swayed by current trends. Personally, I get excited by artists who are constantly moving forward, exploring and trying new things for them. For example, Bjork, has always explored beyond her boundaries. Her music isn’t always to my taste (or at least until I get used to it) but I appreciate the questions she asks and her use of new technology to reflect the ever changing structures that govern our everyday life… like allowing your audience to reorder a song based on a map of stars and planets within an app. I think debut albums are a way to process everything you know up to that point and then after that you can have the freedom to venture into new territory, which can be quite daunting!
Q: When you read poetry in school or elsewhere did you recognise any connection to the music you enjoyed?
A: I don’t think I was conscious of it at the time but looking back I certainly recognise influences. Thinking about the album I have just released, the poems of John Donne with its rich pastoral imagery and deeply philosophical content resonate with my own themes. Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen’s war poetry paved the way for tackling the darker side of human existence. As a child brought up in a strict Baptist church, my musical dalliances were restricted to classical and praise music. (I say restricted, but what a wonderful education that indeed was!) As a young girl desperately wanting to listen to the latest pop tunes, I maybe didn’t appreciate just how valuable my musical heritage would turn out to be. The huge themes that were hammered out on our Pianola piano, of Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Sibelius, held all that was dark and light and beautiful and philosophical, all in one movement. The hymns in church that warned of the perils of ignoring the divine, were as dark and as reflective of the human experience as the soaring melodies that helped you feel closer to God.
Q: Was there anything about poetry in books that influenced your songwriting?
A: Definitely! I often skim through poetry books that I have bought in charity shops (I like the old, yellowed, characterful tomes) for words or phrases to kick start a fresh mindset, when I am feeling stuck. I particularly like the concise nature of poems, the word play and rhythm. I also like the publication Pop Shots, where poetry meets illustration. As a visual artist myself, I often use imaginative drawing to bring out new ideas, characters and stories in my songs. There’s a definite interplay between all three disciplines.
Q: Why do you think songs are more popular with people than poetry is?
A: There have been so many studies, TV and radio programmes declaring the benefits of music on the brain, on concentration, on health and wellbeing. A quick Google search for quotes about the power of music will result in hundreds of sound bites from ancient philosophers right through to modern authors and celebrities. There is a truth in the phrase, “music is the universal language”. It does transcend language barriers in a way poetry can’t. There is a vibration and a pulse in the beat of a song that reminds us of the first rhythm we ever knew; our own mothers heartbeat. That is common to every human on the planet, until there are humans born in Petri dishes (and then their influences might be the hum and grind of laboratory machines!) Music is a feast for the senses, the emotions and the intellect. Poetry read from the page can be profound and deeply moving but I know that for me at least, a song that resonates with me lyrically, set to music and performed, has a greater power than the written words of a poem alone.
copyright © Elfin Bow