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Lizzie Nunnery


Lizzie Nunnery has played at folk festivals and venues across the UK, and ended 2010 with a performance at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall’s Irish Sea Sessions, alongside a fourteen piece all-star band including Niamh Parsons and Damien Dempsey.  


With the release of her debut album Company of Ghosts in spring 2010, Lizzie’s reputation as a captivating new voice in British folk, has continued to grow. BBC Radio 2’s Mike Harding named the album in his top ten releases of 2010, and it was nominated for Best Debut in the 2010 Spiral Earth awards.


She is also an award winning playwright, with her stage play Intemperance, receiving a 5 star review in the Guardian. Her play with songs, The Singer, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in November 08 and she co-composed the soundtrack to her short film, Monkey.


Her highly anticipated second album will be released in 2012.




Q: Do you think of your lyrics as poetry?

A: No. I think lyrics and poetry are very closely linked but they’re not the same thing. They have a different primary medium. I love that in the sleeve notes to Pulp’s Different Class there was an instruction not to read the lyrics while listening to the songs. That sums it up for me. Lyrics can be beautiful on the page but they’re written first to be heard and sometimes the thing which looks most graceless or obvious on the page can be transformed by the music it’s sung too. I’ve thrown out loads of lovely lines because they don’t work in the context of a melody.

Q: Do you think it is important that songs rhyme and if so why?

A: It depends on the song. I love a good rhyme but the choice of language has got to work on another level too or it becomes too self-conscious, and the hand of the writer is too heavily felt. The worst kind of rhyme in a song is one which obviously makes no sense or develops nothing but is there to keep the song tidy. I think ultimately rhythm is more important than rhyme in making lyrics sit right in a melody, and often rhyming is irrelevant to the structure of an interesting melody.

Q: Do you think song lyrics must conform to recognised song structures such as clear rhyming schemes, choruses, refrains, hooks and bridges or that songs can also be like free verse?

A: I think songs can be as free as can be as long they’re driven by the desire to say something honest, both with the words and the music. If a feeling or a message or an atmosphere is best communicated through a ten minute song with no hooks and two middle eights then so be it; but having said that classic song structures have developed for a reason and sometimes the best way to make people feel what you’re feeling or understand what you’re saying is to hit the chorus or throw in that hook. I’m not interested in aloof music that experiments for it’s own sake. I’m always thinking about how to say something with enough directness to make it clear, and enough obscurity to keep it interesting over more than one listen.

Q: When you read poetry in school or elsewhere did you recognize any connection to the music you enjoyed?

A: Yes. I remember in school reading and re-reading ‘Not Waving But Drowning’ (a teenage cliché, I know) and admiring how concisely something so massive is communicated in that poem. One of the first songs I co-wrote with mates at school was a very downbeat love song partly inspired by Betjeman’s’ ‘Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough...’ with it’s imagery of a grey world of mass production. I recently set a poem by Anne Stevenson called ‘Willow Song’ to music, but I was attracted to it because the poem was so tightly rhythmic. In general I don’t find poems transfer so easily, and I’m more likely to be inspired by an image which I’ll twist and borrow. There’s a song I’ve been recently working on called ‘Tread Lightly’ which shamelessly borrows from Yeats famous poem, ‘He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’, but I think that’s the natural process of things. Nothing’s new, but everything can be made new.

Q: Was there anything about poetry in books that influenced your songwriting?


A: See above.

Q: Why do you think songs are more popular with people than poetry is?


A: There’s something so primally and instinctively emotional about music. It can make people feel without them ever knowing why. It doesn’t necessarily require study or concentration and it’s capable of leapfrogging the intellectual anxiety and self-consciousness of “Is this for me?” that comes with so much poetry. I’d argue there’s potential for poetry to grip in a similar way at it’s very best. I remember reading Milton as a student and understanding very little of it on the first read, but loving the music of it, i.e. the rhythms and the shapes of sounds. Beat poets like Adrian Henri or Kerouac performed poetry in a way that made it funny and immediate and energised, directly inspired by pop and rock n roll. Gill Scott Heron is one of my favourite performance poets and some of his words have found their way into the lives and minds of generations. Having said that though, there’s something irreplaceable and freeing about singing from the gut or getting up and dancing, and music lets us do that much for often than poetry.