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Cambridge Conversations:Fara

Orkney folk group have been establishing themselves as one of the most exciting groups north or south of the border. Fatea writer Nic Rigby caught up with them at the Cambridge Folk Festival.

Fara last played Cambridge back in 2015 when they had just started up.

The festival was their first foray into England and the band - which is made up of Kristan Harvey, Jeana Leslie, Catriona Price (fiddles, vocals) and Jennifer Austin (piano, vocals) - proved an instant hit.

Since then Fara have produced their first CD Cross the Line, have played in venues around the world and were nominated for the prestigious Horizon Award for folk's best emerging artist in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards - which saw them performing in the Royal Albert Hall.

Jeana says: "We have certainly been having a lot of fun. This (Cambridge Folk Festival) was our first ever gig south of the border, so it's a bit of a homecoming."

Catriona adds: "We have made an album which came out in October that was a great process for the band. We've been developing our sound a lot."

The album includes a mix of traditional tunes and songs with self-penned tunes with wonderful fiddling with Jennifer described by Jeana as the "driving force" on the piano.

"Jen's brilliant," adds Catriona. "She comes up with so many ideas and rhythms."

Jennifer says: "I like a challenge and like to keep it driving forward."

The CD also included a wonderful cover of Joe South's 1960s song Games People Play.

"I actually heard that song in a pub and went and found the words and took it to the girls after learning the melody," says Jeana.

"Then ideas came with it and we got the plinkety plonk going with it.

"Just after album we still didn't realise it was a pop song.

"We performed and everyone sang along, and we thought wow we must be really good.

"Then someone came up to us and said: You do know it's a famous pop song in 1969? Nooo. We had no idea."

The band says that one of the highlights of the year was performing at the Royal Albert Hall for the Folk Awards.

"It was very good fun as you can imagine," says Catriona. "We did not have time to think about the gig itself, it was a pretty full on day.

"We had the folk awards slot and before that the Simon Mayo show. There was a lot of running about."

The performance had its own challenges. The hall with its concave ceiling used to be renowned for its echo.

A long-running joke among composers was that it was the only venue you could guarantee hearing your piece played twice.

Fibreglass acoustic diffuser (nicknamed mushrooms) have since helped alleviate this problem, at least when the hall is filled.

Jeana says: "It's insane. I was thrown at the sound check because the room was so empty if you were singing it came back at you. And I was thinking I don't like this.

"But it was a great experience."

Now the band is getting ready for their second album.

Kristan says: "We are thinking for the new album that it will be all original, the tunes especially.

"We'll see with the songs. It's quite nice taking stories from Orkney, and maybe putting some of these to music."

Jeana adds: "Orkney has well known writers such as Eric Linklaker and George Mackay Brown, to name a few. They have all produced excellent work and it might be an idea to set them to music. We will go at it, head first."

Nic Rigby @nicrigby1 pics Anna Hester

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