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Talking To Red Velvet

Fatea writer Nic Rigby caught up with songwriter Les Ray

The Cambridgeshire band Red Velvet's new album Heartland Soul has been winning plaudits up and down and the land and has already been recognised by Fatea with Showcase track Stranger Welcome. Fatea writer Nic Rigby caught up with the band's key songwriter Les Ray.

Red Velvet's sound really mixes it up with nods to Irish folk, country, jazz and world music - and this is in full flow in their new album.

The band is made up of Les(vocals, guitar, mandolin), singer Deirdre Murphy (lead vocals) and for the album multi-instrumentalists George Harper(harp, whistles), Chris Fox (trumpet, guitar, bass), Robin Gillan (fiddle, mandolin, guiro) and rock drummer Colin Smith.

Les says the band started with more traditional songs but then the band "started including self-penned songs with Deirdre having such a great voice and I started writing more and more songs".

He says bringing the album together was helped by "a bunch of top notch musicians who perform with us".

"You have an idea and if the musicians are able to put it into action straight away then all the better," he says.

"We were lucky to have Robin Gillan with us for the recording of the album. He's no longer in the band but he joined us to record and he's a wonderful multi-instrumentalist. You know you take your pick. He's a wonderful banjo player, guitar player, fiddle player, mandolin player, even concertina."

Les is not afraid to put politics into the mix on the new album Heartland Soul with a wry attack on private prisons and also joyful ska celebration of diversity called Stranger Welcome.

"There is a lot of xenophobia around and a certain tension after the Brexit vote and I've friends who are feeling uncomfortable even in Cambridge, so I thought this is one of the songs that needed to be written," he says.

The album was being written during a time when lead singer Deirdre was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, although she is now in remission for six years and the album track Our Love in Music highlights how much music has helped her through.

I asked what his future plans for the band were?

"Well the band has already evolved, not entirely by choice, in that Robin we knew wasn't going to be staying for the duration," he says

"It was kind of agreed that he was just going to be with us for the recording. We were expecting Chris Fox to be with us a bit longer but he left soon after the launch gig. So we immediately had to think about doing something so we gave Gene Thunderbolt, a bigger role in the band.

"In the album, he only appears on one track which is Harbor, the Eleanor McEvoy song, which closes the album.

"As well as being a fine keyboard player, he's also an excellent bassist and guitar player. So now we have, we're effectively a five piece now.

"Our sound has evolved into a slightly more bluesy, jazzy version of the band which we're very happy with. And so we've been rehearsing the material that's on the album and kind of slightly reworking it for the new musicians and so we'll be taking that and gigging over the next few months and maybe couple of years."

And plans for a new album?

"To tell you the truth, yes. Because when you're working on an album, you focus everything on recording that and then you have to take it out to the world and gig around it.

"Meantime, it's not as if you stop working. So I've got a whole bunch of songs that I'm really keen to teach the band and get to record and perform.

"But specifically, there's a mini-project that we have for later in the year. I've written a song based around a series of letters that ... Well the story is, my mum found them about 10 years ago hidden away in an attic in a box. They were letters that my grandmother's brother Walter wrote to her in 1918 from France where he was a soldier in the First World War.

"And there's a final letter from one of his comrades telling them he'd passed away in the fighting in October 1918, just a couple of weeks before the end of the war."

Les says he plans to turn them into a song called Letters from Walter.

"The plan is to record that song and release it as a single for October this year to coincide with the centennial of the First World War," says Les.

El patron y el diablo

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