‘If I could have sounded like anyone it would have been Aretha Franklin’

Beth Orton talks to the Leaminton Spa Courier

Beth Orton will be performing at Leamington Assebly on Sunday November 25.

SHE has one of the most distinctive voices in modern music, yet says she has silenced herself in her attempt to be perfect.

And Beth Orton’s description of herself as nosy, private and open may be the best way to describe her records, a blend of folk music, dance, soul and jazz.

When Beth Orton – performing at Leamington Assembly on Sunday November 25 – released her first records in the early 1990s they were collaborations with dance producers William Orbit, Andy Weatherall and the Chemical Brothers, but her voice evoked the classic English folk of Nick Drake or Sandy Denny.

Since then, she has collaborated with soul, jazz and folk musicians, and the Norfolk-born singer says if she could have sounded like anyone it would have been Aretha Franklin.

She said: “How I sing has just been there. I opened my mouth and this is what came out. I heard of Nick Drake after the fact but would be over the moon to think there was any similarity. It’s an insult to most people that I might not have spoken out in praise of Sandy Denny. She is clearly amazing and Fairport Convention extraordinary but I would not think of them as direct influences, so it’s interesting to wonder about these influences and how they might slip in under the radar.”

Her list of collaborators contains luminaries such as folk icon Bert Jansch, who died last year. Her first album in six years Sugaring Season features contributions from Tom Waits collaborator Marc Ribot, legendary soul drummer Brian Blade and long-time gutarist Ted Barnes. Although she does not rule out a return to dance, with musicians such as these it’s not surprising she is most excited by the immediacy of recording live.

It’s not always easy. In an interview with Rolling Stone about her new single Magpie Orton talked about being silenced, but rather than point the finger at record labels or other people, the singer says her own standards hold her back.

She said: “I have silenced myself as much as anything, putting pressure on myself to be perfect at times. Also, truly wanting to only bring music to the world that adds something to the already full airwaves. This is a noble pursuit but also possibly a little too humble for its own good.

“It’s a song about stories and finding freedom and release from owning what is mine and letting go of what is not. Voicing these frustrations helped me find my voice.”

She is also exploring new feelings. After losing both parents relatively young, the singer recently had her first child, something she describes as the most profound experience of her life.

Written in private moments late at night, the songs have a sense of intimacy. Her records are always atmospheric, and sometimes hard to fathom but Orton says her lyrics are more direct than before.

She said: “I start with a melody and a feeling and I hook the melody with the feeling and the melody hooks the words and then I build from there. It is like starting in the middle of a maze and working my way outwards. I never know the start until the end, or something like that!”

“I like to pack my songs pretty tight with hidden meanings and, possibly, messages. I want them to still be being discovered for years. I wanted to be a detective when I was little. I love wondering about human nature. I am pretty nosy and also pretty private and very open. It’s a funny mix.”

Beth Orton will perform at
Leamington Assembly on November 25. Doors open at 7pm.Tickets cost £18.50. Call 311311.


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