Interview – Amy Holford
Music is never anything more than imitation; the repetition of the past, with just a little innovation. Using the sounds of our predecessors to express the sentiments of the present is the basis of music. Like British Punk revived the frenetic simple riffs of 1950s Mississippi rhythm and blues to howl anarchy, the beats and breaks of Soul formed the foundation on which American rap and neo-soul championed black pride. The Beatles made pop, Grandmaster Flash pioneered hip-hop and Miles Davis defined jazz; all others tread in their footsteps, widening the path.
Yet above all others, the lone singer-songwriter seemingly continues to conform to the ultimate archetype. Backed by nothing but a guitar and a fistful of heartfelt lyrics, the voice is what sets them apart. Whether you yearn for the Bob Dylan-esque grumbled malcontents of Jake Bugg, the Otis Redding depths of Willis Earl Beal, or the Erykah Badu smokiness of Lianne La Havas, what is really crucial is someone unashamed to replicate their idols, and enigmatic enough to invert your expectations.
I think you might like Amy Holford. Raised in Newcastle and defining her sound as “blues, soul, acoustic, folk and gritty stuff from the heart”, she’s beginning to blaze a trail with honest lyrics, a simple sound, and a voice that leaves rooms silent. Following her electrifying set at Evolution Emerging, I posed her a couple of questions, beginning with what inspired her to sing, and whether the realisation had made her quit university.
“I definitely quit university because of my aspiration. I have always grown up with the notion that this life, ordinary mundane life, office jobs and walking your dog in the rain, is not enough. It wasn’t a matter of what age I was when that moment occurred, or where I was standing or what I was looking at… it was always going to happen, I firmly believe that. It was inevitable. When I was younger, it was about being accepted, about being confident. Now, it’s about being seen and listened to. Everyone wants that for themselves.”
If music was always there, I wondered what the earliest memories of music were. Predictably, they came from her parents, with memories of her Dad playing Chuck Berry and Eric Clapton, and imitations of her mother’s first Eva Cassidy CD.
“I remember sitting at the kitchen table, looking at the cover, and feeling some sort of nostalgia for the music, even though I’d never heard it before. It was like my relationship with music had actually begun, with Eva. She is massively influential to my sound. I remember sitting in the car with my Mum and singing along to Eva and thinking I was pretty good at sounding like her. I don’t know what it is, I feel a connection to it I can’t really explain.”
Many of her influences are similarly classical; BB King and Johnny Cash have inspired a “back to basics” style of writing, yet Amy’s sound is far more complex; the influence of Lianne La Havas has recently become indelible. John Mayer is an ever-present influence, alongside the raw emotion of actress Bernadette Peters. After confessing that I’d recently been addicted to the Cyndi Lauper soundtrack to ‘The Goonies’, she even argues that the score to Disney’s ‘Hercules’ remains “the best Disney film ever; enough said, no argument.” Whether this shapes her sound is debatable, but it does demonstrate the breadth of her influences.
“For me, I’ve found more inspiration from old blues and bluegrass sort of stuff than I have from anything I hear around here. I feel a bit of a longing to go to America and see Memphis, and places like New Orleans and stuff, just to see and experience the music round there. I feel like I was born in the wrong era, completely. Put simply, I think I’ve always looked outside of my hometown for inspiration; Newcastle made me who I am, but in terms of sound, the rest of the world has bled into my music.”
Inextricable from Amy’s music is the idea of love, something she admits she’s struggled with.
“It’s become a family joke now that any guy I get involved with needs to watch the ground he walks on, because if he treats me like shit, he’ll know about it. It all goes into my writing.”
Her sardonic and temptress whisperings on ‘Broken Boy Blues’ serve as testament to this. But love comes in many forms, and all are utilised in her writing. ‘Sunflower’ is a song for her Granddad, ‘Blood’ is for her family. Emotion is the undercurrent of everything she writes, and it shows in the performance. Quite simply, the audience is confronted with blistering vocals and earnest truth.
“You’re sharing something that comes from you and it’s up to you whether you want to come right out with it and tell them what the story is, or whether you want to hide behind your words. I don’t want to hide behind them, otherwise I wouldn’t bother writing.”
Creativity comes in leaps and bounds, to the extent that the foundations of a band are now appearing to help express all the ideas that Amy has. It indicates something incredibly exciting: a refusal to be categorised and compartmentalised and ignored.
“I didn’t want to hang around on my own too long because there’s now this stigma of being a female singer-songwriter on a guitar; it puts some people off, because there’s so many of us. I have as a general rule of thumb: when everyone’s doing one thing, you do another.”
As her set at Evolution Emerging revealed, that’s exactly what Amy is doing. Joined by a crew on a veritable hodgepodge of instruments, the sense is experimental, and the sound on ‘I Won’t Wait’ is colossal. Her first EP, working with Dave Burn and Michael Ross of Frankie & the Heartstrings, will only enhance that individuality. But as her closing acapella number ‘Wade in the Water’ indicates, her voice is always the constant. And a rather special voice it is too.
Follow @Holfyy and www.soundcloud.com/amyholford.