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Meet the Queen of folk Maddy Prior

Maddy Prior, founder member of the English folk band Steeleye Span, is a force to be reckoned with. At 71 her verve for music is undiminished and next month she again joins up with The Carnival Band for their regular celebration

of the festive season bringing Carols & Capers to The Apex.

Together they mix renaissance, modern and ethnic instruments with a refreshing cavalier attitude and large sprinkling of humour to put their inimitable stamp on a range of familiar and not-so-familiar festive fare.

Culture caught up with Maddy ahead of the Christmas tour to find out what inspires her and what the audience can expect.

maddy prior (5432045)
maddy prior (5432045)

You’ve had a lifelong association with music and enjoyed great success – what is it that still inspires you?

The songs inspire me and folk music has inspired me since I first discovered it in my late teens.

Can you ever imagine a life without music?

No, none of us are ever away from music these days. I am not a person who puts music on in the background. . .I like silence. I don’t listen to a lot of music, as mostly I am working on it.

Many musicians stick to one style of music, but you have covered an eclectic mix in your career. Are you naturally curious and do you see it as an adventure to explore new things?

I think I don’t see music that way. I move from song to song, and the interest lies in the songs. I try to find songs I want to sing, wherever they come from.

What music do you listen to?

Not a great deal, as I say. I listen to the people I like. Karine Polwart, is one of my favourites. I like musicians who are interested in words, I like the combination of music and words, that is the supreme moment.

Who are your favourite musicians/singers/bands at the moment?

Singer/songwriters have always attracted me. I have listened to Bob Dylan, Randy Newman, Chris Knight, (Southern Americana), Lau have introduced a complex musical landscape. Nancy Kerr, Hannah James, and other younger players are bringing their excellent writing skills to the folk world. Also I like Everything Everything, they write intriguing material.

You set up your own arts centre. What was the thinking behind that?

The story is that my mother came to live with me and I thought that I should spend more time at home. It was getting people to come there, where I live. My mother passed away and I discovered that I liked teaching and being a hostess, and people have continued to come. It has been 18 years now.

You were awarded an MBE for services to Folk music in 2001 – what does that sort of recognition mean to you?

I was very touched and immensely surprised. I received the letter when I was at a friend’s house, and I thought it was a joke. I spoke to Martin Carthy, who also has an MBE, I told him I thought it was a prank. . . he said, “No, no you would have to just look at the quality of the paper.”

You’ve worked with The Carnival Band for some years now, how did that first come about?

That was in 1989. They were doing Pause for Thought, and they asked me to sing on the songs. Angels from The Realms of Glory was the highest and fastest version of the song I have ever sung. I thought they were such skilled musicians and such great fun. We did a couple of years of Pause, then made an album, then we went on tour and it has continued from there.

Your Christmas tour with them has become something of a fixture – is Christmas time a special time for you?

As much as for everybody. It’s particularly nice working with The Carnival Band as we sing such beautiful carols. Ones that a lot of people don’t necessarily know or not familiar with. Andy Wyatts, who is the musical director, is a great picker of a song. It’s good for me to sing something so different from Steeleye. I have to use my voice differently.It makes it a serious challenge.

Your Carols and Capers tour with the band comes to The Apex in Bury St Edmunds in December – what can our audience expect?

They can expect the first night of the tour, which is always an interesting moment. We are doing some material, that if the audience know us, they will know it. We are singing new pieces as well. Always delightful songs.

Spanning the years

Best known as the singer in English folk rock band Steeleye Span, of which she was a founder member, Maddy Prior’s career has been long and diverse.

Steeleye Span was formed in 1969 and is still active today, having had many personnel changes over the years, and are probably best known for their single All Around My Hat.

Outside of the band, Maddy has had several collaborations alongside a solo career. She teamed up with June Tabor, under the banner the Silly Sisters, and has toured and recorded with The Carnival Band and the trio Maddy & The Girls.

Alongside her performing, Maddy runs her own arts centre in Cumbria working with fellow singers and performers.

Maddy and The Carnival Band bring their unique celebratory Carols & Capers show to The Apex next month. Call 01284 758000 or visit theapex.co.uk

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