Musical magpie Eliza Carthy, of Imagined Village, so tuned in

The Imagined Village is a musical collaboration bringing together artists from diverse backgrounds to put a new twist on folk music. Emma Lee speaks to band member Eliza Carthy ahead of their Norfolk and Norwich Festival performance.

While she might be known as a folk artist, Eliza Carthy is more of a musical magpie, taking inspiration wherever she finds it.

With music in her genes – her mother is Norma Waterson, her father Martin Carthy – she is credited with bringing folk music to a new generation by pushing the boundaries of the genre.

So when Simon Emmerson of the Afro Celt Soundsystem was looking for collaborators for an experimental project bringing together musicians from different musical backgrounds, Eliza was one of the first people he approached.

'He chatted us all up,' she says laughing. 'At the time there wasn't a high-profile band trying to do it except for my band so I guess that's why he spoke to me.


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'He also spoke to my dad. He was one of the first people to play electric guitar on English folk music and is known as a pioneer in that field,' she adds.

The result was The Imagined Village. Named after a book by Georgina Boyes, it takes traditional English folksong and Britain's multi-cultural heritage as its starting point, fusing ancient songs with modern beats with sitars playing alongside accordions.

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Early collaborators on the project included Paul Weller, Billy Bragg and Benjamin Zephaniah.

Set to release their third album, Bending the Dark this month, and about to start a tour which includes a date at Norwich Theatre Royal on Wednesday, May 23 as part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, Eliza says that The Imagined Village is more of a band than it's ever been.

As well as Eliza, Martin Carthy and Simon Emmerson, the line-up now includes Ali Friend, Andy Gangadeen, Johnny Kalsi, Barney Morse Brown, Sheema Mukherjee, Jackie Oates and Simon Richmond.

'Over the course of playing together it's become a band rather than a project.

'On this album everyone feels the same – we are all in it together. It comes from playing live. The bulk of this album had been played out before we went into the studio. We spent time together musically and personally.'

Lyrically, Eliza had rich pickings.

'What I wanted to do with The Imagined Village was write some sort of commentary,' she says.

'Sick Old Man is about the economic situation. And Fisherman is about looking for leadership from the church in the context of the Occupy protest.

'The album's very much about culture in crisis and I think Simon's idea of Bending the Dark is subverting the darkness and turning it to your own advantage in a good way.'

Despite her musical heritage, and starting to play the piano, then fiddle, then any instrument she could lay her hands on from an early age, it wasn't a fait accompli that Eliza would end up following in her parents' footsteps.

'I also wanted to be a writer and a nurse and a ballet dancer like most little girls. I guess I started to take it seriously when I was 13 when my mum and aunt asked if I wanted to do some gigs with them. That's when I started to get pretensions,' she laughs.

Early champions included John Peel, Andy Kershaw and Billy Bragg – she featured on his Grammy Award-winning albums with Wilco, Mermaid Avenue volumes one and two.

Eliza has twice been nominated for the Mercury Music Prize – for 1998's Red Rice and 2003's Anglicana – and won at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards many times.

Last year she released the solo album Neptune and the previous year The Gift, a record she made with her mother. In addition to recording and performing with her parents, she's worked with Jools Holland, Ed Harcourt, Cerys Matthews, Patrick Wolf and Joan Baez.

This year, marking 20 years in music, an official biography, including interviews with collaborators and friends including Billy Bragg, comedian Stewart Lee and legendary producer Van Dyke Parks, and a best of album, both called Wayward Daughter, are being released.

Eliza says she's looking forward to coming back to Norwich and another Norfolk and Norwich Festival show.

'I know Norwich quite well,' she says. 'I've played a lot at Norwich Arts Centre, with my band and with my family band. We did a fabulous show there last year at the Spiegeltent. I've got lots of good memories of Norwich,' she says.

The Imagined Village play Norwich Theatre Royal as part of Norfolk and Norwich Festival on Wednesday, May 23. Tickets are available on 01603 766400 or in person from the Theatre Royal box office. Visit www.nnfestival.org.uk

The Imagined Village's new album, Bending the Dark, is released on Monday, May 14.

Wayward Daughter – An Official Biography of Eliza Carthy by Sophie Parkes is published on Wednesday, May 9. The album of the same name will be released in September.

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