Having worked with the brilliant Toby Kearney of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for the recording of Coracle I realised that percussion added so much to the sound that I wanted to recreate it live! And the man for the job is Pete Flood, known to many as Bellowhead’s drummer.
Sophie Parkes has gone behind the scenes to find out more..
You'll be familiar to many as the man behind the Bellowhead percussion. When did you first meet Emily, and how did she approach you with regards to playing on the forthcoming tour?
I know Emily's work from way back in the Devil's Interval. It was very nice to get an email from her out of the blue one day asking if I'd consider depping for Toby Kearney. Since then, Toby has become busy with CBSO, so I'm hoping to be a worthy successor to him.
When you think of Emily Portman's music, you don't necessarily think of big beats and rousing drum fills. Does this make it more of a challenge for a percussionist?
Getting the dynamics right is always a challenge, and the Coracle Band uses the full range, from whisper quiet to poundingly loud. I've been focusing on the quieter end of the scale for years in my practice, but as you can imagine, I didn't get much of a chance to show off that side of my playing with Bellowhead, so I'm really looking forward to bringing the delicacy to the fore with Emily.
Does playing with The Coracle Band enable you to do things you can't elsewhere? i.e. particular styles, tempos, instrumentation...
Sure. I'm using my Uzbek goat bells at one point, and using a lot of brushes, which involves a totally different set of techniques to playing with mallets or sticks. And one song (‘Tongue Tied’) really calls for a bass kalimba sound, or possibly a tongue drum or udu drum. I haven't tried that with the band yet though, and depending on what I go with, I might have to build the instrument first!
At some point, I'd love to incorporate tuned percussion, but it's early days and I'm trying to break my habit of using every instrument I own. For one thing, it's hellish trying to fit it all in the car!
What do you enjoy particularly about Emily's music?
As a trainee botanist/ecologist, I really love all the nature imagery in her lyrics, and the way it goes beyond pastoralism to describe a rawness and brutality that I think a lot of writers gloss over. And the band are really fantastic, imaginative players – it's a privilege to work with them.
What's Emily like as a band leader?
Enabling. It's lovely when the work is about finding a musical way through a piece rather than just performing a set of actions in strict sequence.
Which gig are you looking forwards to most?
Buxton's always a great place to play.
What other musical projects do you have on at the moment?
I've been doing some recording for Lisa Knapp and another singer called Ady Johnson. I’ve just finished a month in Bristol playing in the band for a new musical called The Grinning Man, by many of the same folk who made Warhorse. And I'm currently in a splitter van en route to Berlin to play the first show in a European tour with the Oysterband. After Christmas, I start work on a composition project working with people with hearing impairment. That's with a brilliant Winchester-based theatre company by the name of Platform 4.
And, in amongst all this music, I'm studying for a University Certificate in Biological Recording, and spending as much time as possible working on my ID skills with the stuff that doesn't run away: plants, bryophytes, fungi, and the like.