bright young folk

Darwin Song Project - Krista Detor, Stu Hanna & Karine Polwart - part 1

Posted by Christopher Friedenthal on 14 September 2009

In March 2009 eight musicians where gathered together in a Shropshire farmhouse to write songs on the life and work of Shewsbury’s most famous son, Charles Darwin. After six days they performed what they had written in a brand new theatre where it was recorded for CD and DVD.

Months later, at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival 2009, they performed the set again. Shortly after they had finished we met up with Krista Detor, Stu Hanna and Karine Polwart to ask them all about it. The trio were light-hearted and chatty, clearly enjoying the glow of a second outstanding performance.

Interview by Christopher Friedenthal and Mike Hough. Live photos by Alan Cole. Thanks to Roots Records hosting the interview.

You’ve just done the second performance of the work, how did it go?

Krista Detor: It was great.

Stu Hanna: Yes, it was good actually. It was it bit funny it having been so long since we all got together and played any of these songs but we managed to scape through alright.

Where you tempted to tweak the songs in the months since the first performance?

Krista: We probably have for our own purposes but for tonight we tried to stick with the script.

Stu: When we met up this morning, Karine was “oh, try this and try this...”

Karine Polwart: There’s a couple I do and I had to have a different head on today to do them like they are on the CD, more or less, and not the way I do the with my trio.

How did you prepare for meeting up in the first place?

Krista: I think we mostly studied and read on the subject matter, and don’t think we were prepared for meeting each other.

Stu: ...and how we could turn that into song form.

Karine: I did an Open University course and I failed it! I failed it just because I ran out of time. But it was great, I could probably explain the theory of evolution and natural selection now and I couldn’t have done that before. So, there you go.

Did you write any material before you went in?

Karine: I did. By accident.

Stu: Karine wrote a whole song!

Karine: I didn’t mean to! I was just immersed in the stuff and it came along.

Krista: I had a line from “Clock of the world” running around in my head.

Stu: I had half of a song, The Merchant’s Question. The riff was there and a couple of lines and I just needed some inspiration so I took them to Jez Lowe and he filled it out a bit.

Krista: The rest of the songs where written while we were there.

Was the location important?

Stu: It made sense were it was, We felt pretty much like we were trapped in a house for a week. We had one trip out around Shrewsbury and they showed us the sites.

Krista: It was inspiring, being in this old town and seeing his old school and where he was baptised

Stu: It was nice looking out across the Shropshire hills..

Karine: Things were taken care of, there was lots of food. You never in your normal life get to concentrate on writing and playing. You’re busy doing your washing and stuff like that, so it was a bit of a luxury to get that time.

None of you have ever worked together before?

Karine: A few of us knew each other, I knew Emily and Chris and I’d met Stu, but I’d never met Krtisa or Mark or Jez, actually.

You arrive on the first night. How do you decide how to go about splitting up?

Karine: Drink a lot of wine!

Krista: Yup, that’s how the first night was, that was just lovely. But then Karine had done a similar project...

Karine: That right, I had done a collaborative project called Burns Song. There’s a million ways you could have structured the week or have no structure whatsoever. But it was a simple idea to put people together and see which combinations worked. And if they didn’t work, there was time still in the week to do other things.

Krista: It was very successful, it was her idea.

Stu: In the evenings we’d have a show and tell.

Krista: In the day we’d work more in our groups and in the evening we’d drink more and play for each other.

Part two of our interview will be published on 15 September 2009.

See all of Bright Young Folk's text interviews.