A Chat With...Bryony Griffith
This week, we are chatting with fiddle player and folk singer, Bryony Griffith.
Instrument(s): Fiddle, voice, piano
Best known as: Playing for dancing…or teaching people…I don’t know!
Your band(s) or collaborations that we should know about: Bedlam (ceilidh band), The Witches of Elswick, The Demon Barbers, duo with Will Hampson (mi husband!), duo with Alice Jones, The English Fiddle Ensemble, musician for Dog Rose Morris and Newcastle Kingsmen, director of Shepley Singers
Number of years on the folk scene: 30!
Greatest achievement or claim to fame: Playing for Dog Rose Morris on Jools Holland was pretty cool, but that was 20 years ago…I clearly peaked too early! I also taught Johnny Vegas to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the fiddle at Edinburgh Fringe Festival….he was actually quite good! Touring with a baby felt like a pretty massive achievement at the time as well.
What are you currently working on, and what’s in the pipeline for the coming year?
I’ve just started working on a project for Kirklees Year of Music with Shepley Singers, the a cappella choir I run, and also with my duo partner Alice Jones. Alice and I are also planning an album of Winter/Christmas songs from Yorkshire which we are touring in November/December this year. I’m also hoping to record an album with The English Fiddle Ensemble, which is 4 fiddles (Ross Grant, Rosie Butler Hall, Jim Boyle and me!) playing some stonking English tunes in harmony. I’m also a fiddle and vocal tutor on the Folk, Roots and Blues course at Leeds Conservatoire so that keeps me pretty busy. Oh, and 2 children….that takes up a lot of my time!
If someone is reading this who hasn’t listened to any of your music before, where should they start?
My first solo album Nightshade has bits and bobs of fiddle, singing and piano, so that gives a bit of a taster. If it’s just tunes you’re after, then my album of English fiddle tunes, Hover, would be a good place to start. For just singing, any of The Witches of Elswick songs and for collaboration stuff, there’s plenty of live videos with The Demon Barbers on YouTube. For playing for dancing, you might like to search for Extreme Morris on YouTube…amusing if nothing else! My duo album ‘A Year Too Late and a Month Too Soon’ with Alice Jones is the most recent thing, and what I’m mostly doing now.
What’s on your playlist at the moment, and why does it appeal to you?
I like to listen to full albums to get a feel of the flow between tracks and how a recording was crafted rather than skipping about between artists on streaming platforms (and they’re also terrible financially for artists), so this is what I’ve had on recently: Frank Lee, The Gilchrist Collective, Jack Rutter, Graham & Eileen Pratt, Jim Causley, Nick Hart, Iona Lane, Maddie Morris, Will Allen, She Shanties, Tom Oakes, The Watersons, William Kimber, Colin Wharton Collection of Songs from the North Riding, Dave Burland, Anne Briggs, Dave Hillary & Harry Boardman, Lizzie Higgins, Owen Spafford & Louis Campbell.
Which folk albums, in your opinion, should everyone listen to at least once, and why?
Some proper hardcore source singers, not always easy on the ear, but fascinating performances. I especially like it when there are snippets of chit chat as well. When I was 13 or 14, I went to Huddersfield Library and exhausted them of their folk album collection. There wasn’t a lot and it was mostly compilations, but The Best of Steeleye Span was what made me dig deeper into my new found love of folk music.
Where are you most ‘at one’ with your instrument?
Probably playing for dancers as it makes me think no-one’s listening cos they’re too busy watching the dancing. I’m fairly happy in most situations really, except the recording studio when, as soon as the red recording light goes on, my instrument and I behave like we’ve never met before and I have no idea how to play! Likewise, I suddenly forget all the lyrics to songs as soon as I know I’m being recorded. I have got better at it over the years and in fact recording ‘A Year Too Late and a Month Too Soon’ with Alice and our engineer/producer Joe Rusby was actually quite pleasant!! Perhaps because it was the first thing we did after lockdown so making any music was a joy, and we’d spent so long researching the material that it was a massive relief to get it recorded.
Please tell us about your practice regime, or how you keep developing as an instrumentalist.
Whenever I can get a minute, so little bits here and there. Or I shut myself in the kitchen after everyone else is in bed as it’s the furthest away from people trying to sleep!
What’s the most nerve-wracking thing you’ve done (musically), and what did you learn from it?
For some reason the first duo gig me and Will did had me literally shaking in my boots to the point where I could barely keep my bow on the strings. I think it’s because we’d been so used to being in bigger bands and all of a sudden we were very exposed! The only way to get over that is to keep doing it until it becomes easier. I also used to sing a solo Calling On song in The Demon Barber Roadshow while the lads went off to get their rapper kit on before re-appearing. It was usually fine, but occasionally in front of bigger audiences at festivals, who maybe weren’t that folky, I would become convinced that they were going to hate it and I would wind myself up into a bag of nerves, which was silly because it always went down ok!
What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a musician?
Always plan a set list….don’t go on stage and wing it! I can’t remember who said it, but it’s definitely better than dithering about, especially if you’re as indecisive as I am.
What’s your dream band line-up (dead or alive)?
To watch or to be in? I would have loved to see Jake Thackray or Peter Bellamy, but they’re not really bands! Before covid I’d been making plans with Paul Sartin for an a cappella group performing English Folk Songs. Covid got in the way and it never got off the ground but the last time I saw him we were hatching plans again. Sadly that will never happen now as Paul passed away in September last year. I loved singing with The Witches of Elswick and I do miss the amazing feeling of voices bouncing off each other without instruments in the way.
To satisfy the instrument/equipment geeks amongst us, please tell us a little about the gear you use to make music.
As little as possible…sorry to disappoint the tech nerds! My fiddle is old and knackered but I’m yet to find one I prefer. I had a Barcus Berry pick up in the bridge for many years but felt it affected the acoustic sound of my fiddle so I changed to using a dpa mic. I do have an electric fiddle that I saved up for when I first started with Bedlam but I stopped using it when I inherited the fiddle I have now. I still think it’s one of the best sounding electric fiddles I’ve heard and was made by Andy Holliman in Newark. I used a Trace Elliot TA35R amp (I had to look that up…I’m not going to pretend I knew what it was!)
I’m a bit of a technophobe really so am very pleased that there are usually other people to sort all that side of it out for me.
Photo credit: Joanne Crawford
The Sham Doctor
Here’s Bryony playing and singing Forty Miles
The Saucy Sailor, with Fay Hield and Jon Boden
A short lockdown concert with Will Hampson
Bryony and Alice Jones