A Chat With...Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne
This week, we are chatting with two-time Radio 2 Folk Award nominee, Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne.
Instrument(s): Melodeon, Anglo Concertina, Voice
Best known as: Member of folk trio Granny’s Attic
Your band(s) or collaborations that we should know about: Granny’s Attic; Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne (solo); collaborations with Reg Meuross; collaborations with Angeline Morrison
Sub-genre: English folk
Number of years on the folk scene: 15
Greatest achievement or claim to fame: Twice nominated for BBC Radio 2 folk awards (once with Granny’s Attic, once solo)
What are you currently working on, and what’s in the pipeline for the coming year?
Lots of new material for my solo repertoire with a plan towards making a new album next year, I can’t say much more than that at the moment…
If someone is reading this who hasn’t listened to any of your music before, where should they start?
For my solo repertoire, there is probably no better place to start than with my most recent solo album, Rakes & Misfits. It features a lot of traditional folk songs and tunes, along with a few quirkier numbers. With Granny’s Attic, try our 2019 album Wheels of the World.
What’s on your playlist at the moment, and why does it appeal to you?
I’m listening to quite a lot of English Renaissance and Baroque music at the moment. Two of my current favourite pieces are Orlando Gibbons’ Cries of London and a setting of Go from My Window for 6 viols, also attributed to Gibbons. Both pieces can be considered as ‘folk adjacent’, in Cries of London, Gibbons weaves numerous London street merchant cries around complex counterpoint for five viols, while in Go from My Window a series of melodic, harmonic and contrapuntal variations are explored around the Elizabethan folksong melody Go from My Window. In both pieces I love the way in which ostensibly simple melodic material is used as a fuel for increasingly intricate musical fancy.
Which folk albums, in your opinion, should everyone listen to at least once, and why?
I would start with Noah’s Ark Trap by Nic Jones, Nic’s album Penguin Eggs is constantly referred to as one of the greatest albums (both folk and otherwise) of all time, but for me Noah’s Ark Trap has the edge – the construction of the album as it flows from one track into another is flawless, and some of the individual tracks are simply breath-taking, the closing track ‘Annachie Gordon’ has to be one of the finest deliveries of any traditional ballad. Pete and Chris Coe’s album Out of Season Out of Rhyme is another favourite of mine, a lot of good quality traditional songs, tunes and ballads, performed in a largely no-nonsense way by two greats of the 1970s folk scene. An album I would highly recommend for virtually the opposite reasons is Steve Turner’s album Braiding, one of the quirkiest albums to have been produced on the English folk scene, with extensive use of 1980s synthesisers. I would also recommend the three albums that were pivotal in my early introduction to English folk, Burlesque by Bellowhead, Bellow by Spiers and Boden and Faustus by Faustus, all three are gems with all the excitement of the blossoming English folk scene of the 2000s.
Where are you most ‘at one’ with your instrument?
I really enjoy spending a few hours with my instrument in my practice room, just seeing where the instrument takes me, some of the most exciting material I play doesn’t exist outside of that room. Having said that there is something thoroughly magical and exciting about performing on stage, and nothing quite matches the energy of performing in front of an audience.
Please tell us about your practice regime, or how you keep developing as an instrumentalist.
I try to play my instruments every day, the duration of my practice sessions will vary wildly depending on how busy I am with the less exciting sides of being a musician (admin!). Generally, I try to have at least one ‘extended’ practice session each week – a session of at least 2-3 hours in length (sometimes I manage 4-5 extended sessions in a week). For these sessions I try to cover a raft of different things, beginning with some technical exercises (scales, arpeggios, chord shuffles, counterpoint exercises). I usually follow this with some sightreading exercises (generally with my sightreading I try to go explore musical styles that I’m less familiar with – recently these have included some fugues written for the violin by 18th century Czech composer Václav Pichl and some Jamaican folk songs). Then I’ll focus for a while a handful of select pieces, these are usually pieces that I’m hoping to include in my live repertoire. I might also include an element of improvisation or composition in these sessions, followed by a few exercises to finish with and/ or some familiar songs and tunes to finish with.
What’s the most nerve-wracking thing you’ve done (musically), and what did you learn from it?
Even though I’ve played on some pretty big stages to audiences in the thousands, for me the most nerve-wracking gigs have been some of my intimate solo gigs, where I might only be playing to 20 people. In that set up, I can see everyone in the audience and exactly how they are reacting to everything, and there is nowhere to hide if anything does go wrong, I think these gigs teach you a lot about communicating with an audience.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a musician?
Melodeon and Anglo concertina players are often told about the limitations of their instruments – being told that their instruments can only play in a couple of keys and are only suitable for certain material, and I’d really carried that view for a lot of my early playing career. About 8 years ago, while I was at university, I was told by one of my lecturers to stop thinking so much about what my instrument ‘can’t do’ and was encouraged to explore some of techniques and repertoires that people had previously told me weren’t possible on my instruments. This completely changed the way I approach my instruments, making me think much more about what they can do and not about what they can’t do.
What’s your dream band line-up (dead or alive)?
In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, there was a movement for concertina bands that ran in parallel with the brass band movement. Some recordings survive of these early bands, and it is such a fantastic wall of sounds, I’d love to travel back in time to be part of one of these bands.
To satisfy the instrument/equipment geeks amongst us, please tell us a little about the gear you use to make music.
I’ve built up quite a collection of melodeons and concertinas over the years, here’s what’s on the shelves at the moment:
45 key C/G Anglo by C. Jeffries (c. 1925)
38 key A/E Anglo by C. Jeffries (c. 1880s)
45 key Jeffries Duet in G by Jeffries Bros. (c. 1920)
40 key G/D Anglo by H. Crabb (c. 1970s)
30 key C/G piccolo Anglo by Lachenal (c. 1880s)
30 key C/G bass Anglo by Lachenal (c. 1880s)
20 key C/G duckling concertina by Flying Duck (2021)
2 row Dino Baffetti/ Oakwood Binci iii in D/G (2013)
1 row 4 stop in D by Emmanuel Pariselle/ Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne (2020)
1 row 4 stop in G by Hohner (c. 1980s)
2 row Hohner pokerwork in D/G (c. 1980s)
2.5 row Hohner Preciosa in A/D (c. 1930s)
3 row Hohner Lucia, right hand D/G/acc with 48 stradella basses (built in 1930s, converted to melodeon layout in 2022 by Mike Rowbotham)
In general however, the two instruments that get played the most both in public and at home are the 45 key C/G Jeffries concertina and the Dino Baffetti melodeon, I’ve had both of them since my late teens, and they’ve both been with me at almost every gig I’ve done since then.
Find out more:
Tip Jar: https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/cohenbk
Cohen is a fine singer of English folk songs
A brilliant performance by Cohen at the Bridge Folk Club in Newcastle (be sure to watch to the end!)
Orlando Gibbons, Cries of London
The second tune in this set is Go from My Window, arranged for 6 viols
Nic Jones, Annachie Gordon
One more from Cohen – Bach Violin Sonata no. 3