“I’m having a ball,” says Jackie Oates. “It’s really inspired me creatively in thinking about the way songs are presented. The band really expands the realms of possibility.”
The band is of course The Imagined Village, whose album, Bending The Dark, is out on 14 May. Although it’s the third IV album, it marks yet another reset for the multi-talented, multi-membered world-folk-dance behemoth.
The most obvious change to the project-cum-group is to its line-up. Chris Wood is out on sabbatical while Jackie, previously a ‘special guest’ is now a full-time member. So how did she make the step up? “It was purely by circumstance,” she says. “At the Imagined Village’s first-ever gig as a band in Bridport [in 2009] Simon Emmerson arranged for me to join as a soloist. He knew [ECC Records boss and Lush magnate] Mark Constantine was coming, and that he really liked a song I do called Lark in the Morning, so I was drafted in to play that. I had to tell the band what to do and it all went quite well; it added a nice, wafty dimension to the song, too. At the time Eliza Carthy was heavily pregnant and was struggling to play the fiddle and sing, so Simon drafted me into the string section. Then Martin Carthy had to drop out of the winter tour, so I stepped in as third singer.”
The other big difference with Imagined Village mark III is its focus on original songs. The group decided that reliance on the Martin Carthy songbook was no longer viable, and took it upon themselves, in Simon Emmerson’s words: “to write a new body of songs based on our skills as lyricists and composers, embracing contemporary issues as well as reflecting an English musical identity that isn’t specifically rooted in the folk tradition”. While there are a couple of trad tracks, they are present “to illustrate the modern songs”, says Jackie. “The album is constructed from material that was developed by being rehearsed and gigged. The idea is that it sounds as live as possible.”
Jackie makes a big impression on Bending The Dark – my review for Bright Young Folk is here – with her introduction coming via a haunting a cappella rendition of The Captain’s Apprentice. But that’s as stripped back as things get, as the thickly layered New York Trader and the 12-minute title track prove. She also takes the vocal lead on the jazzy Nest and upbeat album highlight Wintersinging. “The songs came together very organically,” she says. “Wintersinging came about when Simon Richmond came to one of my gigs. He doesn’t come from a trad background, but he was very taken with one of the Cornish tunes I do. At the studio I played a bit of the tune, and Simon formed a ten-minute-long groove to suit it, and constructed a piece around that. Then I did some diddling over the top to form a more succinct tune, Simon Emmerson wrote some words inspired by his time at Forest School Camps and it evolved into the final track.”
It’s a busy time for Jackie, who has just returned from an Austrian tour, taken part in a Bob Dylan-themed event, and is spending most of her spare time at Oxford’s Bodleian Library researching and plotting a “special” album for next year. The Imagined Village influence is making its way into her solo work, too: IV cellist Barney Morse-Brown deputised for bass player James Budden for her early May shows, and their looped-up version of The Sugarcubes’ Birthday is set to be a highlight of the Imagined Village tour warm-ups.
Audiences can also look forward to some interesting on-stage fashions. “Eliza has decided all the ladies in the band are going to be co-ordinated,” she says, slightly nervously. “We’re having capes especially made by Johnny Kalsi’s wife. I haven’t seen mine yet…”
Superhero costume or not, Jackie is particularly pleased to be working with Eliza, and is excited about the band’s upcoming tour: “One of the first gigs I went to when I was thinking about starting to sing was Eliza at Sidmouth. It was a really inspirational moment, so to be up on stage with her now is a dream.”