Saturday 2nd March
|'We believe that this young woman is destined to be up there with the likes
of Eliza Carthy and Kate Rusby. She plays pretty much everything and sings like
a linnet.' Mike Harding
'Blessed with a larkish, unsullied voice, Belinda (Bill) Jones has become folk's new darling over the past year. It's Jones's flawless vocals that command attention, especially on the a cappella title track, a moving tribute to her Anglo-Indian heritage. A delight.' The Sunday Observer.
When Bill Jones won the Horizon award as Best New Artist at this year's BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, it confirmed the arrival of a major new English folk talent. Bill is not what you might expect. For a start he's a she (Bill is short for Belinda) so instead of a six foot tall guy you get a lively young woman. Bill's beautiful voice, superb musicianship (she plays piano,flute,accordion and whistle) and inspired choice of material have attracted so much praise that is hard to believe that she has only been performing professionally for a couple of years. At 27 she is more surprised than anyone by her rapid rise. Although her father played fiddle in a ceilidh band, Bill came to folk music relatively late and purely by accident, as part of a university project.
Bill was born and brought up in Staffordshire,
England. Her part-Indian mother sang Buddy Holly songs around the house, and
though she heard folk songs via her dad she paid little attention. "I just thought
they were songs old people sang; they didn't seem to be anything I should be
interested in." Instead she seemed destined to pursue a career in classical
music as a concert pianist. She spent five years at music school, dropped out of
an arts degree course at Middlesex University and then took on a course in music
at London's City University. That course changed her life and played a big role
in shaping her career. Bill studied music from all over the world, including
England, and as part of school project, she put on a concert of traditional
The concert was a huge success and friends persuaded Bill that she had a natural aptitude for singing traditional songs. She'd never previously thought of herself as a singer, limiting her party pieces to coy interpretations of Kate Bush and Beverly Craven songs, though she also played keyboards with predominantly female band The Wise Wound, and appeared with them twice at Glastonbury Festival. It was The Wise Wound who christened her Baby Bill - she was barely 20 at the time - and she took up the accordion as an alternative to dragging keyboards to remote festivals, where she often discovered there was no electricity anyway. All she had was a huge antiquated accordion from her Grandmother and a book of Karen Tweed tunes.
After leaving university at 22, Bill enrolled in
a Folkworks summer school and became involved in the Newcastle folk
scene. She started working in a duo with guitarist Steve Moffatt and,
after they split, took a big gulp and went on the road as a solo artist. Word
spread fast and in response to requests from her audience she made her first
album, Turn To Me, in 2000. It was an imaginative mix of mainly
traditional songs, from Long John Moore to Handsome Cabin Boy, Mist
Covered Mountains and Ye Mariners All. Her impassioned
interpretations may sound so fresh because she's a recent convert to them. She
says she still hasn't heard many of the classic performers, mostly because she
was always too broke to buy their records. The album also features a radical
interpretation of the old Buffy Sainte-Marie anti-war classic Universal
Soldier (a hit for Donovan). When she recorded it, Bill had not even heard
Buffy Sainte-Marie's version; she'd found the song on the internet and because
she couldn't hear the tune properly, set it to the tune of The Birmingham Boys.
Bill's new album and first US release Panchpuran was produced by Karen Tweed (The Poozies, Swap). The album's title (pronounced "ponch pure on") is a Hindi expression that literally means five spices. Bill picked the name to suggest the idea of many different things all mixed up together. This concept applies well not only to the cd and Bill's musical influences, but to her family's background as well. Throughout Panchpuran, Bill's open-minded approach to folk music informs the songs, arrangements and choice of guests. Guests include Kathryn Tickell on fiddle, Kellie While (E2K, the Albion Band) on harmony vocals, Paul Jayasinha on cello and flügelhorn, Keith Angel (The John Tams Band) on percussion, and David Wood on guitar. A brass band from County Durham also joined in on one track, and a beautiful Finnish string quartet fill out the arrangement on two songs.
But the standout force in the music is Bill herself. Her treble vocals take wing on each of the album's tracks and her instrumental prowess, whether on piano, flute or accordion, never fails to provide the perfect texture to the music. Bill's love of and connection to traditional music is apparent throughout the album. As she explains, "I prefer the drama and intrigue and the descriptive style of traditional music. Folk music actually means something. It has stories that move me, whereas most other music doesn't."