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Interview: Horses Brawl

PUBLISHED: 09:19 16 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:39 29 October 2010

Rob Garratt

Horses Brawl are acclaimed for bringing together traditional English folk, the European Renaissance and their own contemporary improvisations. ROB GARRATT learnt how when he spoke to founder Laura Cannell.

Further listening: Horses Brawl

Horses Brawl are acclaimed for bringing together traditional English folk, the European Renaissance and their own contemporary improvisations. ROB GARRATT learnt how when he spoke to founder Laura Cannell ahead of their appearance at Norwich Arts Centre.

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t I've read some weird and wonderful descriptions, but what is it you actually do?

“What we do is a kind of contemporary music but with our roots in traditional folk music and early music from Europe. With the folk music we take traditional English fiddle tunes and things that have been played for hundreds of years at community folk events. In early music there are lots of anonymous pieces of music, normally short dance tunes, the sort of thing you would do a calley too.

A lot of people do historic performances but what we do is take the early and folk stuff and make it our own. We take it and rework it using contemporary compositional techniques.”

t That all sounds very impressive - how exactly does it work?

“What you do is take a fragment of a tune - six notes or four bars - and improvise around it until you write a new piece. It's what composers have been doing for hundreds of years, but we do it in a more accessible way. It's quite hard to explain because nobody else is doing it, which is why it works I think.”

t What kind of instrumentation do you use?

“I play recorder, fiddle and crum horn, which is a renaissance instrument. Adrian Lever plays guitar and prepared guitar, which has stickers and sponges on it and he plays it with a bow. It changes the tone and colour of the notes he's playing and gives a really percussive sound. We try and push the limits of our instruments - instead of having a percussionist we make it with what we've got. Guesting with us at the moment is Phillip Thorby, who plays recorder, viola and dagamba - which is like a cello, but more like a guitar because it has frets - a precursor to the guitar.”

t How did this all get started?

“Adrian and I are both from south Norfolk, we were at school together and have been playing together for 12 years now. But we went to different universities and at the end of my undergraduate I put together a one-off performance called Horses Brawl where I was trying to bring together classical and folk music. Creative Arts East offered me a mini-tour in Norfolk so then I brought in Adrian and then it developed from there. Something that started straight-forward and classical to some something improvised, something else.”

t So you're coming at it from a classical background?

“I'm a self-taught fiddle player, but I studied recorder at UEA. Adrian is a folk guitarist and a classical pianist, so we both come at it from both sides - trained and untrained.”

t You've been together nearly six years, played the Arts Centre before?

“We've played the Arts Centre lots before and we'll be having our album launch there in May. We got this funding from the Arts Council which is particularly funding the collaboration between us and Phillip Thorby, who is very well known in early music and is a professor of it at Trinity College in London. So we wanted to collaborate with him to see if we brought a specialist in what would happen. We've been writing early music with him with a folk influence. We've written 12-tracks and we're touring throughout the UK. Me and Adrian are both doing this full time, we're just writing, recording and touring.”

t What attracted you to the music in the first place?

“It took a really long time. I always wanted to be a musician and I always knew I wanted to perform but it took a long time to find what felt right and this does. I love performing this music to people and they seem to like it too mostly. It started at school, when I had the opportunity to play all this really old music I was really excited me. I really wanted to bring to together all this things that made me a musician into one project.”

t I always ask rock bands to describe their sound in five words, and I don't see why you should be let off the hook…

“It's going to sound really pretentious… chilling, challenging… kind of spontaneous, contemporary… Somebody else said we were part-early part folk, part precision part-wild abandon. Can you just use that? It's really hard, I don't know what I do, I just play the recorder.”

t Horses Brawl are appearing at Norwich Arts Centre tonight. Doors are at 8pm and tickets priced at £8 (£6 cons).

Further listening: Horses Brawl

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