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Norfolk Tourism Awards

Mary Chapin Carpenter on coming to the Norfolk and Norwich Festival

PUBLISHED: 18:22 04 May 2018 | UPDATED: 12:53 15 May 2018

Mary Chapin Carpenter will perform at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival. Photo: Russ Harrington

Mary Chapin Carpenter will perform at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival. Photo: Russ Harrington

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Grammy winning country folk star Mary Chapin Carpenter is coming to the Norfolk and Norwich Festival for the first time. Simon Parkin caught up with her as she looks back on 30 years of making music.

Mary Chapin Carpenter will perform at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival. Photo: Aaron FarringtonMary Chapin Carpenter will perform at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival. Photo: Aaron Farrington

“It was pointed out to me that it had been 30 years since I started making records. I was stunned because it had sort of crept up on me. That’s a long time, you know,” ponders country singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter about why she has chosen to revisit the past on her new album.

Sometimes Just The Sky features new re-imagined versions of 12 of her songs, one from each of her 12 studio albums, as well one new one, the title track.

“The idea to gather one song from every album,” adds the singer from Princeton, New Jersey, who as well as marking 30 years in music also recently turned 60. “It felt like it would be some kind of marker. The artistic desire behind it was to imagine how time treats things, not only yourself but also your songs and what might be learned by revisiting them.

“It was fun but it was also unexpectedly emotional. There were moments in the sessions when it brought back memories and who was in my life at that time.

Mary Chapin Carpenter will perform at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival. Photo: Russ HarringtonMary Chapin Carpenter will perform at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival. Photo: Russ Harrington

“It was emotional in that way because you were experiencing things anew and there is certain amount of grief and loss and regret that goes with time. Those emotions were very present and it was hard. But there was also a sense of that’s what life is; it’s bitter sweet but also beautiful.”

The five-time Grammy Award winner and Nashville Hall of Fame inductee is known for a string of hits including Passionate Kisses, Stones in the Road and Shut Up and Kiss Me. Her most successful album remains 1992’s Come On Come On, which yielded seven singles and sold four million copies. It also contained feminist anthem He Thinks He’ll Keep Her.

That was a pointer to her future direction as in the 2000’s her albums departed both thematically and musically from her early work, becoming less radio-friendly and more political.

That made choosing which songs to revisit hard. “I had a certain criteria,” she explains. “One was that they had to be songs that hadn’t already been re-recorded, then second I didn’t really want to go to what might be obvious choices in that they had been radio hits or things like that.

“I just wanted to delve deep into the song bag and see what I might find. But it was not easy because there are certain songs that on any given day you feel something towards but on another day you might not be so keen about. You have to use your best judgement, so that’s what I did.”

The album was recorded live at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios and saw her team up with her long-time collaborator and guitarist Duke Levine and a host of handpicked musicians as she reflected on a lifetime in the business.

She said: “We live together in the same room and everything you hear on the record is as live as it can be, there no overdubs or that kind of thing.”

Her live shows always have an intimate feel, with her tender storytelling ability bridging the divide between audience and performer, and that will be the case when she appear at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival for the first time on May 17.

Mary Chapin Carpenter will perform at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival. Photo: Russ HarringtonMary Chapin Carpenter will perform at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival. Photo: Russ Harrington

Though she has previously visited the region to appear at Cambridge Folk Festival, she comes to Norwich for the first time to perform more of her favourite songs from her fruitful 30-year career.

She is looking forward to it: “I’m bringing the band. We have this nice little four piece and we have been doing it for the last few years. Norwich is our final show of the tour, so our last show over there in the UK for 2018, so we will be sad because we love playing over there, but you can understand when you’ve been away for six weeks it’s always good to get home too.

“Musically we will be playing some songs from the new record as well as songs spanning the catalogue. We’ve never played in Norwich Theatre Royal before, or as part of the festival, so we are excited about it. It should be wonderful.”

A regular visitor to the UK she has seen the perception of country music change over the past three decades, from hardcore fans to the now catch-all genre of Americana.

Mary Chapin Carpenter album Sometimes Just The Sky. Photo: Lambent Light RecordsMary Chapin Carpenter album Sometimes Just The Sky. Photo: Lambent Light Records

“I think it has grown hugely in the last number of years in Britain,” she said. “The Americana UK organisation has their awards and they sponsor and support on behalf of the artists and the music in a huge way. That said I think that these labels, Americana, country, are a very large umbrella under which a lot of different kinds of music exist.

“I grew up listen to a lot of different kinds of music on the radio and you never really thought about compartmentalising the different genres. I prefer everything being together.”

Will see be catching any of the other festival events? “I certainly hope so. I would love to. It all depends on the logistics of the day, but I intend to make the most of what time I have.”

And despite a project looking backwards, she is still as enthused about making new music as ever.

“I feel a lot of joy to still be touring and making records and feeling in love with my job, I have a deep sense of gratitude about that. In order to look back you need to look forward and the new song speaks to me of really living life and looking ahead.”

• Mary Chapin Carpenter is at Norwich Theatre Royal on May 17, 7.30pm, £32-£8, 01603 766400, nnfestival.org.uk

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