SHE’S been a long way for a girl from South Yorkshire.
But now the singing dame of Doncaster, pictured right, is back on home turf – sonically speaking – with a new album that takes her beyond her usual soprano role.
One of the nation’s best-loved voices, Lesley Garrett CBE looked to her native north for inspiration for A North Country Lass, a record that has more to do with Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten than Puccini.
“This is a classical folk album and people may come to it with certain preconceptions,” says the Thorne-born performer of her 14th recorded outing.
“But please don’t do that – this album is intensely individual and very personal and it will surprise you.”
Returning to her folk music roots for a collection of British and Irish songs, Lesley reunited with music director Paul Bateman and producer James Fitzpatrick, with whom she worked on her first five hit albums.
She sought out more than six centuries of traditional music and selected 16 songs before calling upon powerful authentic instrumentation to provide a dramatic contemporary sound.
The running order ranges from Henry VIII’s Pastime With Good Company and John Dowland’s Fine Knacks For Ladies, the 17th century Over The Hills And Far Away and title track A North Country Lass, to the more recent Welsh lullaby Suo Gan. She also tackled the complete version of On Ilkley Moor Baht’at, featuring Crouch End Festival Chorus and Yorkshire’s award-winning Black Dyke Mills Band.
“So interesting and modern with a little bit of opera in it,” says Lesley of the latter, “just complete fun.”
Some of Britain’s finest composers/orchestrators – many already well known to Lesley – brought life to the rest of these vintage pieces. They included Paul Hart, Andrew Skeet, Nic Raine, Paul Englishby, Mark Thomas, Nicholas Dodd, Julian Kershaw and Paul Bateman.
“Our highly talented team of composers and arrangers brought their unique personal skills and backgrounds to each of their songs. When we were recording, it was like opening Pandora’s Box every day. I would find such wonderful music and it was a joy to hear these folk songs shine in a fabulous new way.
“It mixes the wonderful British Thomas Hardy feeling of our countryside with wild coastal seascapes and the bleak industrial archaeology of the north.
“So it’s bitter sweet, it’s hot, it’s chilly. It’s Far From The Madding Crowd meets Peter Grimes, but with humour.”
And while fans of Lesley might expect the epic City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra all the way, Northumbrian pipes, Irish Bodhrans, Scottish Bagpipes, Hungarian cimbaloms, bamboo flutes and Japanese kotos aren’t Lesley’s usual patch.
“Folk music is in all of us, it is the country’s unconscious musical heart-beat,” she says.
“It is a resilient and flexible art form and for centuries its inspiration has provided composers and performers alike with a creative point of departure for their own imaginations.
“I grew up with folk music and then grew into an opera singer. I have brought all that I have to this album, my past and my present, and I hope this marriage of the traditional and the modern will enable the listener to find something beautiful and new in these much-loved songs.”