For today’s piece we have got a very special guest columnist in the form of Nat Johnson! This is a first for us here at For The Rabbits, but something we are hoping to do a lot more of in the future. We’re all very excited about this years Indietracks Festival here, and as we’re going to be covering the festival, thought we’d get one of our favourite artists on the bill in to talk about what it means to her.
We have been fans of Nat for a long time, since first stumbling across her old band Monkey Swallows The Universe, way back in the late 2000’s. The band’s Sheffield based folk musings led them to release a couple of brilliant albums. Their debut The Bright Carvings was released on the Sheffield Phonographic Corporation, and was good enough for Richard Hawley to label them “boss” and Loose records to sign up to release their second The Casket Letters. Just as indie-folks bubble was growing to bursting point, they looked set for huge things, until they sadly called it a day back in 2008.
Nat Johnson, MSTU frontwoman and self professed songstress, maverick and fighter was certainly not done with music however! She went on to establish a backing band The Figureheads, to help her plow her way through two more brilliant records: 2009’s Roman Radio and 2012’s I’m Across I’m Ashore. These gave the folk styling of her earlier records a thorough indie-pop make over and showed her for the versatile songwriter she is.
With The Figureheads now disbanded, and a stint in modern-day folk supergroup Without Feathers (also featuring Rory Mcvicar and former Standard Fare singer Emma) seemingly on hiatus, Nat’s going it alone once more, a forthcoming solo album Neighbour Of The Year is due later this year, and there are a series of dates to promote its release that we thoroughly encourage you to get along to!
Three bands and numerous albums into her career Nat’s still exciting, still intriguing and still going strong! So without further ado it’s over to Nat Johnson, in her own words…
How Sad, How Lonely – Nat Johnson on Indietracks and Connie Converse
I’m chuffed to have been invited back to the church at Indietracks this year after last year’s Without Feathers set. I’ll be bringing some friends with me – Katherine Jackson (fiddle, guitar, vocals), Hannah Browne (flute, accordion, vocals) and Oliver Allchin (banjo, lapsteel, uke). We’ll mostly be playing songs from my new album – which is due out later this year, hurray! – but we’ll also be dropping in a couple of covers for ya, including one by Connie Converse.
Connie was a songwriter in New York in the 50s, writing songs that weren’t just beautiful, but were way ahead of their time. She wrote, often with a tongue-in-cheek wit, about being a woman in the 1950s, and about the love and satisfaction that seemed to always elude her. But her music didn’t fit; the world wasn’t ready for a songwriter like Connie, and her musical fire faded. She left New York and went to Michigan, where she got a job as a journal editor. Later, at the age of 50, a depressed Connie, who had never found her place in the world, wrote letters to her family and friends, saying that she needed to make a fresh start. She packed up her VW bug and drove away. It was 1974. She was never seen again.
Connie’s kitchen recordings from the 50s were unearthed a few years ago, and released as the album ‘How Sad, How Lovely’. Needless to say, it’s amazing. I first heard a track of hers on Gideon Coe’s 6music show and for the last couple of years I’ve been dropping covers of her songs into my sets. But not satisfied with playing the odd cover, I’ve also just announced a huge event at Sheffield’s Cutlers’ Hall on October 1st as part of Sensoria Festival, where I’ll be playing my new arrangements of some of Connie’s songs, backed not only by my band but also Stannington Brass Band. There will also be a screening of a brand new documentary about Connie, and the filmmaker is flying over from New York to present it and talk with me on stage.
Connie Converse never got to play any music festivals, or at any music venues for that matter. She only played at parties, and to friends and family, back in the 50s. But that makes me think Connie might have liked Indietracks, especially the Church stage, for its intimacy and warmth. I can’t say for sure what Connie would have made of Indietracks, but I hope Indietracks likes Connie.
Roving Women takes place on 1st October at Cutlers’ Hall in Sheffield as part of Sensoria Festival. http://www.natjohnson.co.uk/rovingwomen/
You can also catch us doing our normal thang in Cardiff on 1st August and Manchester on 19th October: http://www.natjohnson.co.uk/gigs/
And here’s my version of Connie’s ‘Roving Women’, as performed by me, Emma Kupa and Katherine Jackson: https://natjohnson.bandcamp.com/track/roving-woman-connie-converse-cover