I have been reading the Julian Cope biography ‘Head On' recently and there is a bit in the book where he says ‘He hates music that is made to impress people' I've never heard any of his records but I couldn't agree more.
Nancy Elizabeth - an appraisal of a Northern girl
Imagine a modern day Gracie Fields with a penchant for folk music who just stepped from the canvas of a renaissance painting and you may just get a feel for Nancy Elizabeth. A no airs-and-graces harp wielding northern girl, with a spine-tingling voice and the kind of drive and determination that could win wars.
Her recently released debut album Battle and Victory on Leaf Records – a label fast gaining a reputation for it's innovative and critically acclaimed roster is a stunning debut, a beautifully haunting English folk record. Refreshing in its originality, the album certainly wouldn't look out of place on next years list of Mercury Music nominees. It is hard to imagine that something quite so enchanting could have emerged from Wigan.
Nancy began her musical career at the age of ten with the obligatory piano lessons and an obsession with Michael Jackson records. "My older brother used to listen to him all the time, so I thought it was cool to like him, I still do!" She taught herself guitar at the age of 15, before going on to study music at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, only picking up the harp two years ago, at the age of 21, after an inspirational meeting with a intriguing looking man on a bicycle.
Oh and a little help from Billy Fury, "I used to live next to a big old empty building which had once been an ice-skating rink. One day my housemate spotted a man riding around in circles on our street dressed in a tutu with a large handle- bar moustache". The mysterious stranger hailed from a company of artists known as The Art Organisation, a group who travel the country turning derelict buildings into makeshift galleries. He invited the girls to a party that evening where Nancy was to discover an old man tucked in a corner playing a Celtic harp. "I was transfixed by it, I dreamt about owning one from that day but simply couldn't afford it."
And that's where Billy Fury came in. A few weeks later Nancy applied for a grant from the Billy Fury Memorial Fund, and to her amazement got it! "It meant spending a day in Blackpool with a bunch of old leather clad bequaffed rockers at the Billy Fury Memorial day, but they couldn't have been a nicer bunch" Her moderate prize money was enough to buy the harp.
Any girl with a harp in her hand these days will inevitably invite comparisons to Joanna Newsome. Nancy admits, " I like her, but musically I think we are very different." For one, Nancy's instrument of choice is the guitar rather than the harp and the childlike innocence of Newsome's voice is hardly comparable to Nancy's unaffected chilling vocals. There is something uniquely British about Nancy Elizabeth's songs, Hey Son sounds like a Gallic sea shanty, where as Off With Your Axe makes you think it is only a matter of time before Bert Jansch will be knocking at her door for a duet, and of course there is always that Wigan twang.
Nancy's Elizabeth is diverse in her musical inspirations; she talks passionately about artists from John Renbourne through to Apex Twin. Her favourite record is Laughing Stock by Mark Hollis, originally of Talk Talk. "I first heard the album a couple of years ago, I couldn't speak I was completely encapsulated. I love the honesty and spirit of it" When asked if honesty is something she seems as important in her music, she says "It's very important, I have been reading the Julian Cope biography Head On recently and there is a bit in the book where he says 'He hates music that is made to impress people' I've never heard any of his records but I couldn't agree more."
At present Nancy lives in Manchester where she still has a day job to help fund her musical career "I work hard at my music and I don't begrudge having to work to support myself". She then checks when the piece is running as she says she will have to quit for her tour in November. Nancy Elizabeth is unpretentious in her ambition. When asked what she wants to do next she says she says she doesn't know how yet but plans to tour Japan "because I am very determined" And you can't help but believe she will.
(Battle and Victory the album is out now on Leaf Records. She tours the UK In November. http://www.nancyelizabeth.co.uk/)
Words: Janine Warren