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Rowan Rheingans in conversation…

Posted by More Music on 07 November 2019

Hi Rowan, where are you in the world today?
Hello! I’m currently sitting backstage at The Stables, Milton Keynes. I’ll be going to do my show in an hour or so, so taking a little time out for a cuppa and thinking ahead to the rest of this tour…

Tell us about Dispatches on the Red Dress
Dispatches on the Red Dress is my first solo show! And it’s quite a different live experience to what I’m usually doing with my touring bands Lady Maisery or The Rheingans Sisters. You could call it a musical essay, or somewhere between a folk gig and a piece of theatre. It’s a song cycle woven around a true story of my grandmother’s youth in 1940’s Germany. It revolves around a very special dancing dress and it asks some big questions about where we are in the world today, where we might be going and why we should listen to the stories of the past. I took it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer and won a Fringe First award for new writing. I also just released my first solo album, based on the show, which is called The Lines We Draw Together.

What advice would you give to your younger self starting out in music? 
Tricky question! I think you always have to feel your way and try things out; I don’t think there’s any one piece of important advice I would give anyone other than to try to play as much as possible and to listen to as much music as possible. To be open minded and kind in this work, while at the same time knowing your worth and taking yourself seriously (but not too seriously) !

Was there a moment when things really took off for you?
I’ve had so many opportunities in my career so far and I love to watch how things unfold, often unknowingly to me in the moment but then in hindsight making total sense. For example, a tour of the Scottish highlands playing fiddle in a band when I was just starting out meant I met the bassist Jenny Hill. Jenny later created the Songs of Separation project and asked me and my band Lady Maisery to be part of it, alongside an amazing band of musicians including Karine Polwart, Eliza Carthy, Mary Macmaster… That was an amazing project to be part of and really kickstarted my energy and ambition for songwriting, which has taken me to interesting places, this solo adventure included.

Tell us about someone who’s supported you in your career?
I’m very lucky to feel very supported in this job by so many people. The folk scene is built on the energies and enthusiasms of many people putting in huge amounts of effort voluntarily to get things going, to host or cook for bands, to promote in their local areas, to organise gigs and festivals. I feel very grateful to be in this scene for that reason and try to host gigs from time to time in Sheffield or offer travelling musicians a bed when I can too – what goes around comes around.

Music and music education is important because….
Music is the stuff of life – of expression, of emotion, of connection. So often music speaks when words fail. I have learnt some of the biggest lessons of my life through music. Without music, I would know much less about myself, about others, about the world…

Do you have any Lancaster and Morecambe links?
I’ve played a few gigs up this way before and always really enjoyed visiting. I love the long beach – I love to see a long way – and I like that you can get a proper Yorkshire tea with soya milk in the seafront cafe.

Dispatches on the Red Dress is at Lancaster Arts at Lancaster University on Friday 8 November, you can buy tickets by clicking here


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