Elisabeth Flett, Scottish fiddler

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

My mother is a violin teacher and a talented community music facilitator, and having such an amazing role model right there from the beginning of my life has been really inspiring.

Going to see talented female artists such as Anna Massie and Patsy Reid performing live throughout my childhood – and going to the Alasdair Fraser fiddle courses at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in 2007-2011 – was also hugely inspiring as those experiences enabled me to realise that there were exciting opportunities for women in folk music and, crucially, helped me discover and develop my own creative ‘voice’.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

This is a hard question! I would say that the most important influence on my musical career so far has been a person: Karine Polwart. Discovering her music, full of sociopolitical commentary, storytelling and her own personality, was a significant moment in my life. It enabled me to realise that Elisabeth the person and Elisabeth the professional musician didn’t have to be two separate people: in fact, the best art that I’ve created is often when I’ve fully integrated my personal hopes, opinions and fears into my writing or music. When I’m unsure about what to do next or worried that my creative style is too ‘out there’, I always go back to Karine’s songs and remind myself that, in the end, artistic honesty delivers the best results.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Funnily enough, my greatest challenges have also been the greatest aides to my development as a musician! As someone who has a background in both classical and folk music (with some dabbling in jazz) I often find myself feeling like I’m awkwardly standing between those two worlds, never entirely fitting in either genre.

Whilst often uncomfortable, this mix of experience does enable me to produce work that, hopefully, is genuinely unique and means that I can bring something new to projects in which I’m involved, whatever the genre.

In a purely practical sense, my greatest challenges have and continue to be my problems with shoulder pain, due to being thrown off a horse on a rural Peruvian mountain in 2015 (exciting!) Alexander Technique exercises and paracetamol tend to sort it just now but I do worry about whether or not these problems will be exacerbated by age as my career continues.

I also have some issues with performance anxiety, mostly due to my time at music conservatoire – the four years I spent in that high-pressure atmosphere has sadly been harmful to my enjoyment of playing music, and I find myself worrying about critical audiences or embarrassing stage blunders far more than ten years ago when I had a very simple joy in participating in all types of performing. I hope to re-find that simple love of playing again in the future.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Many (many…) years ago now I performed a movement from Vivaldi’s Spring at a violin competition a few months before my 12th birthday and was thrilled that I’d played something that tricky before my birthday (twelve seemed a huge marker in being A Grown Up Person…hilarious, I know!) That thrill has proved hard to beat, though supporting Mairearad & Anna at Celtic Connections 2016 as part of folk trio Solasta, competing at the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards as part of duo Shamblestone in 2017 and performing a week-long run of my own solo theatre show ROOTS at Edinburgh Fringe 2019 have all come pretty close.

I’m most proud of my self-released EP, The Lullaby Project, as it was a project that I undertook solely simply because I liked the concept and enjoyed the experience rather than because there was a ‘need’ for it to be made. It took quite a while to edit, master and release so it also proves to me that I can commit to something (always a useful skill when trying to release music…!)

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I recorded Ewan McColl’s Terror Time as part of folk trio Solasta’s album, A Cure For The Curious, and the time I invested in thinking about the lyrics, the voice inflections, the space needed for the song to breathe and the best way to arrange such a powerful composition was all worth it. Whether I’m listening back to that recording or performing the song live I am always glad that I treated it, and continue to treat it, with thought and respect, and I believe that you can tell how much I love Terror Time as a piece of classic folk when I sing it.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

My repertoire choices are largely based on need, particularly in a band setting.

In folk duo Shamblestone we tend to perform gigs in a ‘block’ of dates; a summer or autumn tour, for example. Often the same people who came to the Summer tour come along to the Spring gigs the following year, and with such loyal fans we like to make sure that there’s at least one new set so they’re not listening to exactly the same repertoire every single time they come to hear us play. If we haven’t chosen a song for a while we’ll pick something ‘singy’, if we haven’t made up a new tune set for a tour or two we’ll create that instead. It’s all very practical!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

The Green Note in Camden is a venue very dear to my heart. When I first moved to London in 2013 I remember going along to an event there and thinking, “When I perform here I’ll know I’m really making it as a professional folk musician!” That first performance there with Solasta in 2015 was so thrilling and every gig I’ve done there since still has that tingle of excitement. When I perform there I still imagine my 17-year-old self in the audience jumping up and down with excitement that it’s me on the stage! It’s also run by lovely people, which is always nice.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Some have already been mentioned: Karine Polwart, Anna Massie, Patsy Reid…

I’ve just had a look at my Spotify ‘Most Listened’ list (I know, I’m a hypocritical artist listening to Spotify whilst receiving about 1p in Spotify streams per year) and I’m currently listening to Talisk, Niteworks, Rachel Newton, Sigrid, Matilda Mann, Bernstein, Hayley Kiyoko, Michael Kiwanuka, Kate Nash, Finn Anderson, Rachel Sermanni and Jacob Collier. A real mix of genres there!!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My most memorable concert experience – or in the top five, at the very least – was performing at Celtic Connections last year with Bogha-Frois, Scotland’s new LGBTQ+ folk collective. Being up onstage with several artists I’d looked up to throughout my teens and a whole gang of other talented, queer musicians, as part of a festival I’ve always loved, was an indescribably joyous experience that meant the absolute world to me. I can’t wait to do it all over again at Celtic Connections 2020!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

A) Be known in the industry as someone who is professional, makes good art and is easy to work with

B) Make enough income to afford rent, travel and food

C) Be creatively fulfilled and enjoy your work

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

That success doesn’t have to look the same for everyone, that touring isn’t essential to be a professional musician, that every musician should at least experiment with writing their own music and that being a creative artist is all about team work. String players can be particularly bad at thinking that the end goal is to be a soloist, up on the stage alone basking in solitary glory. This is a very lonely end goal! Musicians need to support each other.

What are your most treasured possessions?

1 – Saint Christopher necklace, gifted to me by my mother

2 – Peruvian dreamcatcher, brought back all the way from Cusco

3 – Sally, my fiddle

4 – My MacBook

5 – A spectacular green felt hat, topped with a huge feather. It was a thank you present from a theatre company and it’s so ridiculously over the top it always makes me smile!

Originally from Fife, Elisabeth Flett is a fiddler, singer-songwriter and whistle player now based in London. She studied Classical Recorder (amongst other things) at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and graduated in November 2017 with a first class honours degree.. At only 23 years old Elisabeth is a performer with experience beyond her years….

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