Jackie Oates is one of the best-loved and most intuitive folk performers of her generation.
Born in Cheshire and raised in Staffordshire her first flight into folk music was in 2006 with a self-titled debut album which was named one of Mojo Magazine’s Top 10 Albums of the Year – an emphatic start to what has become a rich and varied career as an expressive, stand-out fiddle singer and English folk envoy.
Sixteen years later Jackie, now based in Oxfordshire, is about to release her eighth studio album, the wistful, soaring Gracious Wings.
Her initial trajectory was almost exclusively in traditional English folk song, her sweet and exquisite voice and fine interpretations seeing her compared to the likes of June Tabor and the great Shirley Collins.
Her second album The Violet Hour (2008), produced by Phil Beer of Show of Hands, witnessed her unique rekindling of traditional ballads and songs and just a year later Jackie scooped the Horizon (Best Newcomer) title at the 2009 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards along with Best Traditional Track for The Lark in the Morning from The Violet Hour.
Her third release Hyperboreans, produced by her brother Jim Moray, was seen as something of a ‘coming of age’ album and from there Jackie has spread her wings, writing her own material, throwing surprise covers into the mix and breathing new life into the traditional gems she unearths.
Saturnine followed in 2011, Lullabies in 2012, The Spyglass and The Herringbone (2015) and most recently The Joy of Living (2018) – Jackie’s life-affirming riposte to the death of her father in the same week as her daughter Rosie was born –an emotional roller-coaster of an album.
This time around Jackie has produced an 11-track album that melds traditional English folk songs, a Basque working song, self-penned ‘lockdown’ material and some of those curve ball cover versions!
Produced by Richard Evans and recorded at The Labour Exchange,Bath, the album’s guest musicians include John Spiers (melodeons, Anglo concertina, vocals) , Mike Cosgrave (accordion, piano, guitar, mandolin) , John Parker (double bass), Megan Henwood (guitar, vocals) and Jon Wilks (guitar).
Jackie has many strings to her bow. She’s a member of the feted Imagined Village collective. She’s been an actress in a folk opera. She’s been a resident artist at the Museum of English Rural Life. She’s become an authority on songs sung by lace makers. She’s even had a Lush foundation cream named after her.
“The velvet-voiced treasure of the British folk scene” – The Guardian
Jackie hopes her albums reflect the here and now. She says: “I like my solo albums to reflect the time in which I’m recording them and any themes that feel relevant at that point in life’s journey.”
In the six months in which Gracious Wings was recorded Jackie was juggling her time studying for a Masters degree in Music Psychotherapy, looking after her two young children as well as watching her mother struck by degenerative illness. For her degree Jackie has been shadowing Tom Crook, the resident music psychotherapist at an Oxford hospice. Says Jackie: “I was fascinated to undertake this work as a means of understanding and becoming friends with the process of life and death, having lost my Dad suddenly in 2016 and subsequently watching my Mum move into a rapid form of early onset Alzheimer’s. On my first day at the hospice Tom likened his job to that of ‘Gracious Wings’, a ‘harpy’ from Oxford author Philip Pullman’s fantasy His Dark Materials.”
The harpy has the body of a bird and the face of a woman and resides as a guardian in the land of the dead where it listens to stories told by the deceased. It is depicted on the album’s striking cover by illustrator Jo Elizabeth May.
Pullman has explained: “I like the idea that when you die you have to give an account of yourself – a true story about what you loved and saw, what you knew and did. If it is true and resonates with the Harpy, you are free and will dissolve and become part of the universe again, unburdened by your past.”
Says Jackie: “My role at the hospice is to help people make sense of their lives and assist with legacies they might wish to share with their families – sometimes that is a song that they write with us or songs they would like us to sing to them. Quite often they need to unburden themselves and in doing so, can have a more peaceful passing. Songwriting within palliative care is very new and started in Oxford – there aren’t many places doing it in the UK as yet.”
She’s an artist who always delivers in her unobtrusive but significant way. Still in her 30s but already recognised as a national folk treasure.
Gracious Wings takes flight on September 2 on the Needle Pin Records label.
Jackie will be showcasing the album with Mike Cosgrave and John Parker, on a UK tour, in September/October as The Jackie Oates Trio.
Dates as follows:
18th The Water Rats LONDON
19th Nettlebed Folk Club HENLEY ON THAMES
23rd Farnham Maltings FARNHAM
25th Live To Your Living Room ONLINE
27th Alnwick Playhouse ALNWICK
28th Roxy Assembly EDINBURGH
30th Soundbox Live CHESTER
2nd Hartlepool Folk Festival HARTLEPOOL
6th The Musician LEICESTER
7th The Whitworth, MATLOCK
8th Masham Town Hall MASHAM
11th Dartford Folk Club DARTFORD (Jackie Oates & Mike Cosgrave)
14th Manchester Folk Festival MANCHESTER
For further details please visit www.jackieoates.co.uk