Folk Across the Water: Naomi Bedford & Paul Simmonds
Over the years, musicians have come up with creative ideas on how to fund their projects using crowdsourcing. With record labels no longer in the position to offer speculative financial investments, it’s up to the artist to beg, borrow, and otherwise figure out on their own how to pay for studio time, manufacturing, marketing, promotion, and distribution. Except for the occasional Taylor Swifts and Ed Sheerans of the world, the majority of music produced these days has stepped back to a modified version of the DIY construct of the early ’70s.
For her third album in a trilogy that began with the acclaimed folk-roots Tales From The Weeping Willow in 2011 and A History of Insolence in 2014, Naomi Bedford came up with a unique idea. As a young girl she lived next door to The Police’s guitarist Andy Summers and was the babysitter for his daughter Layla. He had given her the green boiler suit (the UK version of a worker’s jumpsuit) that he wore on the cover of Outlandos D’Amour, which she treasured and kept for decades until she got the idea to sell it in order to raise money for her latest album, Songs My Ruiner Gave Me, sharing the credit with her musical and life partner Paul Simmonds. She called Summers to let him know what she was up to, and that led to his contributing some fine guitar work on a song I think could be my new favorite holiday classic of 2017, a year of dismal and joyless political ramifications.
Naomi grew up learning from her mother the folk music of singers such as Shirley Collins, Jean Ritchie, and Hedy West. In the ’90s she co-wrote and sang on Orbital’s ‘Funny Break” – a Top 20 hit in the UK – and worked with several other groups before leaving music to backpack through India and raise a family. Her partner, Paul Simmonds, is a member of the British folk-punk band The Men They Couldn’t Hang, who have been playing and recording together since 1984. He’s a vocalist and songwriter in that band, and plays guitar, bouzouki, mandolin and keyboards. While he contributed to Naomi’s first two albums, for Songs My Ruiner Gave Me he splits the credit with her. As she told me: “His input was equal to mine by the time we got to making this third album, so it seemed only right.”
That duet is with Justin Currie, the Del Amitri founding member, lead singer, and principal songwriter. Naomi was a fan who became friends with him ten years ago after connecting through his MySpace page. In addition to inviting her to support him on his solo gigs, he has also appeared on all three of her albums.
I’ve been a fan of Naomi Bedford’s since discovering her first album, and her vocal range is astounding. While she may not be well known in the US, in her own country she has been acknowledged with awards and often appears in those annual “best of” lists. Dusty Willow of The Guardian recently posted a four-star review of the new album. These are his thoughts:
If Gillian Welch lived in Brighton and had once sung with Orbital, she might have turned out like Naomi Bedford. In other words, Bedford’s third album with musical/romantic partner Paul Simmonds sounds far more American south than Sussex, but its transatlantic pull plays blissfully rather than preciously. Bedford’s voice is all rasp, shiver and swamp, while steel guitar strings reverberate warmly on the breeze.
I reached out to Naomi for her take on how she and Paul have approached the albums:
We set out to absorb the themes of the traditional canon of songs that run throughout folk music both in the USA and Britain. Generally speaking, these things are love, lost love, uprising, sorrow, death, and landscape. As well as reflecting these origins, our intention was to update them with regards to the modern world. We hope we have covered the breadth of the folk music experience. We concentrated on one or two of these themes for each album and the themes together made up the trilogy.
Naomi and I have been Facebook friends for years after I included her in one of my own “annual favorites” columns here at No Depression, and it’s fascinating how open she is. Her posts illustrate someone who lives for the joy of love and family, who uses her musical abilities to express herself, and shares with Paul a history and commitment to political activism. Reminding me of the Graham Nash lyric “our house is a very very very fine house,” I think this song by Paul captures what it’s like to live in the world of Bedford and Simmonds.
The Postscript: As these song cycles were conceived as a trilogy, I thought it best to leave you with a little sampling from Naomi’s previous albums. And I’ve included a special treat for you Warren Zevon fans. For more, you’ll find her music at the usual online sources and through her own website.
You can follow me here at No Depression to get notified when I’ve added something new. Many of my past columns, articles and essays can be accessed at therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate and post daily on my Facebook page. The Real Easy Ed: Americana Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed