KARINE POLWART

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Karine Polwart

Biography

Biography & more (Courtesy of the Artist's site, 2006)

Winner of Best Album, Best Original Song and the Horizon Award for Best Newcomer at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2005, Scottish Borders based singer-songwriter Karine Polwart combines the economy and universality of the storytelling tradition with a probing intellect, compassionate lyricism and a canny knack for memorable melodies. Though her songs resonate with folk-roots influences she has a resolutely contemporary sensibility and a sense of musical adventure that encompasses indie, alt country and jazz, as well as folk.
Karine's disturbing tales of human cruelty and loss - twentieth century genocide, TV executions and sex trafficking - betray her background as an anti-violence and children's rights activist. But this dark streak is offset by wistful musings upon the age and beauty of the night sky, comic tales of lovelorn gas installers and wry observations on the links between cosmetic dentistry and global domination. Her pervasive sense of hope and possibility prove she's a writer and musician who understands both the best and the worst that the world has to offer.

Despite Karine's recognition as an emerging talent, she is, at 35, no novice, and her many years of apprenticeship on the international folk-roots scene with traditional Scots groups Battlefield Band and Malinky make her a relaxed and vibrant communicator in live performance.
With a Masters degree in philosophy and a thorough grounding in the art of questioning, Karine succeeds in her aim to communicate profoundly personal and quietly political messages without posturing and with plenty of room for individual interpretation. Her humanity and sense of justice, as well as her warmth and wit, shine through. She says,
"The thing I love most of all about writing songs is the meanings they take on for people who hear them. And I'm really humbled by the stories they tell me about their lives and experiences as a result."
Karine also says:
"The musician I'd most like to invite over for tea is Patty Griffin. The lyrics for her songs make me think we could fairly put the world to rights over a cream scone or two! But if he was alive I'd call on Robert Burns too.
A piece of music that really moves me is "Promenade" by U2 (but Chris Wood's "Albion" is getting to me at the moment too).
An album I'll never grow tired of is Dick Gaughan's "Handful of Earth".
The thing I like best about being a musician is communicating with people I might never meet, from places I might never visit, as well as actually meeting people and visiting corners of the world I wouldn't otherwise get to."
When I was very wee…
Im' always a wee bit suspicious of musicians my age whose childhood and youthful musical tastes sound miraculously cool. My recollection is that most primary school kids in the 1970s didn't buy albums at all: they listened to their mum and dad's records if they listened at all. And mostly they went outside to play or watched Grange Hill.
At a Radio Clyde road show on Ayr Beach when I was seven, I won a red vinyl Pointer Sisters 12 inch for telling tasteless jokes. It was my first ever record.
My first proper stage appearance was that year, as a Maori Virgin Mary smeared in panstick, cradling an Eskimo doll (a gift from The Tartan Shop at Butlins where my granny worked) in the alternative nativity play put together by our New Zealand music teacher (oh how I coveted her amazing autoharp).

In Primary Six, aged ten, I formed my first band: KP and the Minichips. We won the gala day talent contest in Banknock with a spoof on an Easter hymn written in school assembly. Maxi The Driving Instructor, who was judging, thought my guitar debut was a joke and said, really quite loudly, that Jennifer Wilson should've won instead. By the following year, me and my best pal Maggie, after practising every day behind the mobile huts at school, had slipped to second place dressed in white curtain lining material with silver sequins in a harmony duet version of Nicole's Eurovision Song Contest winning "A Little Loving A Little Giving".
To console myself, I wrote to Jim'll Fix It wishing I could sing "If I were A Rich Man" on a danceable roof somewhere with the heroic Topol. Instead, I watched week on week as Jim picked a succession of much prettier and cockier wee girls who wanted to sing with much more boring people.

Of course, I thought Debbie Harry and Chrissie Hynd were cool but not half as cool as Kim Wilde. And besides I never bought any of their records. Instead, my mum gave me "Regatta De Blanc", Dr Hook's Greatest Hits and a Boney M compilation with my first ever Sony cassette recorder. Mostly I taped my grandparents snoring and started making up and recording songs about dying and being lonesome. I played my Granny Quinn's Readers Digest Box Set of Country Music endlessly during the summer months and fell for Anne Murray's winsome "Snowbird" just as much as I did Billie Jo Spears suicide ballad "Ode to Billie Jo".
That same year I was asked to join The Banknock Kids and, consequently, got to sing "Bright Eyes" and "Space Oddity" almost every week to bewildered old ladies in Kilsyth and patients at The Royal Hospital in Larbert. Our teacher and bandleader Mr Cowie played the guitar, Jackie The Taxi played the drums and all the wee lassies like me idolised the glamorous almost-a-woman Anne Marie when she sang "American Trilogy". We had proper microphones and sound checks and fed upon homemade meringues and scones at community centres across central Scotland.
The greatest musical travesty of my youth was Joe Dolce keeping "Vienna" off the number 1 spot for 9 weeks, depriving my beloved Midge Ure of his rightful glory. Apart from Ultravox singles, most of my extended tape collection in my early teens came free out of Weetabix packets. I liked Big Country and Phil Collins and had never even heard of Peter Gabriel. And I thought "Footloose" was the greatest movie ever made apart from "The Deer Hunter".
In time I learned "Universal Soldier" and "El Condor Pasa" whilst pretending to like The Cramps and Sisters of Mercy much more than I actually did. I drew detailed soft pencil pictures of Bono, wrote a song about Northern Ireland and memorised all the stats and symptoms in the Infectious Diseases section of Pears Encyclopaedia. Mercifully I didn't need to lie too much about liking The Cure or Tracy Chapman but I didn't say too much about really quite liking musty old Robert Burns songs and Dire Straits too.
I wasn't allowed to study music at school because I was too good at much more important things. So I learned about differential equations and The Weimar Republic and got a wee bit fat. After learning to play Suzanne Vega's "Solitude Standing", I enrolled on a course in politics at Dundee University because there were too many posh sixteen year olds in suits at Edinburgh University Open Day. I went to pub folk sessions, fell for The Kevin McDermott Orchestra and Dick Gaughan and drank eighty shilling.
I studied in Canada for a year at the age of nineteen where I became acquainted with Joni Mitchell, prairie dogs and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and stunned my exchange student pals by singing "Ae Fond Kiss" to several hundred people without spontaneously combusting from shyness.
I got my head down after that and with a First Class honours degree in philosophy I moved to Glasgow and studied for a Masters in Philosophical Inquiry too. I ended up working as a philosophy tutor in a primary school. Thinking is the answer, I thought. And I did get a massive buzz out of watching eight year olds trying to describe nothing: "It's all white, the houses and roofs and cars and everything but if there's white things then it's not the same as nothing". If there had been any funding support for encouraging children to question and reason (now I wonder why that never caught on?) I dare say I might still be doing the same today.

And, well - I kind of am. After a six-year stint working for the Scottish Women's Aid movement on issues of domestic and child abuse and children and young people's rights I quit my job in January 2000. But it's all in here. Don't know why, but I've always wanted to understand other people's experiences and beliefs and always wanted to question why things are the way they are. And that's a large part of what I do now with my songs. I leave the social work training to someone else".


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