Some people are so talented you find yourself stuck somewhere between sheer admiration and simmering jealousy.
Not that we have such divided loyalties with Maghull’s Lizzie Nunnery – with her debut album Company of Ghosts gathering momentum across Radios 1 and 2 (Rob da Bank and Mike Harding both avowed fans of Nunnery’s stirring and strident brand of northern Folk), and her harrowing debut play, Intemperance, scooping a five star review from The Guardian, Nunnery may be an artist who’s hard to pin down, but who’s trajectory is pretty clear. And SevenStreets is firmly in camp Sheer Admiration (oh, ok, occasionally we stray towards the line marked Simmering Jealousy. Especially when we can’t even write a decent intro. Like now).
So, we wondered, what does an all-round Renaissance woman do when she’s not wasting her time penning award-winning compositions (oops, getting close to the ‘Use sarcasm to hide simmering jealousy’ method now), well, maybe if we listen to the same stuff as her, some of that inspiration might rub off?
Time, then, to hear Lizzie Nunnery’s Summer Spotify Session. And a gentle probing while we do…
Another set of great reviews. Is this Lizzie Nunnery’s Summer of Love?
I’m thrilled with how the debut album’s done and I’ve got some exciting gigs and projects coming up. I’ve been asked to be part of The Irish Sea Sessions at the Philharmonic Hall in October which involves lots of incredible Irish and Liverpool artists, including Damien Dempsey and Niamh Parsons, and the idea is that we all collaborate. I’m also doing a literature and music performance that month at The Bluecoat as part of their Chapter and Verse festival. So I’m looking forward to a busy Autumn!
It must be pleasing to be loved by Radio 1 and 2. Is it a case of right song, right time, do you think?
The twelve songs that went on “Company of Ghosts” were whittled down from more than twice as many. In a way working on a debut album is a great position to be in because you have a lifetime of material to refer back to. Having said that I’m already working on the next one and it’s been really liberating to finally get some of the old songs out and to being moving on to new things. I don’t think it was necessarily a case of the right song at the right time but I definitely got to a point when I had something coherent I wanted to say across an album and my writing became a lot more focused. The ideas and stories in the songs seem to have resonated with a lot of people.
Tell us a little about Company of Ghosts – an ambitious piece of work: are you happy with the finished product?
It came together over a good year or so in terms of writing and arranging and then the actual recording took about three months on and off. We did some of it up in the Lake District where the label Fellside have their studio, and the rest either in St Brides Church on Percy Street or in our living room. It helps to live with the producer (Wave Machines’ Vidar Norheim) in that respect – we grabbed time wherever we could for a while. The art work was a real labour of love too. I work with a really talented local photographer and designer, James Wafer. He’s a complete perfectionist, creating amazing results. He wanted all the shots to be outdoors so there were quite a few dark early mornings and time spent standing in puddles. I’m very proud of what we all achieved with the album. The great thing about reading good reviews or hearing nice things from people who bought it, is you feel like people have really got it; they’ve understood what we were getting at.
SevenStreets loves Monkey Song, from your debut EP, Hungry. But what is it with you and monkeys?
Ahhhh, the monkeys. As a child I asked Jim’ll Fix It to sort it for me to meet a chimpanzee but he never got back to me. I think it’s the fact that they’re so close to humans that you feel this strong connection, and yet they’re still completely animal and therefore mysterious. I got it out of my system a bit though making my short film “Monkey Love”. We had two real Capuchin monkeys on set and I got to hold a tiny baby one. It bit me but it was still a special moment.
There’s a clutch of excellent female artists around these days. Any theory on what’s going on?
I think there have always been loads of really talented women doing their thing in all genres of music and thank God record companies are starting to put money behind them in the way they’ve always done with male artists. I’ve been asked before why there are suddenly so many female artists around and I think if there are it’s because something social is shifting and women are feeling more confident to get up with a guitar or a uke or whatever and compete. Long may it last. People I really like… Laura Marling, Joanna Newsome, Blue Roses, Mary Hampton…
Liverpool hasn’t been in the musical driving seat for a while, while other local cities gain Mercury nominations year after year. What do you put this down to?
I think that’s possibly true in terms of Indie bands but there have been some notable exceptions. I think maybe after one big scene zeniths and fades it can take a while for a new scene to find it’s feet. Right now I genuinely feel there’s something brilliant and exciting going on with folk music in the city. I’m involved in putting on Almanac Folk nights at Mello Mello and beyond and we’ve had some cracking local acts play for us in the last year or so. There’s a real feeling of people taking on folk music tradition and playing around with it, whereas at one point that was deeply unfashionable. (Check out Lizzie’s excellent folk nights by visiting her links at foot of the feature – SS)
Who do you love right now – either locally or nationally?
Local bands/ artists I love… The Loose Moose String Band, John Smith, Andy Hickie, The Random Family, Atlantic Massey, Wave Machines. Nationally… The Three Craws, James Yorkston, Johnny Kearney and Lucy Farell. Internationally… The National, Bon Iver, Vampire Weekend, Loudon Wainwright. I listen to a lot of older music: Ewan MacColl, Johnny Cash, Joni Mitchell, Judee Sill, Neil Young, Crosby Stills and Nash.
Your play, Intemperance was a powerful piece of work – how do you decide on which themes would work as a script, and which as a story in a song?
Usually the idea presents itself as fitting a certain form, so I’ll be struck with a visual idea for something on stage, or a theme I really want to explore through dialogue, or I’ll get a lyric and a bit of melody in my head. Having said that there is an awful lot of overlap. If an idea swims around long enough it can come out in several different ways. I definitely have recurring images across my songs and play… I seem to have a thing about water. Mostly I try not to be too self conscious about it all, which is hard.
What’s next for the playwright?
Lots, I’m glad to say. I’m working on a piece of forum theatre with Cardboard Citizens in London (who make plays for/about/involving homeless and ex-homeless people) which will be toured in October. I’m also writing an hour long piece which will be performed in St James’s Gardens below the Anglican in September. That’s part of a project called Anthology which the Liverpool Everyman are co-producing with Slung Low theatre company from Leeds. There will be seven different shows playing at once in different parts of the city! Also my full length play, “The Swallowing Dark”, will be re-opening the Liverpool Playhouse Studio space in the spring, which is a great honour.
Kate Rusby or Florence Welch?
Kate Rusby (perhaps wearing Florence Welch’s clothes).
Where do you like in Liverpool these days?
Lovely Aigburth near Lark Lane. We moved from the city centre a year ago with the aim of getting more sleep. I can be frequently found running sweatily about the park or drinking vodka in Keiths.
Listen to Lizzie’s Spotify Summer Session here