Strumming and Dreaming - Yarns and slow airs

by Les Ray


“For me life is a craft, music is a craft. So if I’m knitting, that’s got just as much influence and inspiration as my music, as has nature, as has colour, as have oceans or birds... or drawing. Everything’s all connected, and knitting is something that makes me calm. I love its regularity and rhythm ... the form, the shape, the contrast, the colour, and those are all things I talk about in music. I feel that my accordion could be a garment really, it’s something I wear; it’s part of me.” .

These are the words of Karen Tweed, virtuoso accordionist and Renaissance woman, spoken to me in an interview for my show on Cambridge 105 Radio a few days before her concert at Cambridge Folk Club on 22nd February.

I went along to the concert having never seen Karen perform live before, not even in previous guises, as a member of The Poozies or with Roger Wilson or Kathryn Tickell, who gave Karen her first break in folk music by inviting her to tour Sweden.

Speaking of Kathryn Tickell, support for the evening was ably provided by fellow Northumbrian pipe player Mike Nelson.

Northamptonshire born, like myself, now residing in the Orkneys, the much travelled Karen took us off on a musical journey. Starting the evening by playing her childhood instrument the melodica (“Everyone should play one”), she went on to entertain us with the story of the variable names of her mum from County Kerry and dad from Willesden, before performing the beautiful “Miss Hanoria McNamara of Ballybunion”, inspired by her mum.

The evening proceeded with Karen alternating between the role of raconteur and that of consummate musician, eyes closed, smiling serenely, delighting us with beautiful melodies and subtle syncopation.

My favourite piece in the first half was My Dear Julia, inspired by a photograph of John Herschel by pioneering 19th-century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron; the piece is Karen’s imaginings in music of what Herschel’s letters to Julia might have contained.

The second half tended more towards the ebbs and flows of Karen’s music than to her storytelling, and included an ambitious 20-minute set of tunes that even took a dip into Moon River, with the audience gently singing along, before continuing on its musical journey.