Wrought Iron by Nancy Elizabeth
Formats: CD (BAY 68CD) Limited Edition Vinyl LP (BAY 68V) Digital (BAY 68E)
Release Date: 5 October 2009
“Wrought iron is made by repeatedly heating and working the raw material with a hammer,” says Nancy Elizabeth of the source of her second album’s title. “This ancient process brings impurities out of the metal, making it stronger, and this was often used to make beautiful and ornate things. I like the analogy of personal adversity and experience being the process of forging, and the pure and strong wrought iron being the end result.”
Like true wrought iron, they rarely make them like this any more. In contrast to the rich tapestries of her debut album, 2007’s Battle and Victory , Nancy has taken inspiration from silence and solitude to fuel these strangely gripping, quietly involving songs. Turning her back on the harp that provided the musical focus for her earlier work, these beautiful, understated compositions allow for a fresh instrumental palette, most of which she plays herself - including guitar, glockenspiel, vibraphone and a hundred-year-old Dulcitone - but built around her main instrument of choice, the piano, and her warm, unaffected voice.
Nancy has forged quite a reputation in the four years since she emerged from her Lancashire home-town with her debut EP, The Wheel Turning King. She has performed throughout Europe and as far afield as Mexico, as well as recording with James Yorkston on his last album When The Haar Rolls In, and a forthcoming album of traditional folk songs as part of The Big Eye Family Players. She also recently collaborated with Japanese artist Susumu Yokota on his album Mother, and contributed a unique take on ‘Cornfield’ to the Lal Waterson tribute album Migrating Bird.
When it came to her own writing, Nancy removed herself from urban life, spending time in the Faroe Islands (her grandmother’s birthplace) and rural Spain (prior to recording the album in a remote corner of North Wales). The wide-open spaces inspired her approach to the arrangements. “I wrote many of the songs out in Aragon where I was staying in a place with no electricity, so I was really listening to the silence, as well as hearing conversations in a completely musical way - to the rhythm of the words.”
Nancy worked on some of the songs on an abandoned piano in a derelict music school building in a Spanish village. “When I returned a month later, I found that the school had been demolished. I was lucky they didn’t come along with bulldozers while I was sneaking around playing the piano!” Back in England, she stayed in the Lake District where she found a similar stillness, consequently naming the album’s two instrumental pieces ‘Cat Bells’ (after the hill walkers’ favourite fell) and ‘Cairns’.
“I wrote all these songs in solitude, and the lyrics are quite often based around feelings that I would never express to anyone,” she admits. “The experience I have when listening to music alone is something that is impossible to experience with another. It’s a quiet place when it feels like only you and the sounds you are hearing exist, and this is the place that I came to writing Wrought Iron from.”
The album is as much influenced by the minimalism of Arvo Pärt and Steve Reich as by the choral harmonies of Judee Sill and the bare expression of Leonard Cohen’s early records. “I find music attractive in its simplicity.” Nancy explains. “I’m fascinated when I listen to Steve Reich’s work. I love his use of voices, mallet instruments and pianos, and I wanted to bring some of that to the album.”
You might catch a glimpse of another of Nancy’s influences, Mark Hollis, on ‘Bring On The Hurricane’, with its gentle guitar intonations, bold piano and building dynamic. The spare but evocative use of Matthew Halsall’s trumpet on the album’s musical centerpiece, ‘Lay Low’, is an uplifting addition to the earthy guitar and hand claps, while on ‘The Act’ we see a very different side of Nancy, all bluesy sensuality and arching ardour, with train-track harmonica and a loose guitar rhythm.
The first single to be taken from the album, ‘Feet Of Courage’ is a good example of Nancy’s more layered writing style. Built on a blanket of vocal harmonies, the descending scale of bells and vibraphone highlights the song’s emotionally resonant undertow.
The limited edition vinyl LP is cut from high quality 24-bit audio masters, using DMM.