Oxford-based Magpie Lane have been playing traditional English songs and tunes for over twenty years. They combine powerful vocal, contributed by all five members of the band, with vigorous dance tunes, performing inventive arrangements on acoustic instruments that include ango-concertina, melodeon, fiddle, cello, bouzouki, guitar and percussion.
SF: Who have been the greatest influences on the music of Magpie Lane?
ML: Obviously all the individual members of the band have brought in their own influences over the years. But most of the original members got involved in folk in the seventies, so our formative influences were people like Steeleye Span, the Albion Dance Band, John Kirkpatrick and Sue Harris, the Oyster Ceilidh Band and Shirley Collins. Then a bit later bands like Crows and Bandoggs, and Brass Monkey. We were all really into harmony singing, so the Watersons were an influence of course. But again Steeleye – often the best tracks on their LPs were when they put down their instruments and just belted out a song in five-part harmony: it makes for a really powerful contrast.
We also owe a lot to local singers and musicians we’ve made music with over the years – in particular Graham Metcalfe, who was such a presence on the Oxford folk scene for a really long time.
SF: Do you think there is an Oxford folk music scene?
ML: There’s a really strong scene – formal folk clubs maybe go up and down, but there’s an incredible number of sessions and informal events going on, plus morris teams, ceilidh bands, folk choirs … There’s a lot of really talented people involved in folk music locally, and fortunately that includes quite a lot of younger people too.
SF: Where do you go to as your source for new songs and tunes?
ML: On our very first CD, a lot of the material had been researched by Tim Healey delving in the Bodleian – that was before you could find all those ballads just by going online. Since then an awful lot of our repertoire has been suggested by Andy Turner, who just loves listening to field recordings and digging around in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library to find songs and tunes that no one else has recorded. Of course the Full English archive has made an incredible amount of that stuff available to everyone, without actually having to visit the Library. We’ve just arranged a fantastic Oxfordshire version of ‘Sovay’ which we got from the Full English site.
SF: If you could choose one person to join you on stage for a few songs who would it be?
ML: At our twentieth birthday concert in the Holywell Music Room last year the guests who joined us on stage included Jackie Oates, Chris Leslie, Paul Sartin, John Spiers, Benji Kirkpatrick, Hilary James and Simon Mayor. So that ticked a lot of boxes – it was an amazing night.
When we discussed this question at our last practice, Ian suggested Maddy Prior, and no one argued with that (although on the way home Andy thought of a few more candidates including Emmylou Harris and Linda Thompson).
SF: When can we expect the next album and what are your plans for the following year?
ML: As we write this, we’ve just done support for Spiers & Boden in the Town Hall, which was a great gig. Coming up locally, we’re doing Haddenham, and then the new Eynsham Festival of Folk. And then at the end of the year, as usual, we’ll be doing our Christmas shows in Oxford and further afield (bookings being taken now, event organisers!).
We’ve got quite a lot of new material ready, and we plan to start recording a new album in the autumn, for release next year. And although we’ve already done two Christmas CDs, at some point we may well do another one, as every year we add great new songs to our Christmas repertoire, and it seems a shame not to get them recorded.