A NEW VOICE FROM
THE SHADOW LAND
Linda Em is an enchanting genre-spanning chanteuse.
Her debut album ‘Shadow Lands’ is well worth seeking out
(2015, Talking Elephant Records www.lindaem.co.uk )
This is the full version of an interview done for
the excellent ‘R2: Rock ‘n’ Reel’ magazine, subsequently
edited down for publication due to space restrictions
Minor chords. Major talent. Now auburn-haired Linda’s talking about her debut album, ‘Shadow Lands’ (2015). There’s a kind of literary-connection with CS Lewis about that title. ‘Yes I’m aware of that, it crops up a lot… even in ‘Game Of Thrones’, which is also my kind of thing, pretty addictive, epic and mythological with strong female warriors.’ Although there isn’t a song called ‘Shadow Lands’ ‘it is a word used in one of my lyrics. “Run Higher” is a strange song, inspired by an American man who threw himself off the JPMorgan building in Canary Wharf (‘he couldn’t stand the pressure in his head, so he flew’). I pass the building a lot, its very sad that people are pushed to such actions.’
The video for “Run Higher” shows Linda pensively adrift in the city-commuter flood beneath the Shard skyline. She’s lived in London since the 1980s, making sense of its contradictions with a voice that betrays the edge of Eire in its country-huskiness, yet quietly urgent as she moves from corner to corner, melding Celtic roots with influences ranging from the smoky blues end of the folk spectrum informed by literate classic singer-songwriters. Think Kirsty MacColl, then think again.
Linda’s “The Brig Hannah” follows the same narrative troubadour Folk-tradition as that Kingston Trio hit, Jane Miller’s violin adding trad-depth to the exile’s storytelling. A style that’s currently eclipsed by the more personal confessional style of songwriting. ‘Oh eclipsed I like that’ she laughs. Although Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs did a lot of early story-telling songs. ‘Yes well I’m a big fan of Dylan’s writing and Leonard Cohen… but then hey, who isn’t?’ “The Brig Hannah” is about an actual event that took place in 1849. The ship was traveling from Newry to Quebec when it sank off the gulf of St Lawrence, and Captain Shaw really did desert them (‘I see you steal away’). It struck me as very sad and I was inspired to write.’
‘The songs themselves? I get inspired by many different things especially the ‘real world’, “The Dockers Tavern” is about an actual ‘beer-stained’ public house I used to work and occasionally sing in, it was frequented by aged seamen and colourful characters. While “Monday Night” isn’t actually my song, it was written by Chris and his then-band just after John Lennon died, in response to his death, and if you listen closely you can understand that from the lyrics.’
Around this point, the conversation gets to be less a formal interview, and more a two-way dialogue. I point out that – personally, I have a passion for old SF and strange off-trails writers, odd poets and Literary weirdos. I’m assuming Linda is fairly literate too, from her articulate and well-crafted lyrics…? ‘Yes I am fairly. I took a strange left at the traffic lights, into dark humour, it all appeals! I’m kinda word hungry, always open to literary weirdos and defo odd poets. I topic-jump a lot. I’m actually trying to re-read a selection of Ted Hughes poems, and reading about ‘Granuaile’ – Ireland’s pirate queen Gráinne O’Malley (circa 1530 to 1603). I’ve also been digging around the Harry Smith ‘Anthology Of American Folk Music’ (Folkways 1952, CD set 1997) and the connection he had with Allen Ginsburg.’
Linda has taken time learning her craft, and it tells across the album’s ten diversely engaging tracks. It’s a debut album to return to. ‘I kissed the blues’ says “Blue Girl”, so ‘if you’re gonna rock me, Baby, make it good.’ Minor chords. Major talent.
Published (in abbreviated form) in:
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL’ Vol.2 no.53 September-October
(UK – September 2015)
CD review in:
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 No.52’
(UK – July/August 2015)