With critical and commercial success finally coming Jane Weaver’s way, Getintothis’ Paul Higham learns more about The Silver Globe, Bird Records and why age is no barrier.
One of 2014’s most unlikely success stories came in the form of a hitherto unheralded Liverpool-born but Widnes-raised avant-folk singer.
It is true to say that when Jane Weaver’s sixth solo album, The Silver Globe, topped the ever-reliable Piccadilly Records end of year poll there was a collective raising of eyebrows.
Weaver herself was equally surprised by the reaction to the album upon its release, “I was shocked to be honest! It took ages to make…I was a bit creatively exhausted when it finally came out. I said to the rest of the band, ‘lets just do a few gigs to promote the record’, I was unsure if anyone would actually like it or not.”
For those yet to hear the album (where have you been?!), The Silver Globe is a beguiling marriage of prog-pop, futuristic synths, and motorik krautrock kosmische rhythms all inspired by abstract European cinema. In many ways its influences offer an insight into Weaver’s personality and her position within the music industry, “I thought about what the future held for artists and the music industry and how its all going to change, so the narrative was like a battle, a bitter sweet love story between me and the love I have for what I do.”
Providing a deeper insight into the story behind the album, Weaver revealed that Yoko Ono and Grace Jones provided key sources of inspiration alongside an obscure Polish film from which the album takes its title, “I was listening to a lot of Yoko Ono, in particular ‘Fly’ and ‘Approximately Infinite Universe’.
“I initially wanted to do something quite avant-garde and spontaneous like a big cosmic jam/kommune record which is why I started out thinking about a strong motorik backing for a lot of the songs, but I was also hearing Grace Jones’ disco melodies.
“It was pretty confusing to be honest but that’s the wondrous thing isn’t it? Trying to replicate what you hear in your head. Part way through recording I watched a Polish film called On The Silver Globe about a group of explorers who try to start a new civilisation on another planet in a post-apocalyptic landscape and I felt a connection to it.”
In confessing that the album might not be ”everyone’s cup of tea”, Weaver perhaps reveals something about herself, the result of a career without the critical acclaim her talents merited, “It’s a bolder record than my last so when I played it to a few trusted people and they really liked it I was convinced they were just being kind and it was actually rubbish!
“It’s probably the most positive response from anything I’ve done! It’s weird how I feel about the record now, how it’s gone from the initial spark of hearing the songs in my head to be this solid thing.”
If The Silver Globe belatedly announced the arrival of Weaver as a performer, it certainly wasn’t for the want of trying. Her career started as a school leaver in the band Kill Laura, “we were like the hardest working band ever! We had lots of breaks but lots of bad luck too, I think back at the dramas and it was lucky that it happened to us straight out of sixth form college, I learnt a lot.”
If anything has defined Weaver’s career it has been her determination to pursue her own artistic vision and not to be swept along by the prevailing mood. Speaking of Kill Laura, “with that particular niche we weren’t content to just be thrown in with Britpop or grunge, I was writing songs with string arrangements, quite cinematic, and listening to The White Album declaring that this be the template for all works, yet everything was reduced down in the press and everyone compared us to Sleeper…but we actually had different, bigger ideas.”
That those big ideas did not necessarily translate into immediate commercial and critical success in many ways provides a reassuring template to those struggling to find their own feet in the current challenging environment. Rather than giving up, Weaver persisted and remained loyal to her art. Perhaps this offers a lesson to some of her fellow and emerging GIT Award nominees.
“I’m quite good at eventually dusting myself down, I get sad when people give up because of the nature of the industry or if they’ve had their spirit broken by criticism.”
As if to encourage the newer breed of artists and to provide a vehicle to bring their talents to a wider audience, Weaver also runs her own record label, Bird Records. The label provides opportunities to the latest crop of female artists as well as establishing a link between today’s alternative folk musicians and their forebears.
“Bird records is my imprint label I run with Doug Shipton and Andy Votel through their label Finders Keepers Records, initially the Bird logo started to appear on my self release stuff back in the early 2000s so it has been around for a while really.
“Our first compilation Bearded Ladies featured a mixture of vintage and contemporary female artists such as Wendy Flower, Susan Christie and Cate Le Bon. Aside from my stuff our next lot of releases include albums in March from Paper Dollhouse and Tender Prey.”
Her own label built on the success of Finders Keepers, founded by Weaver’s husband Andy Votel. That imprint specialises in the reissue of obscure rarities and provided inspiration for Bird Records.
“Finders Keepers’ main output is lost or rare recordings and reissues so marrying some of the female folk stuff they already had and contemporary artists we knew at the time was easy and sounded like a whole new record. We were lucky enough to bring the record to life and play at Jarvis Cocker’s Meltdown Festival in 2007 as ‘Lost Ladies of Folk’.”
In a way, unlike her solo career where the desire for commercial success has remained firmly subservient to her own creative impulses, Weaver’s label tapped into the emerging freak-folk movement that was around at the time the label was created.
“It wasn’t a deliberate move with folk it was just what was happening at the time. From 2000 onwards the American ‘anti-folk’ movement, stuff like Diane Cluck and Josephine Foster, caught my attention.
“There seemed to be this wave in the UK that was everywhere and getting bigger and bigger, with the beginnings of festivals such as Green Man so a happy accident occurred.
“We put out Beth Jeans Houghton’s first single, which had a freaky unusual quality to it and Magpahi who sings about ‘the dark satanic mills of Lancashire’!”
The clear focus of Bird seems to have revolved heavily around providing opportunities to female artists in a very male-dominated industry. While the lack of openings for female artists is keenly felt by Weaver, it was never her intention to address this specifically through the label.
The label was to provide an opportunity for all artists, irrespective of gender, but it happened that blokes were able thrive elsewhere while for female artists it remained a struggle to bring their work to a wider audience.
“From my experience of making music since I was 16 I’ve seen it all. Initially I wanted to provide a platform for people to get their music heard and the majority of them happened to be female as our male peers went from strength to strength elsewhere. It should just be the same for everyone.”
While we would not disagree with Weaver’s egalitarian sentiments and her desire for greater gender equality, we’re not sure that we would necessarily share her optimism that things are due to change. “I think most people think that the industry is absurd and unbalanced, it’s laughable to me and most of my friends and really just the knock on effect of the patriarchal society that we live in, I’m positive it won’t always be this way.”
In a world where male artists, particularly in guitar-led music, continue to dominate and lazy commentators refer to female artists by reference to their gender or their attire then we won’t hold our breath.
Not commonly associated with Liverpool, it is clear that the city nonetheless holds a special place in Weaver’s heart and that it has had a significant influence on her musical career. Indeed she speaks nostalgically when recalling her teenage years spent trawling the city in search of the latest must-have records and hoping to catch a glimpse of her teenage musical idols.
“I was born in Liverpool, my family are all from Liverpool but I grew up in Widnes. I spent a lot of time in Liverpool as a teen frequenting the likes of PlanetX and Probe Records!
“I moved there when I was 19 and lived in Mossely Hill for years when I was in Kill Laura, so Liverpool is a big part of my musical moulding. Even as a kid whether I was listening to the choir at the Metropolitan Cathedral, hanging out at the Everyman Bistro, walking down Bold Street looking for members of Frankie Goes To Hollywood or whoever!”
What is apparent from speaking to Weaver is the importance of a thriving artistic community, particularly away from the bright lights of the capital, to provide encouragement and act as inspiration to those new to the scene. “Liverpool has always had a lot to offer me in terms of music like The Teardrop Explodes or being blown away after hearing Hollow Horse by The Icicle Works or Way Out by The La’s. Knowing they were from Liverpool and not London made it more accessible and encouraging to be a musician.”
In many ways history has come full circle. Weaver is almost now the elder-statesman of the GIT Award nominees and is perhaps the one that current artists can look up to and take assurance that success can come in one’s home town without necessarily having to relocate to the capital. Not that Weaver cares too much about the age differences, “It’s all good, I’m happy about it!
“Art shouldn’t have boundaries, Finders Keepers work with artists young and old and at the end of the day it’s the bigger industry who want to cap the age limit like Logan’s Run, that said its nice to see such emerging talent from early on.”
Weaver is equally keen to point out how refreshing the GIT Award is in this austere age in which we live, “it’s encouraging and exciting that especially in this climate when there isn’t much arts funding, and people are financially pushed to the limit we are still as determined as ever to be creative.”
When asked who she had her eye on for the overall prize she was slightly evasive, revealing herself to be a fan of All We Are and The Sundowners but mainly looking forward to the event itself and “checking out some of the other artists!”
For full details on all the GIT Award 2015 nominees read here.