BAFTA winner Emily Barker gets nostalgic ahead of The Red Clay Halos farewell gig

British audiences may know Emily Barker best for supplying the haunting vocals for the title track on BBC One’s crime drama Wallander, but the peripatetic Australian indie-folk singer has had a storied career.

MM caught up with Emily over a scotch as emotions ran high ahead of her last ever gig with fellow bandmates The Red Clay Halo.

Emily’s been busy the last few years. She’s performed at a dizzying number of venues across the UK, Europe and US, scooped a BAFTA award and still managed to find time to record six studio albums.

The Times describes Emily’s music as ‘heartfelt songwriting, bridging the gap between folk, country and Fleetwood Mac’, while Q magazine called it ‘ambitious and beautifully wrought’.

Back in October at the start of her two-week UK tour, she broke the news of the band’s split to her loyal fans. After almost a decade of touring with bandmates Gill, Jo and Anna, they decided with ‘heavy hearts’ to go their separate ways.

MM spoke to Emily before her set at Friday’s Victoria Warehouse Whisky Sessions event on how it feels to be moving on.

“We all feel quite mixed feelings about it really. We all feel like it’s time to do something different,” said Emily.

“Priorities are changing for people and it’s been our main thing for such a long time, it’ll be good for all of us to just focus on other things for a little while.

“But it’s been a wonderful, wonderful journey for all of us.”

END OF THE ROAD: The band’s journey is coming to an end

Known for their choice of eclectic venues, the band have played a number of intimate, unexpected and quirky locations across the country.

Last year, Emily extensively toured 21 independent record stores in support of Record Store Day.

Among the group’s favourite venues was London’s Union Chapel, a working church that also doubles as a homeless shelter and an award-winning music venue.

Emily also still talks in with excitement about performing at Durham’s Old Cinema Laundrette. Formerly a cinema, now a functioning laundrette, the band love the intimate nature of performing to a space that can only hold 30 people.

“I really enjoy playing all sorts of venues. Because we haven’t got drums, the natural acoustics in theatres and churches and things like that works really nicely for vocal harmonies.”

Back in 2008, the group released their second album, ‘Despite the Snow’. Recorded over a snowy Easter weekend in a 16th century barn in Norfolk, it was captured completely live in four days.

“I absolutely think recording out of the studio adds something to the record. I really enjoy doing different things with each album,” Emily said.

“I’ve always been a big fan of Neil Young, so I always wanted to do something like the setting of Harvest – something like that, where it’s all in a barn or a shed or something and we all do it pretty much live.”

Shortly after the album’s release, the opening track, Nostalgia, was picked up by composer Martin Phipps and re-recorded for use as title credit for an upcoming crime drama – Wallander.

Starring the revered British actor Kenneth Branagh, the series boasted over 6 million viewers per episode, propelling Emily’s music into the mainstream, and earned her a BAFTA award for music as well as a Royal Television Award for title music.

Emily’s not fussed if that’s the introduction into her music for some.

“I really don’t mind, for us it’s just been a positive thing really. It happened at a time where I was releasing records on my own label and there’s no way I could have funded that sort of exposure.

“To have the theme tune to a very popular BBC One drama series was a fantastic way of getting my music in front of lots of people – and I think it’s a really good series too.”

The band began back in 2004 in Cambridge when Emily, recently moved to the UK from Australia, cooked meals in return for musicians willing to record with her.

Some of the artists who played with her in return for food included the three other women who now make up the band.

Not put off by Emily’s cooking, Gill, Jo and Anna founded the Red Clay Halo, the band taking its name from the song by American singer-songwriter Gillian Welch.

Almost 15 years ago, Emily was working in a Cambridge record store, trying to earn a living whilst forging the difficult path into the music industry.

Working with die-hard music lovers, including the man who was the inspiration for the main character in Nick Hornby’s ‘High Fidelity’, Emily was living on a shoestring, calling on favours but forging her path in the fundamental early years of her musical career.

Times have changed, however.

But while she’s now able to support herself with just her music, she admits that while she appreciates the comforts of being an established musician, she still enjoys the penniless lifestyle.

“What I enjoy is that I still get to have that feeling when I tour in other places. So there are still financial struggles, but compared to how it used to be it’s obviously much better.

“But I really enjoy going to countries where we don’t have such a fan base and everything’s on such a shoestring budget, and driving ourselves around and sleeping wherever.”

At the moment, Emily’s working on her first full-length feature soundtrack score for Jake Gavin’s UK road movie, ‘Hec McAdam’, starring Keith Allen and Peter Mullan.

Aside from a few gigs here and there, though, the future is a blank canvas for Emily, but she’s not worried about what happens next.

“I know that I never really worry about the future that much. I mean, I’m always thinking about when is the next tour, when am I doing the next album.

“But that is as far into the future as I generally look. And I’ve always been like that.

“Some people are different and do the five-year plan, the ten-year plan – so maybe I should do one, I don’t know!

“There’s so much you can’t predict, it’s good to be open, to allow things to happen spontaneously, to have time where that can happen as well.

But the question on everybody’s lips as Emily and her bandmates prepare to go separate ways is whether there will be a comeback tour someday.

“We all would like to, at some point, work together again, so we’ll see what happens. We can’t say yes we’ll definitely do it, but we’ll see.”

Main image courtesy of David Wilson Clarke via Flickr, with thanks.

Inset image courtesy of Emily Barker, with thanks.

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