“Because I’m quite eclectic musically, I needed some kind of theme to keep me in check.” Naomi Bedford is talking about her new album A History Of Insolence and its subtitle ‘Songs Of Freedom, Dissent And Strife’. It’s the second in a projected trilogy which began in 2011 with Tales From The Weeping Willow: Songs Of Murder, Death And Sorrow. “I’m hoping this one is a bit more uplifting than the last – it does start with ‘freedom’!” As before, she mixes traditional songs with new compositions, English material with Americana. Certainly, the eclecticism shines through in a novel mash-up of ‘Gypsy Davy’, in which Naomi ensures a happy ending for the high-born lady who beds a commoner. “In every version I’ve ever heard, the woman always seems to get her come-uppance. But in the Woody Guthrie version she keeps her baby, she stays with the gypsy. Not only that – the gypsy ends up being a musician, which I thought was kind of cool!”
The Brighton-based singer had a hit a few years back with the band Orbital, which led in turn to a couple more ‘techno’ experiments. But this wasn’t the real Naomi. Her earliest musical loves were the ballads she learned from her mother. “I always loved the drama of those big, long storytelling songs. And I was particularly drawn to the more macabre ones, the juicy murder ones.” Afraid of being pigeon-holed as a ‘dance’ singer, she embarked on a series of albums which clearly mark her path back to the roots music she grew up with. Financing them was tough, though. “I’m just a single mum working as an administrator on really low pay. I’m not a full-time musician,” she explains. On the last one, friends helped out for free. This time, there was a grant from Arts Council England. “It costs so much to do it, and yet making money from music just seems like an absolute impossibility. It’s so difficult to get your foot in the gigging scene. But if you can’t help yourself, if you have to create and write and sing, then you’re going to do it anyway.”
She’s found sympathetic collaborators in Paul Simmonds and Justin Currie, members of two of her favourite bands. “When I was a teenager, I was a major Men They Couldn’t Hang fan. I had posters of Paul on my wall. And posters of Del Amitri – Justin Currie. And now I’ve been working with them on the last two albums. It’s like my dream come true!”
Simmonds’s contribution as songwriter is prominent on the new album. The standout track is ‘Junktown’, a scabrous political commentary. Simmonds hesitantly auditioned this “funny little talking blues song” for Naomi in her kitchen, convinced that no one else would ever want to hear it. Her reaction was emphatic: “No way! That’s going on the album! I absolutely fell in love with it, especially the line ‘Dads go dogging in the pale full moon’. As much as it’s a hard-hitting anger song, it’s also quite funny.”
Valuable celebrity endorsement has come from Shirley Collins: “She’s been really supportive.” Whenever Naomi plays on Shirley’s home turf in Lewes, Shirley is sure to come along, and Naomi had the distinction of being one of five artists personally invited to sing at Shirley’s birthday party last year.
The final album of the trilogy will be about ‘Love, Passion and Devotion’. Naomi was planning to make that one first, but then “we just thought with the state of the nation at the moment – so much going on in the world – it didn’t seem quite right to be doing the Love album now.” Here’s hoping the right time isn’t far off.
First published in R2 (Rock’n’Reel)