Biography

With her crystal clear, soulfully expressive vocal, Jo Philby is one of the most endearing folk singers
to emerge from Orkney in recent years. Although introduced to a wide range of traditional singers
and an equally expansive folk scene from a very early age, it wasn’t until her 20s, in the 1990s, that
she began dabbling in her own style of songs and performance. Having met widespread acclaim in
2009, her debut CD Saltwater and Stone was very much a labour of love, a long time in the making.
Now, having found and developed her niche, she has released  a limited edition EP, These Days, giving
a taster of her much anticipated second album, which was released in November 2012.

Having Toured over the last five years with various line-ups Jo has settled into her own unique style bringing a folk sound with an Americana/Country fusion. Local lad Tom Robinson  has recently joined the band. Plans are afoot for a new album in 2016 which will include for the first time songs written by herself & Elaine Grieve...so watch this space.

A readily assured collection, displaying an enhanced understanding and musical maturity, garnered
through a continual search for new influences and experiences, it showcases Jo at her very best. Full
of sympathetic, atmospheric arrangements, each staying true to the songs without producing carbon
copies of their originals, the CD features Jo alongside an array of Orkney-based musicians, including
Kathie Touin, Derek Curtis and Elaine Grieve, as well as Orkney expat Phil Anderson. Through an
ongoing musical discovery and wide-ranging roots that took her halfway around the world, to the
home of Country and Western music, Jo found herself completing a full circle to record the new
album.

Although firmly established in Orkney since 2002, satisfying her cravings for not only an
encompassing folk scene but also an inspiring and musically conducive landscape, Jo hails from the
South of England; an area as far removed – geographically – from Orkney as is possible to still be in
the UK. Nonetheless, wherever her path has taken her, music has always followed, or indeed led the
way.

“My family certainly appreciates music,” she enthuses. “I grew up in a house that played lots of
music on vinyl, and listened to Folk on 2. My grandmother played piano, and my mum played it as
well as the recorder, so I was also introduced to classical styles, but as my Dad was involved with
Morris Dancing my first exposure to live music was the folk scene and English traditions.”
Many
family holidays were spent at the Sidmouth Folk Festival, where Jo began going to various workshops
– flute and recorder, as well as voice – a thirst she also quenched through the FolkWorks programme
later on in life. In her youth, she played at several local music concerts through school bands, and
sang as part of the school choir, “but never dreamt of putting myself forward for a solo!” she adds.
Even though Jo managed to satisfy her hunger for folk music and live performances (as a member of
the audience) during her teenage years, it wasn’t until her mid 20s that she began performing under
her own spotlight, encouraged through meeting several new friends and musicians at Irish pub
sessions in the Herschel Arms in Slough, and attending the Anchor Folk Club in Byfleet. It was here
that Jo’s calling in folk song was truly unearthed, through a vast increase in her exposure to a wide
variety of folk singers, and so Jo’s own style blossomed.

While early inspiration stemmed from the English and Irish traditions – including Maddy Prior, June Tabor, Dave Swarbrick, Kate Rusby, Mary Black and Karan Casey – Jo now also cites singers from the modern Scottish folk scene as equal sources of influence, including Emily Smith and Karine Polwart, as well as country and bluegrass musicians and singers. This wide palette of musical colour coming from life living and working in Orkney, she says. “I’ve always been drawn to songs that have a real heart and soul – even some “pop” music, as long as there’s a compelling story behind the song, and one that I feel I can relay, and do justice in my own voice.” Rather than being intimidated or engulfed by Orkney’s rich musical heritage and idioms, Jo found Orkney to be an instantly welcoming and encouraging community (it was a visit to the Orkney Folk Festival that drew her to the county in the first instance). “I found that people responded well to my unaccompanied songs, as they were something different and not widely heard before. I’ve always sung in my own voice, and have never tried to adapt to a different dialect or accent, as that wouldn’t be true to myself, or to the songs I had chosen. Many of them had nautical themes or really evocative lyrics about the countryside – which I guess Orcadians related to with ease.”

After moving to Orkney Jo quickly became involved in the local folk scene, meeting a wide cast of musicians that led her, for the first time, towards arranging songs with instrumentation, tentatively stepping away from her unaccompanied roots. “I guess the main reason that I solely sang acapella, initially,” she says, “is that that was all I knew and had done before. It was only when people started encouraging me to record an album that I thought I should explore accompaniment, even just for a couple of songs to add a bit of variety. This opened up a whole new musical area for me.”

Jo’s first CD, Saltwater and Stone, was released in 2009, showcasing an already eclectic, yet constant and well selected, catalogue of songs, sympathetically accompanied to allow the melody to shine through and carry each song. Three years later, how have things progressed? “The second album is not a volume two,” she explains. “I very much see it as an ongoing development of and from the first, and of my musical discoveries – it’s been a very exciting project. Interestingly, though, four of the songs on this album are from singer/songwriters that I also featured on my first album – which I only discovered when looking at the final listing. It is still very much true to my roots, and is certainly a folk album, but, as my horizons have widened, I felt a want to try out new styles as well.”

Paradoxically, yet also in a full circle, it was this ongoing musical discovery, yet also a need for familiarity, that led Jo to Tennessee to record part of the album. Orcadian musician and engineer Phil Anderson recorded and produced Jo’s first album, whilst also making her feel at ease in the recording studio for the first time – “a true, all-round gem”, as Jo puts it. However, in the years between her two CD releases, Phil and his family relocated to Tennessee, to be in Phil’s spiritual musical home. Yet far from being deflated at the loss of a much-loved engineer, Jo seized the opportunity to further her burgeoning interest in country music, and so decided to record half of the album at Phil’s new studio, in Nashville. “Working with Phil, and with so much fantastic music around, everywhere I went, I couldn’t help but be inspired and be in the right frame of mind to record – even though it was so far away from home. I found that I was completely relaxed and at ease when singing over there, and so could bare my soul much more because of this,” she reveals. “From those initial tracks we then gradually layered harmonies and Phil’s instrumentation [guitar, mandolin, bass guitar, samples and vocals] on top, all whilst over there. Donal, Kathie and Linda then recorded their parts in Ireland and Orkney, respectively and I’m really pleased with the much fuller sound that has come as a result.”
Alongside Phil’s work, These Days was part-recorded at home, in Orkney, by Kathie Touin, who also performs alongside Jo, live and on the album. “Working with Kathie at her studio in Orkney for the first time has been great. I think we just clicked straight away as she is a singer/songwriter herself, and so really feels not only the essence of the songs, but also where I’m coming from with them”, she explains, “I couldn’t have done this without her.”

Having settled with a regular line-up for her live performances, these musicians also accompany Jo
on These Days, as well as a handful of guests. On backing vocals throughout the album is Jo’s great
friend Elaine Grieve, who too returned to her musical roots in recording the album. “Elaine hadn’t
done anything musically for years,”
Jo reveals, “yet we recently discovered that our voices work
really well together, and so felt quite excited about furthering that and seeing where it led us. Even
our accents together seemed to just fit into place straight away, like it was meant to be.”
Staying
true to Jo’s acceleration into folk music, notes of the Irish tradition remain throughout the album,
through flutes and whistles laid down by another musical comrade living in Orkney, Derek Curtis.
Furthering this flavour, Irish accordionist Donal Murphy of Four Men and a Dog – is a guest
musician on the album, fruitfully adding familiar warmth, and a colourful depth and variety to a
handful of tracks. Likewise Orcadian cellist Linda Hamilton adds a further lyrical accompaniment to a
selection of songs.

Completing the album’s rich musical tapestry are two tracks with further guest musicians; one of Jo singing alongside her then seven-year-old niece, Holly, and another alongside young award-winning multi-instrumental
Orcadians, Broken Strings. “We included the track with Holly not just because it was an amazing achievement for
her, but also as it is genuinely enchanting, capturing the innocence and purity of a child’s voice, suspended in
time,” Jo explains. “I felt that this tied back into my own aims, as I strive to ensure that there is a real honesty
and believable quality about my song choices; one that listeners can relate to.” This selective ear and eye for
material also led her to recording The Longer the Waiting, a Josh Turner song. “Just from the lyrics, I straight
away knew I had to learn it,” she enthuses, “but the instrumentation on the recording that I heard got me
thinking about how I could do that justice.” Knowing Broken Strings through her work with the Orkney Folk
Festival, Jo approached the band through their guitarist, Aidan Moodie – who now accompanies Jo – who were
all up for the project. The group’s very much Scottish instruments effectively bring the track, and album, full
circle – a newly discovered country song, given an Orkney stamp with gleaming originality.
 

“I think that we’ve struck the perfect balance for the album, between the songs selected, and the
accompaniment that each musician so brilliantly and delicately offered. I find that making an album
really is a musical journey in itself, and so hope that it offers that to the listener as well, whether on
stage or on the CD” she concludes. “I love the whole process of putting an album together, and
really feel that excitement relays in live performances. I love being able to present the passion
behind what I do, so long may this wonderful journey continue.”