Birmingham group Little Sister talk to Andy Coleman about an obsession with playing spoons.
The song says that ‘sisters are doin’ it by themselves’ but when Birmingham-based female folk quartet Little Sister lost one of their founding members they thought their time was up.
‘‘We thought we were finished,’’ says 26-year-old violinist and flautist Laura Mattison from Kings Heath when singer, cellist, and guitarist Katy Bennett quit last August.
Formed in 2006 by former Birmingham University students Laura and Katy, harpist Sam Fox and accordion and viola player Hannah Marsden, both aged 25, the future looked bright as the foursome recorded debut album Grey To Green.
But then Katy announced she was leaving to concentrate on solo work.
‘‘It seemed a bit strange launching our album last December because Katy’s on it,’’ says Laura. ‘‘But we’ve now relaunched as a new band.’’
The remaining members feel they have found a more than adequate replacement for Katy in 24-year-old guitarist and vocalist Abie Budgen, from Bromsgrove.
Laura explains that Abie had supported Little Sister as a solo artist and was keen to join the group.
‘‘We’d met her a few times and we thought she was great. We got chatting and discovered we’d got similar musical tastes.
‘‘And she was really fun to watch performing. She was the logical replacement. She’s very quirky. We had a rehearsal when we ended up talking about playing the spoons so she gave us all a playing the spoons workshop. She’s adding bizarre things to our repertoire!
‘‘She’s spurred us on because she’s so enthusiastic. She’s the hardest working out of all of us and makes us feel a bit guilty with all the work she puts in.’’
The range of instruments used by the girls gives them a sound that helps them stand out from the crowd.
Laura says the girls are a ‘bit greedy’ when it comes to wanting use as many instruments as possible.
‘‘Lots of music interests us, so why not? Some people might think it doesn’t work putting that style with that style but I guess it’s whatever interests us. We have core instruments with the added oddities of spoons, djembe (an African drum) and mandolin.’’
But buying new instruments can be expensive.
‘‘Our main instruments are what we studied on at uni, and others we’ve collected along the way or borrowed from people. We need sponsorship or we’ll become the Little Sister Spoon Orchestra. We’re completely unsigned and sometimes you get to the stage when you feel ‘Oh, stick to the day job’.’’
Oh, yes. The day jobs. Laura is a violin teacher, Abie teaches guitar, Sam runs the Jewellery Quarter-based Kindle Theatre Company and trained teacher Hannah is looking for employment after taking time out to go travelling.
They’re busy but still hope to play gigs further afield this year.
‘‘We regularly play at Tower of Song, the Kitchen Garden Cafe and the Hare & Hounds – and this year we’re booked for Moseley Folk Festival – but we want to spread our wings a bit,’’ says Laura.
‘‘We’re playing festivals in Doncaster and Milton Keynes and the Small World Festival in Lincolnshire.
‘‘It’s been difficult getting gigs because when we contact people further afield they want to see us play and we have to ask them to come to Birmingham. It’s difficult for people to trust you to give a good show.’’
Influenced by the likes of Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss and Fairport Convention, Little Sister excel with quirky song stories that take in frog love fairy-tales and lonely magpies. But there’s also pop, reggae, bluegrass and side helping of rock & roll.
* Little Sister play live at the Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath on May 7 and The Yardbird in Birmingham city centre on July 7.
* Moseley Folk Festival takes place on September 3, 4 and 5 in Moseley Park.