Monday, 30 November 2015

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Sparrow and the Workshop support Idlewild in Carlisle

It’s amazing how glamorous a musician can sound with an American accent.

Add a sleepy, strung-out croak and you’ve hotwired the part of your brain where you keep Lou Reed, propped up against mid-70s Debbie Harry.

If you go a bit younger and fresher, you’ll get the indie big-hitters, winning fans all over the globe; the educated drawl of Vampire Weekend or the spaced-out exhaustion of MGMT.

Something about those vowels creates a link with musical history, to rock‘n’roll tradition played out in the voices of its figureheads.

Speaking to Jill O’Sullivan, lead singer of Sparrow and the Workshop, gives you a similar feeling. Her Midwestern voice on the phone is sonorous and clear as her singing, and she comes across younger than her 28 years.

It’s partly that she’s excited, and with good reason. The band’s debut album, Crystal Falls, is coming out tomorrow with the music press firmly on its side. It’s had plugs on Radio 1, Radio 2 and 6Music and the video, I Will Break You, is getting played on the music channels.

She’s leaving today for her biggest ever tour, taking in the UK and most of Europe with Idlewild and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Just a few days ago, however, she was getting ready for work in a Glasgow burger restaurant.

“I like doing both, but it’s a really weird feeling to go from one to the other,” she says. “You’ll be on stage one night and you’ll be getting this adulation, then the next day someone will be shouting at you because their burger’s a bit charred.”

“Luckily the place I work is really nice to me and I can just do shifts whenever I want, because we’re still at that stage where we’re crossing our fingers and hoping we can do this full-time.”

Formed three years ago in a tiny Glasgow flat, the band mixes alt-rock and folk with baroque storytelling and a shot of the surreal that might remind you of Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, or The Decemberists’ Hazards of Love.

Jill’s tremendous voice is laid over everything from delicate Americana ditties to crashing post-rock crescendos – but reviews always seem to mention the Fleet Foxes.

“It’s nice but it’s also kind of terrifying, because people might come and see us thinking we sound like them, when we really don’t,” she says.

“I can see why it happens, but we always worry that we’re going to upset people.”

A close-knit affair to say the least, the band is made up of Jill and her Welsh boyfriend, Nick Packer, and their Scottish flatmate Gregor Donaldson. Both musicians in their own right, the couple only started working together when they met their perfect accompanist.

Gregor is a Metallica-loving “singing drummer” with a strong, tender voice and a slight Glaswegian accent.

She says: “Gregor has actually got a beautiful voice, but he’s really sensitive about the fact that he sings with an accent. There’s something about the three of us though, we just clicked.

“I just trust them so well – I like the decisions that they make on their instruments, and I think we all give each other the right amount of space.”

Living together gives them plenty of time to work on new ideas. Writing the album, she says, they were inspired by sounds from The Box Tops to De La Soul, as well as contemporary groups like Wild Beasts and The Joy Formidable.

“We’re really chuffed with the album, but sometimes we listen and it sounds very bombastic,” she says. “We threw our hearts into it so much, with this desperate love for what we were trying to do, but we’ve come down a but now.

“We’ve started getting more comfortable with the later tracks on the album, like a song called Crystals that’s a lot more explorative.”

A classically-trained violinist, Chicago-born Jill switched to guitar in her early 20s to help her write songs. Within the band, she tends to put together the “skeleton” of a track and let the others fill out the substance.

“Without them the songs are, like, dead,” she says. “Some of them are really personal though, so it’s strange when people ask what they’re about, because you don’t want to end up offending someone really close to you.”

Sparrow and the Workshop are due to support Idlewild at The Brickyard, Carlisle, on Saturday April 24. They have fond memories of playing the venue once before and taking the opportunity to wander about the city.

“Sometimes places can be really surprising,” she says. “We thought it might be some grim northern town, but I remember we were all really impressed. I think we’re looking forward to going back.”

SPARROW AND THE WORKSHOP support IDLEWILD at The Brickyard, Fisher Street, Carlisle. Doors: 8pm. Ages 14+. Tickets £12 from, call 08444 77 1000 – or from Ruby Blue Vintage, Carlisle, or Threads, Whitehaven (both cash only).


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