Larkham and Hall

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Every Monday we will be bringing you an unsigned singer or band as part of our Independent Music Monday feature. This week, we caught up with duo Larkham and Hall find out more about them…

Who is in the duo, how did you meet, where are you from and how did you come up with the duo name?
We're Elliot Hall and Sarah Larkham, we live on a houseboat called 'Asha' in Bristol Marina. We're actually a married couple so perhaps we should be called 'Hall and Hall' but Sarah's dad died when she was 21 and so she uses his name to keep his memory alive. We met about 15 years ago and bonded over a mutual love of Bob Dylan. We were both married to other people then!

Who were your musical influences when you were growing up and who are your influences now?
Sarah: I grew up learning to sing harmonies with my little brother Matt. We used to listen to The Everly Brothers and Crosby, Stills and Nash and try and copy what they did. I went through a big Janis Joplin phase in my teens and I'm still very influenced by the 1960's. In terms of both songwriting and vocals I'd have to cite Joni Mitchell. Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen both still inform a lot of what I do.
Elliot: When I first heard Bob Dylan sing the fourth verse of 'Mr Tambourine Man' I abandoned all my other plans in life and thought: 'I'm going to do that' - I've been trying ever since. Recently I've been immersing myself in the great writers in the Spanish language especially Joaquin Sabina 'the Spanish Dylan'. His rough vocal style and poetic lyrics have influenced my own. A lot of my free time is spent learning flamenco guitar with a Glaswegian flamenco player whose Spanish is easier to understand than his English!

How would you describe your sound?
We have an intense sound that often reflects the subject matter we're dealing with. A lot of these subjects are rarely tackled and we give voices to those not often heard e.g a victim of child abuse in 'Not Beyond Repair', Anne Frank's romantic awakening in 'Annalies'. Alongside this there are joyous songs that celebrate life and have more in common with spiritually based or gospel music - hence the 'Hurt and Healing' concept of our new album. Many artists masquerade as dark folk but when you look at the subject matter of what they're actually writing about, it's often fairly similar to that of most pop songs. We believe in taking the tradition of story telling and folk music but trying to put it in the context of what's going on in the world today. We would probably describe ourselves as singer/songwriters, but we are often called dark folk, alt-country or americana and we're happy to go along with that.

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What is your latest album called and what was the influence behind it?
Our new album is due for digital release in June and is available on CD from our website. It's called 'Songs of Hurt and Healing' and was recorded in a fairy-lit basement studio in our hometown of Bristol with Matt Sampson (credits Kasabian, Massive Attack). The concept of the album was to bring together the two ends of our songwriting scale: the very dark, and the joyous and hopeful. The front cover is a representation of a piece of graffiti that Sarah painted after seeing it on a wall in Montmartre Paris, three weeks after the Bataclan nightclub shootings in 2015. Elliot also wrote ‘Winter’s night in Paris’ (on the album) about this event. What really struck us about it all was the sense of community, love and forgiveness in Paris at that time, as well as the heightened security of course. The French in the graffiti translates as 'you will not have our hatred'.

What’s your local music scene like?
Bristol is absolutely teeming with creative people, artists and musicians. You could go and see twenty gigs a night if you wanted to - and there are some super fans who do try! The downside of this is it's a little saturated, although great for the new musician starting out as there are loads of open mic nights and showcases. We're lucky enough to have played with and alongside some of the best local acoustic acts and have a mutually supportive relationship with them. So we tend to put on our own ticketed acoustic gigs when playing at home, targeted to our fans, with the artists that we love, in venues we really like.

What do you have planned for the next 12 months? Any albums or festivals?
We'll be promoting our new album as well as having a very busy summer lined up. We'll be at Upton blues festival (we're also programming and running an acoustic stage there), Gloucester rhythm and blues festival, Barefoot festival and Sat In a Field festival. We're always happiest trundling about from place to place in our campervan!

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Is there anyone you’d love to collaborate with?
Sarah: Danny Wilson from Danny and the Champions of the World. When I first heard their music drifting across the water from Grillstock in Bristol a few years ago, time just stood still. I love his voice. Don't ask Elliot, he's much too moody to collaborate with anyone!
Elliot: Actually I'm already collaborating with... and sleeping with... my favourite singer!

Any funny stories surrounding your live performances?
On the way to a important ticket entry gig, Elliot was lifting the PA out of our houseboat and it fell apart and one speaker disappeared into the water! As it bobbed back up he grabbed it but predictably it wasn't usable. Ever the temperamental artist, he was not a happy bunny and decided he was going to ditch the gig and drive to Andalusia right away...! Sarah was left stranded in front of the audience and trying to explain what was going on to the support act. It got to five minutes before the show when Elliot finally arrived for the fastest soundcheck ever, said he wasn't going to Andalusia after all, and everyone had a great gig... through one PA speaker.

What is the one thing that you want readers to know about your duo?
From the age of 17, Elliot pretty much grew up in hospital battling severe mental health problems. When he was 23 he was offered 24 hour care for the rest of his life. But he picked up a guitar instead, turned his back on medical science and used music to rehabilitate himself, and has now written over 2000 songs. He also set up 'Mind Your Music', one of the country's biggest mental health and music organisations, helping other people to help themselves the way that he did (we both run that project now, with two music workshops a week in Bristol as well as gigs and tuition). We like to think we are often singing for the people whose voices don't normally get heard in popular song.

You can find out more about Larkham and Hall at their website or via Facebook, Spotify, Twitter or Soundcloud.