When Josienne Clarke signed to the illustrious Rough Trade Records, its founder Geoff Travis told The Guardian that she writes, “songs that rearrange your internal emotional landscape… reinventing the popular song structure.” Which was nice of him.
With a rare gift for poetic melancholy, the songs Josienne has recorded with the guitarist Ben Walker have also been described as “extraordinary” (Mojo), “gently exquisite” (The Observer) and “full of depth” (The Telegraph).
Their most recent albums Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour and Overnight racked up rave reviews and led to them performing sold-out shows at the Purcell Rooms, Bristol’s Colston Hall and Buxton Opera House to name just a few. In 2016 American Songwriter magazine named Josienne one of the best songwriters of the year.
Having been bowled over by her live performance at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, where Josienne and Ben won the Best Duo prize, 6 Music DJ Cerys Matthews invited Josienne to act and sing in The National Theatre’s revival of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good.
In addition to performing on the Olivier stage each night – in a role specially created for her – Josienne contributed two of her own songs to the play. In their review of the acclaimed production, The Financial Times said, “Josienne Clarke sings like a haunted angel.” It became the start of several ongoing theatrical collaborations to be staged in the near future.
With an elegant, nuanced and emotionally affecting singing style (Cerys Matthews described her as having a voice that can “trickle back over centuries”) Josienne has frequently been compared to the great Sandy Denny, but present too are elements of Nina Simone and Gillian Welch; all three are important influences on her work.
Expanding beyond the folk music for which she was first known, Josienne has partnered with in-demand jazz pianist Kit Downes to release the Such A Sky EP, with an album to follow.
Purposefully combining their respective approaches to song form and improvisation, and recorded live with no fuss or glitz, the pair are keen to stress this is not folk and it’s not jazz. So don’t say it is.
Josienne’s close friendship with London-based Scottish singer songwriter Samantha Whates has recently bloomed into a new group: PicaPica.
Accompanied by Adam Beatie on guitar and Sonny Johns on bass, PicaPica utilises the intuitive way Josienne and Samantha’s harmonies meld (discovered when singing backing vocals on each other’s solo records) and contrasts that with their quite different approaches to songwriting. The result is both commanding and beautiful; a truly equal duet, with their incorrigible dry wit never far from the surface at live shows.
With new records from Josienne & Ben on the way and a tour with Richard Thompson to round out the year, Josienne Clarke continues to be one of the most impressive, accomplished and downright heart-breaking singers, lyricists and composers of her generation.