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Yorkshire's favourite diva, Lesley Garrett on why she'll always be a North Country girl

PUBLISHED: 14:24 16 April 2012 | UPDATED: 21:16 20 February 2013

South Yorkshire’s most musical daughter now splits her time between London and Epworth on the Yorkshire-Lincolnshire border

South Yorkshire’s most musical daughter now splits her time between London and Epworth on the Yorkshire-Lincolnshire border

Yorkshire's favourite diva, Lesley Garrett, tells Jo Haywood why she'll always be a North Country girl

She might now be an operatic soprano with a voice as clear and resonant as crystal, but when Lesley Garrett was growing up she thought she was Doncasters answer to Joan Baez.

This early love of folk music, inspired by the renowned America musician and activist, was somewhat subsumed in later years by her operatic endeavours. But now South Yorkshires most musical daughter is returning to her childhood passion with a new album of classical folk music.

The aptly titled A North Country Lass, her 14th solo album, is an evocative collection of traditional British and Irish songs given a dramatic contemporary sound. With no less than 12 different arrangers taking a bow on the tracklisting, it includes All Around My Hat, Blow The Wind Southerly, My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose and The Raggle Taggle Gypsies.

Perhaps not surprisingly, On Ilkley Moor Bahtat, featuring The Black Dyke Band, also gets the Garrett treatment.

That really was a no-brainer, explained the singer down the line from her London house, which she decamps to when not at home in Epworth, her retreat on the Yorkshire-Lincolnshire border for the best part of 25 years. It was the same with The Black Dyke Band. They just had to be there.
Some of her fans might be surprised by the folky content of her latest album but, for Lesley, the process has been like returning home after a long, adventure-filled journey.

This doesnt really feel like a change of direction for me because I have always loved this music, she said. For me, it felt natural; a real homecoming.

The creativity involved in making this album has been fantastic. Ive worked with 12 different arrangers, all with different personalities and very varied styles.

No two tracks are the same. Some are very Celtic and authentically folk in style, while others have immense sophistication and are almost symphonic in scale.

I love to push back the boundaries always have and this is a boundary that has long needed my attention.

The title track, a plaintive love song to the North, has been a particular favourite of Lesleys since she made the long trek both geographically and personally to London in the 1970s as a student at the Royal Academy of Music. That song got me through some tough times when I first came down to London, she said. I didnt find my feet at first and felt very lonely. So, I was very pleased to be able to honour the song for the comfort it gave me.

Lesleys new album is part of what she describes as a general move back north in 2012. Shes been asked to be patron of Harrogate Festival and, later in the year, has agreed to work with Opera North in Leeds on a series of performances.

Since I started working on the album, all these other lovely projects have come in to draw me back to Yorkshire, she said. Im so looking forward to working in the county again. My parents, both now in their eighties, my sister and all the rest of my family are there. My children are even applying to universities in the north. The call of the north is definitely strong this year.

She thinks her new classical folk music will be well-received by her fans a dedicated band who follow wherever she leads and by the wider public looking for something new.

People never know what Im going to do next and neither do I, said Lesley. Im like the spinning plate man at the circus, keeping everything going at the same time. I love to keep things fresh and new because it makes me feel alive and buzzy.

So, is there anything fresh and new she hasnt tried yet; any ambitions left to fulfil? On a personal level, she would love to build on her already strong culinary skills - she was asked to go on Masterchef but was too busy with a course in something exotic like Lebanese cooking. And professionally?

Id love to sing an exciting film score and perform at the Oscars, she said.

Not content with resting on her laurels for a single, solitary moment, Lesley is also taking part in a Diamond Jubilee Tour (for the Queens anniversary, not her own) with three female instrumentalists, doing a solo tour to promote A North Country Lass and keeping up her steady stream of television appearances, most regularly on Fives topical morning programme The Wright Stuff and Channel 4s ever-popular Countdown, where she can often be found with her head in a book in Dictionary Corner.

But what about a show of her own? Maybe filling the gap in the TV conversation left by that other Yorkshire diva, Parky?

Oh, he was so good, wasnt he? I do miss him, she said. I cant really see me feeling his shoes... although, I would love to do a chatshow featuring music. That would be heaven.

Lesley Garretts new album A North Country Lass is released on April 23rd on Music Infinity.
See lesleygarret.co.uk for more details and tour dates.

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