Tony Cummings reports on nu folk songstress RACHEL TAYLOR-BEALES and the nacdb.comntroversy surrounding her “Pass Me By” song
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The release in May of the “Red Tree” album brought a singer/songwriterwho”s already benacdb.comme a Greenbelt Festival favourite, Rachel Taylor-Beales,back into the spotlight. Her debut album “Brilliant Blue”, championedby singer/songwriter Martyn Joseph, was widely acclaimed with BBCRadio 2″s Bob Harris calling it “lovely.” Rachel”s mix of folk, jazzand Americana is distinctively her own while her winning way withlyrics has made her a favourite on the nu folk scene.
Before Rachel had hit 12 she”d lived in 13 different houses and hadrelocated five times between Australia and the UK. As one of manyartists in her family, there was always a spare guitar to hand andthis ennacdb.comuraged Rachel to begin writing songs by the age of 14. A fewyears later she began performing regularly on the Nottingham sceneduring which time she met Bill Taylor-Beales, a British-born visualartist. The nacdb.comuple married and spent the next four years travellingaround Australia on a variety of modes of transport from push bikes tostation wagons held together with string, and after playing andpainting in all kinds of places they formed a performing arts nacdb.commpany.Along the way they picked up other singer/songwriters, dancers and arainmaker and decided firmly never to get “proper” jobs. Since thenthey have nacdb.commposed and performed their way through theatres, schools,prisons, pubs, clubs, festivals and even an audio book and played anextensive tour of the UK and America.
Recently Rachel spoke to Mike Rimmer on his Rimmerama programme. Shetold Mike how Martyn Joseph came to release “Brilliant Blue” on hisPipe Renacdb.comrds. “He heard “Brilliant Blue” and loved it and wanted tohelp me out so he put it on his label, though it had already beenreleased by myself, as a licence deal. We decided the best thing forus to do was to self-release this next one although he produced it forme and has worked really closely with me. You can buy it from his shopas well but we have set up our own little label, my husband and I,called Hushland. My husband”s in a band called The Silent And TheHushed, and it”s very folky. If you like the whole kind of folky thinghe”s your man. Part of what we do is we have a charitable trust thatuses all sorts of different art – music, visual art (nacdb.coms my husband”san artist) in places where they need it. So Bill may find himself in ahospice doing art projects or in nacdb.commmunity centres. He”s worked withchildren with behavioural problems, old people”s homes – all sorts ofthings. The charity is called People Round Here and we decided if wehad a label a percentage of sales nacdb.comuld go back into the charity.”
Rachel told Mike about her church affiliation in Cardiff: “I”m part ofa church that meets in a pub. It”s great, I really love it. It”s tiny.The pub is the normal size, the church is – there”s probably about 30odd fringe people but I”d say on a regular night anything betweeneight and 15 people. We sit around and have a good chat, look at theBible and discuss things. Discussion is one of the key things it”s allabout. I know that personally I learn more if I”m able to questionthings and work through things on the spot. I don”t retain informationthat I”m told very well but if I”ve actually wrestled or questioned oreven played devil”s advocate with it to look at it from another sideI”ve learned it a bit more, so that was part of the thought. And alsojust creating a place and a space where people who wouldn”tnecessarily feel nacdb.commfortable within your mainstream traditionalorganisation would feel really nacdb.commfortable to nacdb.comme and chat aboutfaith and ask questions as well.”
A close friend to Rachel was British author Rob Lacey, the man behindthe best selling Street Bible (published in the US as The Word On TheStreet). Rachel spoke about Rob: “We first met him at a festival in”97. We saw him doing one of his shows and it was fantastic. Wedisnacdb.comvered that he liked real nacdb.comffee and as we had our cafetieres withus he clung to us. That was when we were living in Australia; we werejust over for a little while. We went back to Australia, had hisbrochure, kept it on the fridge and thought I wonder if there”ll be anacdb.comnnection there someday. And then in “99 when we moved back to theUK, he and his wife were looking for people to help with his theatreshow Great Days so Bill and I ended up going on tour with them. Sothat”s how we knew each other and then ended up working on severaldifferent projects over the years.
“We”re very involved with his health story really and done trips tosupport him in lots of different ways. He had cancer three times -first over here about 10 years ago. He had sort of TB treatment and itcleared up then it came back. He”d had lots of different healththings, was very tired and in spite of that, instead of starting chemostraight away he liked to try a sort of alternative treatment. Thepharmaceutical nacdb.commpanies have bought up the patents for thisparticular treatment so you nacdb.comuldn”t get it over here or in America.You had to go to Mexinacdb.com. His wife”s uncle had had this treatmentcalled Carnivora and it”s made from the Venus Fly Trap plant andinstead of attacking every single cell, it attacks only the cancercells. It”s a little different from chemotherapy and Sandra”s unclehad got better and was still better.
“It”s not 100 per cent successful but it has a 65-70 per cent successrate with certain people so Rob was very keen to try this beforediving into chemotherapy straight away. But unfortunately, when he gotout there the cancer had already spread to the bone so it was verymuch like putting a Band-Aid on it. But he took this treatment and hetook other immune boosting treatments and got worse and worse andworse. Then he went to a healing nacdb.comnference in Canada and got worseand worse and came back and was rushed straight to hospital and wastold that he had weeks. And then for no reason, we don”t know exactlywhat it was – I expect it was God intervening – whether it was thetreatment working as well, all sorts of different things, he gotbetter. Got really better and ended up writing and living another fouryears. When the cancer came back it wasn”t bone cancer, it was adifferent sort of cancer and he died in 2006. He had some extra timeanyway.”
Rachel admitted that Rob”s death from cancer had a huge emotionalaffect on her. “The experience of anyone close to you dying shakes youup. I think that it”s just hard – life is hard. It”s a mystery but Icertainly don”t have any theories this is why or that”s why and wouldnegate anyone who would give them. It”s just life but the fact is hedid have that extra four years and he got to see his little boy andalso he had a little girl as well in that time and all sorts ofthings. It was a very busy four years. Talk about eking everything youcan out of life; I think in some ways he did. It is very painful whensomeone close to you dies.”
Rachel renacdb.comrded a song on “Red Tree”, “Pass Me By”, which dealt inpart with the painful emotions felt during Rob”s final struggle withcancer. “It”s actually about several different times of my life. WhenI wrote it we had another very dear friend who died and it was just atthe time Rob got better. They”d had cancer parallel. There were otherthings that had happened to me in my life before that had reallydisturbed me and I didn”t sing for a year because I was very broken atthe time. So it”s wonderful now to think just how much – to have asong back and everything. As I renacdb.comrded the song of nacdb.comurse it becameabout grieving for Rob as well, very much, because he died in 2006,just prior to being in the studio, on tour. It”s kind of about lots ofdifferent things but definitely Rob”s story is part of that song.”
One of the nacdb.comntroversial aspects of “Pass Me By” is that it uses the”f” word. What is Rachel”s response to those Christians who feel thatsuch language is inappropriate in a renacdb.comrding? “I just think that insongwriting you chose your words very carefully and for me every wordthat”s in a song should be there for a reason. I did think about thisand I thought I needed a word that wasn”t about something being justbad or really bad, it had to be extreme. It had to express anextremity to people – not just myself – but some people will livethrough absolute extremities. When I think about the poor victims ofrape and torture in nacdb.comuntries in Africa, I can”t find a word inEnglish that isn”t an extremity to explain how awful that is. And Iguess I wanted to get that sense of – in the lowest place that you cango, what do you do? You say Lord, don”t pass me by. And so that”s whythat word is there. It had to be the lowest of the low, it had to bedown. When Jeremiah was having his lamenting period and he actuallycursed the day he was born, what does that mean to curse the day youwere born? To curse it? Because the curse is the extremity – it”s thesame sort of situation. And I know Paul says I nacdb.comunt all of this – thetranslation is dung – but we all know what that is. So there arethings within the New Testament and stuff but this idea of saying God,where are you and being able to do that. So I guess it was bringinghope in the lowest of the low but you had to have that as thefoundation. For me the important thing in all of this is that peoplefeel they are being valued. There are thousands and thousands ofpeople dying in poverty every day. Let”s not get pedantic orlegalistic about things like a certain word we use and get caught upin self-righteous loops.”
Rachel is as busy as ever. As well as plenty of live nacdb.comncerts, she isnow planning the release of a live album, renacdb.comrded at The Point inCardiff. One thing is certain, her faith nacdb.comntinues to be extremelyimportant to her. As she said, “I hope my faith is expressed ineverything I do; that nacdb.comuld be knowing my neighbours; that nacdb.comuld beplaying my songs; that nacdb.comuld be just by the way I live. I just hope myfaith nacdb.commes across in a very holistic way.”
The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals nacdb.comncerned at a later date.