It’s been 12 years since her remarkable debut album Wild And Undaunted marked Lisa Knapp as one of the brightest and most innovative stars of a newly invigorated British folk movement. A child of the 90s rave scene, Lisa found herself drawn to the honesty of the ballads she heard at South London folk clubs and the dexterous Irish fiddle tunes she began joining in with at pub sessions. From there she immersed herself in library manuscripts, pored over second-hand records from the 70s and sought out the masters of traditional music to learn from. Working with partner and producer Gerry Diver, she forged a new path through these old songs that is uniquely and spellbindingly hers.
The success of Wild And Undaunted led to frequent appearances on TV and radio, including tribute concerts to Lal Waterson and Bert Jansch (where she sang alongside Robert Plant and Bernard Butler.) Lisa also became much in demand as a collaborator and contributor, performing with Dave Swarbrick, Eliza Carthy, Mike Waterson, Sam Lee, Kathryn Williams, James Yorkston, Olivia Chaney, Leafcutter John, Dead Rat Orchestra and The Memory Band to name but a few.
“A unique voice” Uncut
Having taken time out to raise their daughter, Lisa returned in 2013 with Hidden Seam – a dazzlingly accomplished album of her own songs, with an expanded instrumental palette of rolling drums, piano and glass harp. The record also boasted an impressive list of guest vocalists, including Kathryn Williams, Alasdair Roberts, James Yorkston and Marry Waterson. The Observer called Hidden Seam “a masterful creation”, awarding it five stars. And at that year’s BBC Folk Awards she took home the prize for Best Original Track for her song Two Ravens, featuring the great Martin Carthy on guitar.
“Knapp isn’t just a great folk artist, she’s a great artist full stop.” Morning Star
A long-held fascination with the traditional practices surrounding the month of May led to the recording of two limited edition EPs that delved into the light and dark of our historical spring rituals. And that same folklore became the foundation of Lisa’s 2017 album, the evocatively titled Till April Is Dead – A Garland Of May (that included a collaboration with fellow Shirley Collins fan Graham Coxon.)
Bookending the record with the songs sung by the citizens of Padstow during their riotous ‘Obby ‘Oss celebrations, Lisa wove into these seasonal folk fragments smatterings of field recordings, birdsong, ticking clocks and spoken word to create an exhilarating and immersive trip through tradition. Till April Is Dead received five star reviews across the board, with The Guardian describing it as “an album overflowing with warmth, light and waywardness”, and Mojo magazine insisting that “Knapp and Diver deliver ancient tradition with respect and beauty.”
While it’s true that Lisa Knapp’s music is steeped in old weird England and its mysterious customs, it’s not a nostalgia for idyllic yesteryears. These are records made amidst the reality of a Britain which is anything but merry. You can hear it in her use of sampled street sounds; the cut-up vocals; the very modern manipulation of sound – a tension between then and now where Lisa’s music sparks. These reminders of where we came from also ask us who we are now.
“Traditional song existed before me and it will exist after me. I’m attracted to that notion of continuity.” – Lisa Knapp