A few months ago I received an e-mail from one of my local folk clubs telling me they had booked an act I was sure to enjoy- the singer plays the dulcimer!
The act was Kim Lowings & The Greenwood
and their website www.kimlowings.com
was a revelation, wonderfully well laid out and with a superb selection of live videos. I arranged to attend the show and contacted Kim in advance to get some back ground information.
Kim is from Stourbridge, in the West Midlands; ‘My singing and musicality were greatly influenced by my parent's love for music. I was very lucky to grow up in a house where my brother and I were encouraged to listen to all genres from reggae through to metal. Through all of this, particular female singers and songwriters stuck with me such as Beth Orton, Sandy Denny, Carole King and of course Joni Mitchell. I am lucky to have a job where I meet musicians all the time and there are so many talented players, singers and songwriters out there. This is a constant inspiration for me and I am always learning.’
She released her first CD, This Life, in 2012, mainly her own songs, often collaborating with her father, Andrew, on the music, though there are also a couple of traditional songs. Her father plays in her band, playing guitar in both normal and open tunings, bouzouki and bodhran. The percussionist, Tim Rogers, used to play in a rock band with Andrew, and now plays a very basic kit of a cajon, often using brushes, and a cymbal. He is a very subtle player when the music requires it. Another four-track CD/EP Deepest Darkest Night was issued in 2013, featuring two of her own songs and two traditional ones, including the long-neglected Annie Laurie. Her current album, Historia was released last year, and continues the balance of her own and traditional songs. This album was the first to feature the last member of the band’s current line-up, double bassist Dave Sutherland, a great player in the Danny Thompson style (he even uses a bow sometimes) and who also adds effective backing vocals. Kim met Dave at a songwriter’s event, and he offered his services if she ever needed a bass player, though inevitably his talent mean he is often called to play in other groups.
Though she plays guitar and piano, Kim now mainly plays the mountain dulcimer live. Her uncle lives in the USA and she visited him for two separate three-month periods. ‘I first set eyes on a mountain dulcimer in a bookshop in Greenwood, Seattle the winter of 2011. They held a regular open mic and a lady called Pandi was using it to accompany her songs. We formed a great friendship during my time there and she was kind enough to let me borrow one of her dulcimers. I could see the similarity to using other stringed instruments as accompaniment but visually working through the strings was like working through the keys of a piano and I was hooked! It inspired a few songs while I was out there and I formed an arrangement of traditional song The Begging Song (now a staple at our live shows). Our band name references my time living in Greenwood and discovering the magic of the dulcimer!’
The bands show at The Change of Horses in Farnborough was excellent from the start, the traditional song Worcester City, backed just with bodhran and cajon, moving into The Littlest Birds, learned from the Be Good Tanyas. ‘My dad used to make up mix tapes to play in the car and we used to have a good bop around to this one!’ The dulcimer came out for Dark Eyed Sailor, and the next couple of songs were also traditional. Kim then played tribute to Joni Mitchell, singing Carrie, admitting though she knew Joni’s Blue album well, it was years before she discovered that some of them had been played on dulcimer. The next three songs were her own, including the tale of how her Aunt Maggie saved the day during a drunken boat trip in the Adriatic!
The second half featured the same well-thought out mix of trad. and her own songs, though Andrew mainly played bouzouki, using a banjo-style frailing technique I had never seen used on bouzouki before. And very effective it was too. One particularly good song was Away You Merry Lassies! learnt at a folk festival in Puget Sound from a lady with the wonderful name of Linda Waterfall and regarding a witches sabbat as a girls night out! ‘Get your brooms out!’ Indeed. Looking at Tim for some reason, she agreed there was a certain amount of innuendo in the lyrics… Her last song was a beautiful solo rendition of The Parting Glass, before the band were invited back for the moral tale of The Flounder, the only time she retuned her instrument down to CAD, having stayed in DAD, albeit with occasional use of a capo, throughout the evening.
‘I have a walnut McSpadden dulcimer fitted with an L R Baggs pickup. I use that one for live shows. It has a fairly bright tone although the walnut does give it a touch of warmth. My first dulcimer was a Red Kite dulcimer also in walnut from Bird Rock Dulcimers and I have a Cripple Creek from Geoff Black, of Revels Music via the Nonsuch Dulcimer club. I use DAD for many of my songs. I also use CAD and AAD. I have lately been experimenting with different tunings and I hope to bring them into our live shows. My latest purchase is a Seagull Merlin dulcimer guitar in spruce. I love that it has hints of a banjo sound, although I am preparing myself for the banjo jokes!’
I was enormously impressed with Kim and her band, and it is touching to see the mutual glances and smiles between her and her father, and how well they play together, especially when he plays bouzouki to her dulcimer. The band work as one unit, and always complement the mood of the music. Kim herself is also a great ambassador for the mountain dulcimer- she has had several people come up and say they have started playing dulcimer because of her. The band deserve to be huge, and hopefully will be before too long. There is a good music scene in their home area (though it can be a bit unsettling to look up and see Robert Plant smiling at you over his pint, a not uncommon sight) and they are wandering gradually further afield, down to the South coast, Wales, Scotland and Norfolk. Check out their website, and I can thoroughly recommend their CDs too.
2016 Written by Grahame Hood for Nonsuch Dulcimer Club magazine.