In the wordless communication that passes between Orcadian fiddler Catriona Price and Peebles harpist Esther Swift as they perform, the strength of their decade-long musical partnership, friendship and shared humour is evident. It’s this depth of connection, and tangible desire to have fun, that gives Twelfth Day its extra edge.
In their own words, this is not so much a duo, but a two person quartet. Their two distinctly different voices, the fiddle, and the pedal harp, build layer upon layer of a complex and ever-evolving sound, rich with rhythm, harmony and texture.
Twelfth Day are happy to be hard to define. Classically trained, they bring outstanding technical ability as well as an adventurous mix of folk, jazz and classical influences to their compositions and arrangements – blended with the folklore and inspirations of their respective Scottish Highland and Lowland upbringings.
With their latest album Cracks in the Room, Twelfth Day show a new fierceness and strength. As young female artists the two have become increasingly aware of the lingering social stigmas around being an outspoken, self-employed woman. “It’s the elephant – or the crack – in the room; this unspoken thing.”
Esther and Catriona describe the title track Cracks as an “outcry” in response. This is a song about a woman trying to mould and cram herself into what’s expected of her; its rising hysteria brimming with the pair’s quietly wild humour. Cracks drags agonising internal struggles out into the light of day, and celebrates imperfection in all its beauty.
The album also reflects insight brought by collaborations with international artists. The strong words of their Syrian friend Maya Youssef on her country’s suffering brought the inspiration and title of Another Phase In History.
Don’t miss a nod to Nina Simone, one of the duo’s ultimate inspirational artists, in Great Green – composed in the midst of the Brexit campaign, and as cuts to disability allowance were announced.
This album was written across Scotland, often in the homes of helpful friends, before being recorded at Caribou Studios in the Scottish Borders. There, producer Chris Wood’s inventive and creative techniques helped them to explore and hone their sound on new levels. Tom Waits’ sound engineer Oz Fritz’s mix then gave the record an edge Twelfth Day “never dreamed possible.”
All of this leads back to the corridors of Saint Mary’s Music School where the friendship began, and Royal Northern College of Music, where the duo was born. Twelfth Day’s début album Northern Quarter was released in 2010, with a unique take on some classic Burns amongst other self-penned and traditional tunes and songs. Then came Fiere (2012), a collaboration with Gaelic singer Joy Dunlop.
From there Speak From The Start (2013) showcased the duo’s versatility with covers ranging from Morrissey to Kanye West. The Devil Makes Three (2014) followed; bursting full of self-compositions, eerie ambiance and mischievous glint.
Mini-LP Shell Story (2015) includes Twelfth Day’s take on a Schubert song, alongside remixes of previous works by the likes of renowned Brazilian DJ Tudo and BBC Radio 3’s Max Reinhardt.
Along the way the duo have toured the world, with festival highlights such as WOMAD UK, WOMAD Chile, Bath International Festival, Celtic Connections and Etnokrakow.
Catriona and Esther’s project, Routes to Roots has taken them even further afield. Funded by the Deutsche Bank Award in Performance and Composition, Twelfth Day set out on a voyage across four countries and four continents, on a mission to explore the shared roots of world folk music.
Quebec brought an exploration of the nuanced differences within traditional music so linked to their own; and Malawi, the loosening influence of never transcribed and constantly evolving community singing. Brazil’s cultural melting pot of music with roots in jazz and blues gave new perspective on these genres; and with Mongolia came the discovery of a sound reflecting the country’s harsh, remote landscapes; bringing inspiration from its performers’ raw self-expression.
A new personal exposure in this vein is evident in Cracks in the Room, as are other marks of the duo’s world travels, such as a fresh strength in improvisation. Beautiful and meandering like a stream of satisfying thoughts, opening track False Electric was transcribed directly from pure improvisation.
Twelfth Day describe Cracks in the Room as “Our most honest, raw and exciting work yet”, and this exhilaration shines through in the recordings.
Biography by Catherine Clifford