undefinedHazel Askew 1

Hazel Askew is a singer, multi-instrumentalist and composer from London, creating powerful music inspired by the folk traditions of England and beyond. She is fascinated by the enduring sounds and stories of this music, and how they draw on timeless themes such as life & death, power, gender and politics. Over the last fifteen years Hazel has become renowned as a skilled and engaging performer on the folk scene, creating new interpretations and striking arrangements of traditional and original music in every project she works on. Ahead of facilitating our Ceilidh and Folk Fest, we caught up with Hazel to discuss her career and what attendees can expect from this month’s events

Hazel, thank you for speaking to Benslow Music. Please tell our readers what drew you to a career in music.

I grew up being involved in the folk scene and playing music at school, so it was always something I did. I went to a few of international youth folk summer schools called Ethno as a teenager, where young traditional musicians from all over Europe and beyond gathered to teach each other music, and I remember at one of those thinking that if I could make a career from music, I should try to because connecting with other people through music was just the most incredible thing. 

Your musical journey has resulted in your recognition as a leading folk artist. Please tell us more about your early years making music and what attracted you to the folk scene.

I grew up going to Sidmouth Folk Week every year, so that was always a highlight of the year and meant I was exposed to a lot of folk music. I started playing recorder and piano in primary school and then went to Pimlico School, which at the time was a comprehensive with an incredible free music course where you could learn instruments and join orchestras and choirs etc. It was amazing to be at Pimlico at that time, and especially with the hindsight that the music course there no longer exists, and the combination of the skills I learnt there and the skills I learnt on the folk scene set me up well to go on making music in my life.

Your accolades include being nominated for BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards three times, winning Best Album as part of Songs of Separation in 2017. You also won Best Female Singer at the Spiral Earth Awards. Of your many achievements, what are you most proud of, and why?

I think I tend to take a longer view - working with my bands Lady Maisery and Askew Sisters for over a decade, nurturing a long working relationship and growing new music after many years together - that’s what I feel is a greater achievement and I feel very lucky to be able to work with them all.

Your love of music and narrative has led to you working as a composer for film, theatre and dance. What attracts you to a project and do you follow a particular methodology when composing music for each medium? 

I love working with words and music, whether that be writing a song or writing a score for film or theatre. I don’t have one particular methodology, I think it’s good to try and be creative in new ways and approach different projects differently. But obviously, when you’re writing music that is part of a multi-disciplinary piece, there is more an element of design, thinking about the piece as a whole, working out themes and motifs that recur to fit a narrative, and collaborating with other creatives etc. Whereas when you’re writing a standalone song, it’s nice to be freer, write words or a tune and see what comes out without having a plan.

As a professional musician, what have been your career challenges, and how have you overcome them?

I think often with creative and self-employed work, getting a good balance of work can sometimes be a challenge - either having not enough work or sometimes taking on too much. I think it’s always useful to be able to make a living doing music in a variety of different ways, which will allow you to have a rich career and a more stable income. So I tour with bands, but I don’t want to do that all the time as I want to be at home sometimes too, so I also teach and try to get involved in lots of different kinds of projects. 

Benslow Music provides inspirational lifelong learning for all ages. What advice would you give to budding musicians, particularly young students of music? 

I think just to play and sing as much as possible! I learnt a lot by playing folk music by ear as well as learning classical music with a written score, so I think being able to play in both these ways opens up a lot of possibilities. 

We are looking forward to your courses and events at Benslow Music this month. Please tell our readers what they can expect. 

The Folkfest course is a gathering of singers and musicians, and we’ll learn lots of music, mainly by ear. We’ll work in a big group but in smaller groups too and we pack a lot into just a few days! The ceilidh on the Wednesday night will be great fun. Myself, Laurel Swift and Sid Goldsmith will be playing and we have local legend Barry Goodman calling - he’ll guide everyone through the dances and will make sure a good time is had by all!

Where can our members and followers find out more about you?

 You can find me on social media under my own name and also with my bands Lady Maisery and Askew Sisters.