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Western Morning News  |  Posted: July 10, 2015            CULTURE: Folk musician and singer Sally Barker                                Western Morning News  |  Posted: July 10, 2015

Sally Barker is appearing at Sidmouth Folk Festival this month

Roger Malone talks to Sally Barker, who has found fame on The Voice and with folk stars The Poozies.

Singer songwriter Sally Barker walked into the showbiz glitz of TV’s The Voice, triumphed, then walked away to her favoured musical world. Duetting with Tom Jones, she touched the heart of the nation with performances stoked with emotion. This month Sally will be headlining at Sidmouth Folk Week as a founder member of The Poozies, a quartet of talented female performers who perform traditional and self-composed material.

“We have an album out this year called Into The Well, and the Sidmouth set will be drawn mostly from the new album,” said Sally, who is delighted to be back at the festival with The Poozies. “We have songs that I have sourced and songs that I have written and tunes that have been written by the band. The instruments played are guitar, fiddle, accordion and non-acoustic harp. Fellow founder member Mary MacMaster and I share the bulk of the singing – I do the more contemporary and she does the traditional.”

If you set out to track down Sally’s musical style you would be hard-pressed because her interest and output is engagingly diverse.

“I didn’t come out of the folk music scene but I have gone into it,” she said. “At university I was playing in folk clubs singing my own songs, but I was also in a rock band. I have always liked an eclectic mix. Being confined to one area isn’t really my bag. I’m also involved in a blues band, so I like to do different things.”

No stranger to venues large and small, she has performed in front of audiences of 15,000 as support to Bob Dylan and Robert Plant. Sally is a singer who transcends genre with an intuitive ability to find the emotion in lyrics and transmit it directly and poignantly to the heart of the listener. That the nation, as opposed to more specific audiences, was touched by her vocals on prime time TV was due to the encouragement of her two sons. Sally, who was widowed in her early-40s, was at a low ebb when this door beckoned towards another world.

“Entering seemed like a good idea at the time,” she said. “I had been very ill and hadn’t worked for six months. I was on my uppers and there was nothing happening for me. I was doing some touring with The Poozies but we weren’t doing very much.”

Having applied to The Voice online, she forgot about it until asked to attend a pre-audition.

“I didn’t take it too seriously – but then I was asked to come back.”

At the “blind auditions” her interpretation of Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood had an emotional Tom Jones tell her she had “the most beautiful voice that has been on this show so far”.

However, Sally was uncertain whether a TV talent show was something she wanted to be part of.

“It was a bit of a crossroads. When I stepped out on to the stage, that was me stepping into showbiz – but I’m not really about that. When I got to the live stages Tom Jones asked what was my ambition and I said to do a duet with him. And he said to do that I’d have to get into the finals – and that was my goal.”

That goal became a reality with them duetting in The Voice final, delivering a stunning interpretation of Walking In Memphis. In the true tradition of overnight TV success, there was a lucrative offer to rush an album out, but Sally declined.

“There were various reasons why I didn’t go for it,” she said. “They wanted me to sing covers and I said I’m a songwriter, and they said that wasn’t what they were offering me. I thought about it, but it didn’t feel right and I had to go with my gut instinct.”

At the time, she was recording the album with The Poozies, which seemed a more grounded proposition. Formed in 1990, The Poozies have undergone several changes of line-up while remaining an elite headliner of the festival circuit. They took their name from Poosie Nansie’s, a tavern in Ayreshire frequented by Scottish poet Robert Burns.

“We couldn’t come up with anything better than Poosie Nansie’s, but we felt if the band was called that we’d end up as the ‘Nansies’ – so we decided on The Poozies,” said Sally. “The idea was to have a woman band where we all played instruments as well as sang. At that time there were not many bands like that around so it was ground-breaking. We decided to play the material that we wanted to play. They were folk musicians and I was a singer songwriter.”

The majority of the band has always been Scottish and the music always had a Celtic element.

“I’m a bit outnumbered as the other three are Scottish,” said Sally. “But although I’m English, when I hear Scottish folk music I feel very much part of it.”

Although working in a band, Sally is also involved in solo projects such as her album, Maid In England.

“When writing folk songs for the album I was influenced by historical ideas because I have a love of history. I get inspiration from all sorts of things. I wrote a song about the first ship of female convicts that went to Australia. Writing can be quite solitary. I love co-writing because it is a really interesting process – and you create something you wouldn’t otherwise have done because you spark off each other.”

As a writer Sally has gained inspiration from the people she grew up listening to and the music in the charts.

“My material came out of what has been going into my head for the last 50 years, so it is a huge variety.”

After years of writing her own songs and interpreting the songs of others, Sally felt the need to explore the subject academically by studying music psychology.

“For my dissertation I read studies suggesting that before we talked we sang,” she said. “I don’t know why, but I wanted to understand music from a different level. I wanted to see what academic work there was out there and see if I could get greater insight. It reinforced what I already felt, which is that music is a wonderful communal thing that can bring people together through a unifying bonding process. It strengthened my belief in being a singer and writer as a means to communicate. There is a therapeutic quality in music. People feel better for it – and that can only be good.” 

Bournemouth Echo MUSIC  Friday 22 August 2014 by Joanna Davis

Sally Barker: During The Voice I tried not to Google myself

SALLY Barker, finalist on The Voice, has had a phenomenal 2014. After winning over viewers on the hit BBC1 show, she is squeezing in a trip to Dorset this month to perform at the Purbeck Folk festival ahead of a solo tour.

She took us all by surprise on The Voice. And Sally Barker took me by surprise by calling completely out of the blue after I emailed her office to request an interview.

Forty five minutes of engaging conversation later, I can honestly say that the woman who stole the hearts of a nation through her performances on the BBC1 show is as warm and multi-layered as her singing voice.

Sally Barker’s hauntingly beautiful voice in her blind audition for the talent show left the most stoic of superstars, Sir Tom Jones – and an entire nation – in tears.

The Welshman went on to mentor Sally all the way to the final of the show, telling her she has ‘the most beautiful voice that has been on this show so far’.

Pipped to the post by London teenager Jermain Jackman, Sally, 54, eschewed a commercial recording contract and is currently doing what she loves most – gigging across the country.

As a folk singer for much of her career and founding member of all-female folk group The Poozies, the Leicestershire mum is returning to those roots for the Purbeck Folk Festival next Saturday.

She said: “I wanted to come to the festival because there are so many artists performing there who I admire.

“I’m a big fan of Eddi Reader and I love going down to the south coast. I’ve done a lot of camping in Lyme Regis with the boys – we used to have a really small caravan we would tow around Dorset.”

Sally recently performed at the Larmer Tree Festival near Salisbury where she was reunited with Sir Tom. They also duetted together on his home turf of Colwyn Bay, Wales.

Sally said: “There were 14,000 Tom Jones supporters there all screaming for Tom and there were even a few Sally Barker supporters!

“I was walking round among the audience to see what it was like and people stopped me so many times for ‘selfies’.”

Sally was persuaded by her two sons to audition for The Voice after suffering a period of ill health.

She sailed through the pre-audition stage, the blind audition, the battle round and the final stages.

Viewers admired Sally’s strength of character, whose back story of being widowed at the age of 42 was continually aired by BBC producers. But it was that life experience and deep sadness entrenched in her voice that moved viewers to pick up the phone and vote.

Her performances of tracks such as Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood and Both Sides Now made her joint favourite to win the show.

Sally said: “I was thrilled with how things went on The Voice. I was oblivious of the effect I had. I gave myself a media black-out and wouldn’t Google myself.

“I was getting on with it and I was very zoned out. The first time I really knew anything about it was when my son told me I was one of the favourites. I think it was this summer when I realised it had quite an impact on people.”

Despite not winning the show, Sally was offered a recording contract.

She said: “I was offered a recording contract with Universal and they wanted me to do an album of covers.

“It was my instinct not to take that deal.

“I’m a singer-songwriter as much as a singer.

“I said goodbye to the huge cheque. They wanted to record it straight after The Voice and do it while people remember me.

“I could have shot myself in the foot, but this is the way I am.”

But nearly five months on from The Voice, it would appear as though Sally certainly hasn’t been forgotten by the great British public.

Her rendition of Olly Murs’ Dear Darlin’ became the best-selling single from the show, charting 15 spots above Jermain Jackman’s version of And I Am Telling You.

Sally’s album Maid in England, recorded with her old record company in Germany, will be re-released at the end of September, including extra tracks To Love Somebody and Dear Darlin’.

She then plans to release a new album next year and is hunting for a record label that is the right fit for her. Sally hopes she has paved the way for more mature contestants to enter talent shows.

She said: “I think people are interested in seeing older people. It suggests that my perspective is a different one to someone who’s about 20, who hasn’t lived this longer life with a wider perspective. I think my life experience adds something to my voice and gives me a much wider range.”

As we end one of the longest ‘chats’ I have had with a front cover star of The Guide, we discuss our mutual experience of living in Leicester and studying at De Montfort University.

Sally is one of the most genuine and friendly people I have ever interviewed, showing a real interest in me as an interviewer, rather than a cog in the wheel of a publicity machine.

I can’t help thinking that with her own winning formula of that voice and charm in abundance, not winning The Voice may have been the best thing that could have happened to Sally Barker’s singing career.

Recordings... Barker 
Album: Maid In England
Label: Hypertension
Tracks: 13

Hmmm. When an album bears the 'parental advisory' sticker that's one thing, but when an album arrives bearing a sticker which heralds an album by a finalist of The Voice UK, the shivers really start. Being averse to all things Strictly or Factor related, the omens weren't good. Much as I love Tom Jones, his patronage of Sally Barker was about to be tested. 

But nothing ventured, nothing gained and with the old adage of "If you haven't tried it how do you know?" ringing in my ears I waded into 'Maid In England', eyes and ears open. With the CD booklet open and initial track 'Captains' playing away, all the fears were swiftly and pleasantly dispelled. For starters, Sally Barker has some history waaay before TV celebrity beckoned. In 1986, she won the Kendal Songsearch Competition, earning her several support slots to high profile musicians (including Richard Thompson no less). A record deal with Hypertension music and her first album followed in 1988, and with yet more support slots behind her (Bob Dylan and Robert Plant!), she took her place within the all female folk group The Poozies. And then - nothing or at least not much, until we find ourselves in the harsh reality of music related franchise TV.

The call of folk music was too difficult to resist and the set of songs within 'Maid In England' have been in gestation since 1997. Originally released in 2003 amidst some challenging personal circumstances, ten years later, on the back of the success on The Voice UK sees the work done by Sally and guitarist/collaborator Keith Buck re-released and including a couple of tracks naturally from The Voice series which catapulted Sally back into the limelight. 

Aside from these songs and the opening 'Captains written by Steve Kinghtley, which is delivered with a strong Knightley/Show Of Hands feel about it, the rest of the self penned material proves to be the album's strength. The lengthy 'Comrades In Arms' has the sort of atmospheric celtic feel popularised by Iona, revealing itself as a lament of a wife whose husband returns from the Earl Of Essex's campaign against the Irish as a changed man. Despite appearing as the third track, it seems to be the central song on the album, concluding a terrify trio of songs to open the album. One of three songs co-written with Keith Buck it's also the first of three 'historical' songs - 'Haul Away' inspired by the first ship of female convicts sent to Australia and 'The Ballad Of Mary Rose' which celebrates Henry VIII's famous flagship.

With the title track you get the impression that she's really singing from the heart with a passion and a strength and determination to conquer which the difficulties she's overcome. It namechecks fellow women including Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth and Amy Johnson , all of whom have not let their femininity hold them back from becoming key figures in British history. Backed by a robust soundtrack 

She also touches on some more traditional folk topics - revengeful maidens, working the land and the analogy of the farmer's lot, where Keith Buck's guitar swings from Knopfler-esque licks to mournful pedal steel. Let's give some credit where it's due and acknowledge The Voice for helping Sally get back in touch with her folk and country side where she is at home. Enough said and It's probably time to eat my words and admit that Sally Barker, I was probably doing you a disservice! I'm going to jump on the bandwagon with Sir Tom, Chris Evans and Kylie and add my two'penneth and encouragement to see her back in the folk fold.

Mike Ainscoe

SALLY BARKER – Maid In England (Hypertension HYP 14305) 

I’m not sure that, after a career spanning some 28 years, during which time she’s released six solo albums, two with The Poozies and been part of the Joni Mitchell Project, not to mention opening for Dylan and Robert Plant, being a contestant on The Voice wasn’t beneath her dignity. However, it has brought her exposure far beyond the folk circuit and, thank God, she didn’t win, so still has a healthy music career ahead of her. It has also served to prompt the re-issue of this, her sixth album. Originally released back in 2003, it was tragically overshadowed by her husband’s death and saw Barker largely retire from the scene for four years as she raised her children and took a Music Technology degree at de Montfort University. Although, after rejoining the band, she did appear on the last The Poozies album, Yellow Like Sunshine, five years back, she’s not released anything under her own name for over a decade.

As well as boosting back catalogue sales, The Voice has also prompted this welcome reissue in the hope it will have wider exposure, especially with Barker now freer to promote it. Working with a line-up that includes Keith Buck, Phil Beer, Patsy Seddon and Sarah Allen, it balances the traditional influences of ‘Haul Away’ (a deportation ballad inspired by a book about female convicts sent to Australia), ‘The Ballad of Mary Rose’ (sung in the voice of one of Henry VIII’s sailors), and ‘The Farm’ (Debbie Cassell’s hauntingly desolate song of countryside plight on which Barker delivers a stunning unaccompanied intro) with the folk-rock sensibilities of ‘Fall From Grace’ (woman kills her deceitful lover), ‘Sirens’ (while acknowledging his courage, a firefighter’s wife has to leave because she’s unable to cope with the stress) and the rousing, celebratory title track in which Boudicea, Elizabeth I and Amy Johnson link verses.

Elsewhere, Steve Knightley’s ‘Captains’ (one of several songs referencing the sea) opens the album, the flute-laced ‘Comrades In Arms’ marries medieval notes and progressive folk in a part a capella lament of an Elizabeth wife whose husband returns from an Irish campaign a changed man, ‘Old Horses’ is a quietly reflective song of ageing and exhaustion given an added ache by Keith Buck’s pedal steel while, inspired by a couple who’d lost a child, ‘Bird’, with its madrigal lute, is a tender maternal fable about nurturing and letting go thematically complemented by ‘Sleep’s Descending’ gentle devotional lullaby to her two children.

In addition to making the original album available again, the reissue also, naturally, adds her two showpieces from the TV programme, both featuring her Joni Mitchell Project partner Glenn Hughes on keyboards, a folksy pop take on Olly Murs’ ‘Dear Darlin’’ and an impassioned version of the Bee Gees’ ‘To Love Somebody’ that rightly reduced Tom Jones to tears and will now doubtless prove the centrepiece of her live set for some time. Quite how far or how long the ripples from The Voice will spread remains to be seen, but even if, as with other contestants, it’s only a brief moment in the spotlight, Barker has nothing to prove, she’s been a star with a loyal following since she first stepped on a stage.

Mike Davies September 22, 2014                                                                        

Sally Barker: Maid in England – review

Folk singer and songwriter reissues her lost album from 2003 with the addition of a few pieces from ‘The Voice’.

In a fair world, Sally Barker would not have needed to reach the finals of a TV talent show to revive her career as a jazz-inflected folk singer and songwriter.

Whatever the background, this reissue of her lost album from 2003 with the addition of a few songs from The Voice is welcome.

She manages to make a set of folk songs about women’s history hang together plausibly with a Bee Gees cover.

Sally Barker  Maid in England   (Hypertension)  By David Honigmannn  September 19. 2014


LIVE REVIEW: Talent of Voice show star shone through during Queen’s Head gig by Ed Sills Tues 28 January 2014 

Those expecting to see a certain chair turning talent show star belting out covers would have left disappointed as Sally Barker proved herself as more than just a voice during a gig at the Queen’s Head, Belper.  As a singer/songwriter Sally Barker began her career supporting the likes of Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson and Wishbone Ash but its unfair to label her as a folk artist when her own music so easily jumps between different genres.  The two sets reflected this, eloquently managing to touch upon all areas of her long career without ever sounding too disjointed.  Accompanying Sally was keith Buck, an accomplished musician who provided backing vocals and guitar.  His singing, not unlike that of Peter Gabriel, played second fiddle to his remarkable lead guitar riffs and pedal steel work; an instrument renowned for its difficulty in mastering.  With plenty of stories to tell, the recent events seemed not to have affected the Leicester-born singer who presented herself as warm and full of humility throughout.  Nevertheless it was clear to see why that voice aloe has won her many fans.  Take bluesy numbers like ‘Mr Bang’, ‘Money’s Talking’ and the AC-DC classic ‘Highway to Hell’ for example, three songs that displayed how soulful and edgy her range can be when pushed.  But this is, at its core, a folk gig and the songs taken from the 2003 ‘Maid in England’ album gave us a glimpse of how far her songwriting has come.  ‘The Ballad of Mary Rose’ in particular, a tale of the doomed men aboard Henry the VIII’s flagship, was a standout track that managed to effortlessly blend modern folk with traditional whilst also somehow sequeing into a jig.  On its downbeat conclusion Barker, aptly noted ‘its a folk song damn it, everyone’s supposed to die’.  For the first of three encore songs, somewhat inevitably, Barker brought out her version of ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’.  Speaking briefly about her brush with show business on ‘The Voice’ she marvelled at how strange the whole thing was after 30 years of touring and writing songs.  Warning us beforehand that she had only rehearsed part of the song - ‘I’ve only sung it on the telly’ - her note-perfect version of the Nina Simone song came endearingly to a halt when she forgot the words.  It didn’t matter.  The crowds already had their chairs facing the right direction and they could see her talent a mile away.

REVIEW: Sally Barker at St Ives Festival September 2014

Sally Barker’s voice ‘made Sir Tom Jones cry’. So what? At school, my voice made the music master cry. However, that’s where the similarity ends. When we saw Sally on Monday Night 15th September, I had to agree with Jones the voice, her singing was beautiful in the September Festival at St Ives Theatre.

Sally Barker has done her time as a talented and productive singer songwriter and as a member of all­woman folk group, The Poozies. On Monday she displayed a wider range and a richer palette moving from the folky exuberance of ‘Maid in England’ to the soulful Jazz of ‘Elephants’ and the audience participation of ‘Favourite Dish’, running right into the BeeGees’ ‘To Love Somebody’. Ms Barker was excellent value with an eclectic performance that perfectly showcased her considerable talents. 

John Hancock
This review appeared in the St Ives Times & Echo

Sally Barker at Lichfield Guildhall – 6th December 2014

Reviewed by Jo Woodward

My son is very good at turning the telly on, he is just as bad at turning it off. Call it chance or good fortune that I was on my way in to turn it off when the announcer on The Voice introduced the next contestant Sally Barker. I called my husband in and our joint response was ‘Crikey, I hope Tom Jones turns round for her.’ He did and we became regular viewers. It is the one and only time that we have ever watched a talent/reality show, but we knew she was good because of the 20 plus years she has been a regular artist at the Guildhall. 

Saturday night was a reminder of why we were happy to watch and vote for her. With a deceptively simple set up of Glenn Hughes on keyboard, Ian Crabtree on electric guitar and Sally’s voice the evening was packed full of mellifluous sounds and rhythms. Her roots may be folk but she isn’t afraid to stray away so we were treated and asked to take part in the softly jazzy, finger snapping version of her own song ‘All or Nothing’. 

It is a testament to the power of Sally Barker’s voice that although she never seems to raise it or strain to be heard her voice carries and is clear and well defined no matter where you are in the building. This clarity means you hear what may be thought of as a trademark of her performance, the tone of underlying knowledge and wisdom that comes from loss and yearning and a life that has been lived honestly without flinching from the difficult times. These emotions were shared to best effect in the gentle rendition of the Bacharach and David classic ‘Walk On By’ and what has now become a Sally Barker stand by Olly Mur’s ‘Dear Darlin’. It is shows as well the wealth of talent and experience a performer has, being able to make beautiful and her own such a diverse range of styles and genres of songs. 

Inevitably Sally was asked if she had any offers after The Voice. Her answer speaks volumes for the person and the artist that she wasn’t prepared to make the changes and compromises that came with the promises attached to those offers. I hope soon someone is willing to promote her as the artist she is and not the artist they think she should be. The airwaves are full of divas and over emoting, song belters what we need to hear more of is the honest emotion and refined talent of Sally Barker.

ed© Sally Barker 2015