Monday, November 07, 2022

Singing with the dirt left on

I was honoured to be invited for a video interview/chat recently with New Zealand singer, musician and composer Tony Backhouse.

One of the things we discussed was how we like music to be honest, gutsy, muscular and authentic. But how to describe exactly what we mean?

I have always been drawn to singing that has some kind of honesty, when you can sense the human being behind the voice. It is the opposite of shiny, perfectly blended choirs or the perfect, idealised solo voice (with or without autotune).

It is the kind of singing that is often referred to as “folk” or “traditional”, which is why I’m drawn to traditional harmony singing from cultures across the globe.

The singing is full of humanity, has some kind of muscularity and power behind it. There is no artifice, no mediation between what the human is trying to express and the sound they make.

It’s one of those things that I know immediately when I hear it, but it’s very hard to describe.

During my musical chat with Tony Backhouse (video will be available soon to his Patreon subscribers) Tony remembered a musician friend of his, Audrey Auld Mezera, whose strap line was “music with the dirt left on.” We both immediately knew what that meant!

There are two notions within the concept of “singing with the dirt left on.”

One is that the singing has not been too polished, that some of the “dirt” (small inaccuracies, tiny mismatches in blend, individual expressiveness, imperfections in vocal delivery and so on) has been left. The singing hasn’t been cleaned too much.

The other comes from the idea of organic or grow-your-own vegetables. The idea that the veggies come fresh from the garden, still with the earth on. That they are somehow more nutritious and real than the veggies you buy wrapped and pre-washed in the supermarket. They are wholesome and unprocessed. Such singing is better for your soul and is more nourishing than that the produced for the mass market.

So there you have it, “singing with the dirt left on” is the kind of singing I like best.

How about you?

Chris Rowbury


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