Bronwyn Claire Asha Churcher will take the audience on a trip across five centuries of love songs from the Celtic and English folk traditions when she performs at Knox Heritage Church on the Parksville Museum grounds Feb. 10.
The multi-instrumentalist and singer released her debut album The Maiden’s Lament in December and will soon embark on a tour of Vancouver Island and the mainland, with five shows in February, strategically timed around Valentine’s Day.
Churcher’s music will accompany an evening of storytelling, reflecting on how people have dealt with many of the same struggles, like breakups, for centuries.
“When you hear new songs that are so old, it gives a sense that you’re not the first to feel these things,” she said. “There’s a wealth of other people and other experiences that kind of bring us together, I think, in a beautiful way.”
Churcher, who has long had an interest in traditional Irish, English and Scottish folk ballads, has collected and arranged some of her favourites. Her vocals will be joined by the sounds of her guitar, banjo, violin and harmonium, an instrument that originated in India but goes well with folk music.
“It’s just got this really mournful sound that accompanies some of the songs I do quite nicely,” Churcher said. “It’s sort of like a cross between an accordion and a piano, I suppose. It’s got keys like a piano, but it’s got a bellows.”
Maiden’s Lament was recorded in Edinburgh, Scotland in November, while Churcher was based out of Scotland touring for several months with Scottish singer-songwriter Simon Kempston, who she met in Comox.
While touring in Europe, people would often ask if she had CDs for sale. Churcher had meant to record an album since the pandemic, and took the opportunity to record in an analogue studio, “which is a very different process than a digital recording process,” she said. “It takes a little more time and it gives it a really authentic sound.”
Churcher recorded all the instrumentals and vocals on the album herself.
She will perform two stories from the Celtic tradition: ‘The Fairy Lover’, an old folk tale from the Isle of Lewis in Scotland and an Irish legend called ‘The Devil’s Violin’ from the Irish Traveller tradition.
During the isolation of COVID-19 lockdowns, Churcher found herself wandering the forest and singing these old folk songs.
“It really helped me deal with that, and I had just gone through a breakup and having these songs was almost a companionship of all of these people who had gone through the same thing for 500 years or more.”
Many of the songs are traditional ballads, old enough that their writers are unknown, but they have been passed on through oral tradition, Churcher said.
“One of the things I like to explore is the female perspective behind a lot of songs,” she said. “A lot of traditional songs were collected by men and sung by men, so it’s quite rare to find ones that are from a woman’s perspective.”
One of her favourites is ‘Hares on the Mountain’, a 19th Century English folk song with a comical take on traditional male and female roles. One of its verses goes “if all the young men were hares on the mountain, how many young girls would take guns and go hunting?”
She has been studying, as an apprentice, with a Scottish storyteller for two years. Whether it’s acting or music, performing is a big part of her life. “It’s something that’s truly part of me.”
Churcher is based in Nanoose Bay, where her parents live and where she stays when not travelling.
After the Parksville concert, she will stop in Victoria, Squamish, Vancouver and Bowen Island, before embarking on a tour in Germany this March.
As soon as she walked in the doors of Knox Heritage Church, built in 1911, she knew its atmosphere and acoustics would be perfect for her show.
“I hope lovers come out and I hope those who are perhaps in the throes of breakups, over whatever everyone’s going through,” she said. “I hope there’s something for everybody.”
The concert begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $22.63 and available online at Eventbrite.
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