HI-Arts Reflections: Maryann Frew

1 Aug 2012 in Highland, Music, Showcase

IN the first of a series of HI~Arts Reflections, John Saich charts the achievements of Inverness based singer-songwriter Maryann Frew and asks her about the role of HI~Arts in her story

MARYANN FREW is steadily becoming a respected and acclaimed artist at festivals and venues across Scotland, both as a solo performer and as singer and composer with acoustic ensemble Dorec-a-Belle.

SHE is a fine and prolific songwriter and an accomplished guitarist, often taking the instrument beyond the mere function of accompaniment, weaving intricate lines amongst mature and thoughtful lyrics with inspired tuning and finger-style techniques. Not the stuff of meteoric pop stardom perhaps, but then that was never intended.

Maryann Frew

Maryann Frew

Maryann left her native Ayrshire for Inverness as a teenager, but it was not until 2008 that she performed live in the Highland capital with her brother Alan at the city’s Hootananny venue in Church Street. It was an apt partnership, as both had been influenced in their younger years by their father’s own song writing and love of the blues and American artists including Ry Cooder, Steve Earle and The Band. Traces of these early, albeit unconscious, influences can certainly be heard in Maryann’s music today but despite having being part of such a musical family, Maryann’s own journey from home-based song writing to live gigs has been far from easy.

‘I wanted to be part of the music scene’ she explains, ‘but my goal was initially just to get over the anxiety and lack of confidence – not in the music, but in the performance.’ Shared gigs with brother Alan, she explains, were a supportive way of getting experience and included Belladrum Festival, Wizard Festival and The Bedford in London.

It was around this time that HI~Arts became aware of Maryann, quite by chance through a Myspace page containing some demo recordings with obvious potential. The timing was ideal. Just as Maryann was looking for a way to test reactions to her own music, HI~Arts was about to embark on a song writers development project that included a series of workshops, showcase gigs and a CD sampler. Even though studio recording was still a relatively unfamiliar world to her, Maryann recorded two original songs for the CD at Cava Sound in Glasgow (the same studio where one of her own early influences, John Martyn, recorded his 1986 album Piece by Piece).

Maryann then performed sets at two HI~Arts showcase gigs at the Ironworks in Inverness, whilst adding a string of solo festival appearances to her achievements and latterly working on her new band Dorec-a-Belle, with whom she appeared at the second of the HI~Arts events. She is adamant that the showcases, advice and occasional mentoring by HI~Arts have meant a great deal and that if the aim was to overcome anxiety about live performance, the support has been vital in achieving it.

‘It gave me confidence in understanding what other people’s opinions meant, and figuring out what was important’, she says. ‘HI~Arts was a crucial support, a kind of secure point to come back to when I was testing the water. It was also good to know it wasn’t associated with any other motive. I don’t think I would have been doing any of what I’m doing now without that’.

Maryann Frew and Liza Mulholland

Maryann Frew and Liza Mulholland (photo Dougie Brown)

The formation of the all-female quartet Dorec-a-Belle with Liza Mulholland, Bev Fraser and Imke Henderson has opened up a whole new range of opportunities for tours and festivals. The recently completed 5 track debut EP, recorded in Dingwall by Gareth Ince, has already been played on BBC Radio Scotland, and the band enjoyed a highly successful appearance at the Danny Kyle Open Stage at Celtic Connections earlier this year.

It’s no surprise then that Maryann is very upbeat about the future and about the band in particular. ‘We practice every week,’ she explains, ‘and we’re getting more and more into production. We’d love to record an album, and we keep working on a good strong live set. We really want to be business-like, and it would be great to set up a small tour, maybe in Germany or Sweden, as well as in the UK.’

In listening to these words it gives pause for thought to remember when Maryann brought her home demo mixes into the HI~Arts office for that first meeting she had played live only once, and was not sure if she could do it again. Over time the quality of her work has shone through and with a little peer support and unhurried determination she has successfully challenged and overcome those first-step uncertainties. If HI~Arts has been able to help, then it’s been a privilege for us.

© John Saich, 2012