Amy Helm, daughter of Levon Helm of The Band, after performing her Oran Mor Celtic Connections gig, spoke with The Fountain about her obvious influences growing up, but her joy of playing this festival along with her desire to study Scottish music.
TF: You performed at the Celtic Connections at the Oran Mor venue this year, which was an outstanding gig, but it’s not the first time you’ve performed for them, how did you first get involved?
When I first came to Celtic Connections I was invited by Roddy Hart, a young Scottish musician who wanted to do a tribute to my father and the Midnight Rambles, which was a concert series that my dad created in Woodstock, New York. Shortly after he passed away, they did that in tribute to him, here at Celtic Connections, and I was invited to be a guest singer on that. And I had actually just met one of the musicians who was involved in that, who said that they’ve kept it as a tradition. I guess they do it every year at the Royal Concert Hall where they do an eclectic Ramble style gig.
TF: And how do you feel it has evolved from six years ago, have you noticed many changes from playing back then?
I was unfortunately only here for a day so I didn’t get to see other music or experience a lot of the festival but I can see just from the booklet that it has gotten much bigger and broader. And it seems that the people I have spoken to, both from Scotland and from American musicians that are travelling here, think that it’s a wonderful opportunity for discovering new music and making connections here in Scotland.
TF: How do you find the Scottish crowd, what kind of reception do you tend to get, which makes you think right I am here at a Celtic Connections gig?
That was very palpable to me when we got up on stage, there was a warmth and an exuberance right off the jump that was surprising and exciting to sing to everybody. Not that American crowds don’t have that same exuberance but it felt a little more immediate with the Scottish crowd. I was surprised and flattered that people came out to see the show and seemed to be enjoying it.
TF: I noted from your gig that there was quite a mix of different genres there, you were speaking earlier about Americana and how you don’t like to get typecast, but there’s gospel, soul, country, and no doubt this stems from your influences, what did you grow up listening to?
My father and my mother are both musicians so I grew up really listening, like we all did, to their record collection at first and my dad was really deeply influenced by a lot of the early blues, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Jimmy Reed, and the forefathers of a real traditional blues American style were his influences. My mum loved all the singer/songwriters, Lauren Nyro and Joni Mitchell, and Brenda Russell and a bunch of different singers. So I would say that was my first influence and then when I was in high school I just became totally compelled with soul singers, Aretha Franklin, and then I discovered Irma Thomas, Ann Peebles and Mavis Staples and all of these singers, I just couldn’t get enough of it, the tone and the drive and the confidence and how they would tell a story. It just caught me at age fourteen and I’m not sure I’ve found anything I love as much as soul singers.
TF: During your time gigging and performing have you come across any Scottish musicians in your time, anyone you would recommend listening to?
I wish that I could say, that was my hope, that I come here and end up in tiny pubs all over the listening to music. That’s obviously something I plan some day on doing, is I wanna go through Scotland and Ireland and not perform. I just wanna go sit and listen, hook up with friends, get taken to the places, and just get that masterclass in singing because it has such a heartbreakingly beautiful tone and melody, the bits of Scottish music that I’ve heard, that I would love to study it more.
TF: What’s next for you, what’s on the agenda?
I am touring the States for the next few months and then I am looking to record another album, I am itching to writer and record something that will tell the next batch of stories that I can come up with.