It’s possible you’ve already seen Dutch folk singer Sophie Janna on this website. Nine years ago she sang on Small Houses‘ first session. Good things come to those who wait, they say, so a couple of months ago we met up in a beautiful 19th century church in Zuiderwoude and finally filmed her own session, including Thistle and gorgeous covers of Nick Drake and Anaïs Mitchell. Ter Schure (Sophie Janna’s surname) wrote an essay about her love and admiration for Mitchell, you will find that below: “Her lyrics made me feel seen, she gave words to feelings I never used to have words for, things I never had been able to explain to anyone else.”
So far, Sophie ter Schure has released one solo album and more recently an EP, and three albums with her folk duo The Lasses. You’ll also hear her sing harmonies on some recordings by Case Mayfield, Port Of Call, Blue Grass Boogiemen, Tim Knol and Jasper Schalks. Plenty for you to go and discover, and I’m excited about her future releases. On this session, she was joined by guitarist Janos Koolen en pianist Jarno van Es.
“Transported not just centuries, but millennia back into the very womb of human culture.”
“Growing up in the Netherlands, I didn’t know any folk singers: musicians who take songs that have been around for ages, and make them their own. I knew some people wrote their own songs, and some people played covers, but the latter always seemed to do their utmost to play the song exactly like the version they knew. But then I moved to Edinburgh and discovered that other breed of musicians.”
“The pub I used to go to was always full of amazing singers, few of whom wrote their own songs, but they definitely weren’t trying to mimic any other musician. They were just trying to sing old songs in the best way that they could. They would sometimes change phrasings, add new emphasis, perhaps change parts of the melody, lyrics or rhythm – all to breathe life into the music, to make all of us who were listening feel like the tale was experienced by the singer itself, as if we were right there when all of it happened. It was magic and I was hooked.”
“I had studied Greek and Latin in Amsterdam and I knew about oral traditions that would use rhyme and recurring sentences to help the teller of the tale remember what came next. The folk songs I heard in Edinburgh seemed to be made of that very same cloth and it felt like I was transported not just centuries, but millennia back into the very womb of human culture. Call me a romantic, but listening to that music I could see humans sitting by the fire, trying to make sense of love, loss, birth and death by spinning stories in an overwhelming world.”
“I’m always afraid I will disappoint someone.”
“When I left Edinburgh in 2006, I left with a USB-stick full of music and in the years to come I would try and make that music mine, by searching for different versions and piecing together stories so that they would make more sense to me. This is how I found Anaïs Mitchell: I was searching for a version of a song I knew from folk singer Nic Jones, called Ballina Whalers. Someone had uploaded a version of Anaïs singing that song in my very favourite town – Edinburgh – and she sang it with such conviction that it was almost a different song”
“I was stunned and I couldn’t stop listening to it and learning to sing it and it didn’t take long before I discovered that this woman sang her own songs as well as other people’s, which were just as full of life and punch and kick, so that each and every one had the power to floor me. The way the melodies would weave from low to high and back again, the picking patterns, the poetry of the lyrics, the way she used alliteration and middle rhyme and metaphor to make the stories seemingly come to life to all my senses, not just my ears. The Brightness and Hymns for the Exiled didn’t leave my cd player for months. Her lyrics made me feel seen, she gave words to feelings I never used to have words for, things I never had been able to explain to anyone else. And when I started writing my own songs, the scope of Anaïs Mitchell’s songs made me feel like no emotion was too small or too big, no tale too epic or too mundane to write about.”
“Tailor is one of the songs I never get tired of – trying to be someone I think the other person will like is something I’ve been struggling with forever. I’m always afraid I will disappoint someone. And I find it enormously comforting to sing about it in someone else’s words, to remember I’m not alone in feeling this way sometimes. If my songs can do that for even just one person, I’d feel like I’ve done what I came to do.”
Filmed & edited by Matthijs van der Ven.
Audio recorded & mixed by Matthijs van der Ven.
Zuiderwoude, The Netherlands
Jarno van Es
Thank you for watching and enjoying this session. You’ll probably like some other sessions from The Influences’ archive too, like this one by Anaïs Mitchell.