In celebration of International Women’s Day this Friday 8th of March, we asked one of our favourite singer-songwriters if they would be open to writing a piece surrounding women in music. Thankfully, for us, they liked the idea and made the creative their own. In this Op-Ed piece Caoilfhionn Rose writes about the power of music, and how one chance overhearing of a song, on the radio, led to a profound connection that’s been crucial to her development as an artist.
When I start to think of women in music who inspire me and who are brilliant role models, pioneers, players, singers, song-writers, strong figures, storytellers – a surge of names come to mind. Wading through this cloud of female musicians; near and far, past and present, working in a wide variety of genres, I would like to reflect on one in particular who has had an especially big impact on me.
You are surely familiar with the feeling when you hear a piece of music that completely stops you in your tracks, leaving you speechless with its resonance and relevance. Lump in your throat, eyes wide, awestruck – that’s how Polly Paulusma’s song ‘Perfect 4/4’ affected me when I first heard it on the radio back in 2008.
It was a striking moment that I can still recall. I was sat in the car with my Dad driving back from my Gran’s house. It was late and BBC Radio 4 murmured away in the background. Our ears pricked up when some beautiful and powerful piano chords found their way through the fuzzy radio. Then this lullaby-like voice, with a wistful and reassuring tone began to sing. It was ’Perfect 4/4’ a sorrowful song about Polly’s father who was seriously ill in hospital and her hope for his recovery. It was particularly poignant for us as a close family member of ours was unwell in hospital at the time. Polly’s lyrics poetically paint the scene of her Dad tangled up in wires surrounded by medical equipment:
“Wires fan before you,
They draw you
In deep troughs and sharp peaks of green”
It matched our own experience and really affected me at the time. It evoked feelings of melancholy but I also found it soothing and comforting.
Dad and I loved the song so much that as soon as we got home we looked up Polly’s name on the internet and ordered her album ‘Scissors in My Pocket.’ The whole collection of songs helped me find a lot of solace. The album is filled with atmospheric and thought provoking songs. The stories within them are imagery filled and the arrangements of the music are colourful and distinctive.
I have kept up with Polly’s music and even got to meet her six years ago. I entered a competition for the chance to perform a song of mine with Polly at her gig in Manchester’s Night & Day Cafe. To my surprise Polly chose a sketchy, early song of mine called ‘Daydreamer,’ which I had written on the piano. It was one of my first performances and Polly was so enthusiastic and gave me so much encouragement. It is still a really special memory and became a pivotal point in my musical development.
I was only 15 years old when I first heard ‘Perfect 4/4’ on the car radio. At that time in my life I was dreaming about becoming a musician but I didn’t have much confidence. From that first moment, through performing with her, Polly’s music has been an inspiration and her enthusiasm for my music has been a rock for me to keep building my musical career.
Polly continues to be an innovative and proactive musician. She has released several albums of folk-tinged tunes with poetic, metaphor-filled lyrics. She is currently working on ‘Pivot’. It is a two-year-long project and involves releasing a new original song every month to a ‘club of music lovers’ who have subscribed. As a subscriber you receive a digital download, details of the songs and accompanying lyrics. Polly explains this collection of songs ‘examine our daily pivoting roles as child, parent, lover, friend, grandchild, grandparent, and everything in between.’ Five years in the making, it’s been a very collaborative project.
If you would like to find out more, click here.
The songs produced for the ‘Pivot’ project will be released as an album in 2021.
Caoilfhionn Rose’s debut album ‘Awaken’ is out now via Gondwana Records.