El embraces her family's musical roots in new project

A mainstay of the Portsmouth DIY scene, El Morgan is back with the most personal project of her career as she embraces the music of her childhood for the first time.

Saturday, 2nd June 2018, 4:49 pm
Updated Saturday, 2nd June 2018, 4:52 pm
El Morgan

El was raised to perform from an early age, often brought out to sing and play at parties by her country musician father, a man she cites as her earliest musical influence.

After rejecting this influence during her more rebellious teens, she has now used this project to embrace her early musical education.

'My dad was a guitarist and had a huge influence on me growing up,' says El. 'He was teaching my sister (artist Angela 'Ooberla' Morgan) and I to sing harmonies from the age of four and used to bring us out to perform at parties.

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'Though I hated this for a time during my teens and was away too much after that, when he died a few years ago, I had a lot of regret that I could no longer learn from his amazing style.

'This album is so different from what I've done before as I've not been trying to get away from my musical upbringing, but have fully incorporated it into what I do.'

El Morgan and The Divers combine the darker side of folk, achingly beautiful country and a hint of something heavier.

The band is made up of Katie Gatt, Jason Cavalier and Tom Baker from power-pop band Personal Best (who El also plays with), Gabriel MacKenzie from Haters and Rosalind Asprey from Matagot.

'It's kind of a DIY indie-punk-scene super-group and they're all the best musicians I know at their particular instrument. Hearing them together is something else!

'I arranged the whole record and wrote the majority of the parts, but their skill meant they could play the parts I sang pretty much immediately, recreating the sound I had in my head. They've all taken what I wrote and made it their own adding their own personal flair and contributed ideas as we've gone along. I'm so proud to be able to say their my band.

'Both bands are hilarious to be involved with. We're lucky enough to be really good friends so there is a lot of laughing involved. Touring is extremely entertaining.'

The singer-songwriter has drawn comparisons to the likes of PJ Harvey, Neko Case and Laura Marling. In 2017 she was the sole UK support for Lagwagon frontman Joey Cape and has previously performed alongside Lucero, William Elliott Whitmore, Austin Lucas and Ben Marwood among others. She is regularly asked to guest vocal for other artists and makes up one-third of the beautiful harmonies in Dear Everyone with Kelly Kemp and Helen Chambers. 

El has been performing some of the songs from the new project for several years when she goes out as a solo act. 'But,' she says, 'I wanted a heavier band sound to get the level of intensity of feeling the record is concerned with.

'Everyone in the band is a songwriter in their own right and we all have numerous projects. This one is mine '“ the one I don't have to make any artistic compromises on and it's a huge privilege that everyone has got behind it so enthusiastically.'

As well as playing and recording herself, El is also the owner of Southsea Sound recording studio on Albert Road in Southsea, which she says has been 'a huge bonus' in making the new record, which is due for release later this year.

''But it's also slowed the process down. We've fitted around paying clients as we're still in our first two years of a business which been excitingly successful, but that means the record took longer than anticipated. The producer Tim Greaves is in high demand!

'It has allowed us more time than we would have been able to afford elsewhere though.

'The studio was built with money my dad left me after he died and this record is a culmination of so much work '“ building and writing '“ ultimately inspired by him, so I imagine he would be fairly chuffed were he around today.'

The band is returning for the hometown gig at the end of a 10-date tour that has seen them travel as far as Sunderland, Swansea and Falmouth. In April there's another 11 dates, including three in Scotland.

And as much as she is proud of and wants to help the local scene, getting out on the road has been paramount to El.

'I've been performing solo live and then touring all over the UK for about 15 years.'

'I love the Portsmouth music scene, but as a woman playing on my own there were limited show opportunities. I started promoting through Southsea DIY with some friends about 11 years ago to promote more diverse lineups where we could.

'This eventually led to being asked to run a stage at Southsea Fest which we did for six years, always promoting women in music where we could. I have found getting paid as a musician impossible in Portsmouth if I want to play music on my own terms. I have to go outside the city for that. Thankfully I'm able to do that.'

The Wave Maiden, Southsea

Monday, February 12