Bringing the country into the city for folk duo India Electric Company's new project

India Electric Company
India Electric Company

For the past couple of years Cole Stacey and Joseph O'Keefe have been a major part of Midge Ure's touring band – both acoustic and electronic versions.

But the multi-instrumentalist pair have also been carving their own career as folk act India Electric Company.

They released their debut album, The Girl I Left Behind Me in 2015 which saw them pick their way through a host of global styles, from gypsy to jazz and Argentine tango.

However they are now two EPs into a planned trilogy that explores contrasting themes of city and country focusing on traditional music of England and Scotland. First came the city-inspired EC1M last May, and that has now been followed by the Seven Sisters EP.

Created in association also with the EFDSS (English Folk Dance and Song Society), Seven Sisters is a body of work built around using traditional instruments and tunes in contemporary ways. Drawing on Northumbrian tunes, the great song collectors of the twentieth century and WH Auden’s Age of Anxiety, it is a record that fuses folk references with contemporary arrangements.

'Aside from the little launch we did, we haven’t had the chance to tour with these songs at all,' Cole tells The Guide.

'We’ve been doing these shows with Midge for a while, which have been amazing, but it’s really nice to do our own shows again, and play some of album tracks and some of the songs that you can’t do in a support set.

'We were working through some of the songs the other day looking at what we want to play, and it’s like you’re starting again with the songs. How can we get the good bits off of the records and play them live with just two people?

'I like the challenge of that – it’s hard trying to maintain the integrity of what you’ve done, and replicating it.

'Obviously it leads to a bit more space, and a sparser arrangement live, but then I can get to the nitty-gritty of the song and the melody and I think that's actually when we find whether it’s a good song!

'So many time we record something and I think it’s the best thing we’ve ever done, but it just doesn’t work live, and conversely there are songs that kind of surprise us and people come away going: "Wow, I got what you were trying to say there, which I couldn’t on the record," which is interesting and a lovely part of playing live. I love that connection with the audience.'

Work has begun on the third EP, but it could be a while before their fans can hear it.

'We set out to do this as a trilogy 18 months ago, and we wanted to explore things without the constraints of an album, and develop in certain ways.

'The third one is slowly but surely being constructed, but I have no idea when it’s going to be coming out. Probably not until the autumn.'
And Cole hints it could lean to their 'globalist inclinations.'

'We’ve both got a lot of love for and influences from eastern European folk music. This last one was heavily focused on English and Scottish folk really. Maybe there will be a little bit more of a nod to music from other countries.

'But, at the same time, we said what we really want to do is write some good songs. Sometimes you lose sight of that.

'We’re going to keep exploring and that’s the beauty of an EP, hopefully to learn a lot more. There’s a pressure about doing an album, we did that with the first one and it was great, but we’ve really tried to hone in and learn new skills, in specific areas.

'We’ve had a lot of people say what’s the point? Why don’t you just put two EPs together and call it an album. That’s well and good, but that’s kind of to miss the point. If we do an album, I want it to a proper album, something you put on and listen to it all the way through and it takes you on a journey. I know that’s a bit pretentious, but I don’t want a CD with 12 singles on it, that’s not what we’re about.'

The support from the EFDSS gave the duo the chance to concentrate on researching the music and its history.

'We approached them and said we have this concept. For this body of work we really wanted to do some proper research and look into it – into what was written 300 years ago and putting our own contemporary spin on it, but it’s amazing how much of what was written then is still relevant today.

'They [EFDSS] were great and they support artists like us so well, it makes a massive difference.

'They’ve been a huge help, they’ve got the Cecil Sharp Library, and this huge body of folk music. To be able to spend time without any of those constraints, to research and learn so much was an amazing opportunity. It enabled us to record in a space which we wanted to record in  rather than sitting in a bedroom.

They recorded most of the EP in Sutton House, a National Trust property in Hackney.

'The whole point of the project was to try and capture a space, which is what we did. It physically enabled us to be able to go to Sutton House and say can we hire out the room and record there? And I hope on the record it’s not just reflected as song, but it has that imprint on there, which I think is really nice.

'It was weird being in London because you could be anywhere, in north Devon in this old country estate or something, but you’re not, it’s this townhouse in Hackney.'

And what of their relationship with Midge?

'He’s got his orchestrated album out, but he’s very kindly asked us to join him for his Band Electronica tour, so we’re doing that with Human League  later in the year year and we’re going abroad in March to Holland, Belgium, a few shows like that.

'It is funny, people ask how do you do these two completely different things – you’re playing electronic '80s synth music, and then you’re playing contemporary folk music, but at the end of the day, a song is a song.

'You don’t stop learning. Any time he asks if we want to do some shows, we’re delighted.

'I love wearing a black polo neck these days – I never did that before! I’m a new man.'

So he's not tried to take them down the Visage route of Kabuki-style make-up, then?

'I’m not sure the folk world is ready for that…' Cole laughs. 'New-folk-mantic?'

Tuppenny Barn, Southbourne

Saturday, February 17