If you haven’t heard of Betsy, The Anchoress and Estelle, you will soon. Dafydd Jones talks to three Welsh women set to be massive in 2017.
Make a note of these names as you’re going to hear a lot about these three women over the coming months. Introducing: Betsy, The Anchoress and Estelle Ios. All Welsh born, but destined to make an impact on the music scene well beyond the borders of the Principality.
“I’m really terrible with names; unless it’s Tom Jones or Shirley Bassey”
Betsy is fast becoming a household name. In September, her song Lost and Found was the most requested on Radio 2. And with endorsements from the likes of Huw Stephens, she is destined for success. Not afraid to take risks, she swapped a glamorous job with fashion house Balenciaga and relocated from Paris to an old caravan on a goose farm in rural Pembrokeshire. Hard graft and a little bit of luck got her the break which propelled her to the brink of stardom and a contract with Warner Brothers UK; home to Muse, Biffy Clyro and Cher (more on her later).
When I talk to Betsy on the phone she tells me that the signal may be poor as she’s using an old mobile, having broken her own on a drunken night out. She also apologises for her poor memory, which she assures me is not a product of her excess. “I’m really terrible with names; unless it’s Tom Jones or Shirley Bassey”. RedHanded: Talking of two Welsh singers known for their phenomenal voices - your rich and resonant voice has been compared to that of many a famous musician. How does that make you feel?
Betsy: The two I get are Cher and Annie Lennox and they are both inspirational for me. Annie Lennox particularly; she’s got these very big pop tunes which are also proper songs, combined with very iconic imagery which is what I strive for. I want to be able to combine pop tunes with real songs but also have artwork that’s got an edge that you’re going to remember in 20 years time. She, in that respect is a really big inspiration for me; I love those comparisons. What are your influences when it comes to your music and your look? I’ve always been inspired by a really big mix of music, Annie Lennox, Fleetwood Mac, Billie Holliday, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, all those big voices.
My main inspirations are my grandmother and my auntie Mary who are from The Valleys and are very opulent. My grandmother would sit there in pink velour tracksuits with diamante shoes and knuckle dusters all over her fingers and these giant nails, giant earrings and a giant cigarette on. She was incredible and my auntie Mary similarly. I’ve got a lot of strong women in my life and that’s what I also like to project; my look is a very empowered woman which I refer to as ‘trashy opulence’.
Any other influences?
I’m obsessed with dogs; I watch dog videos every morning to set me up for the day.
What kind of responses have you had to your music?
I was in New York recently and the taxi driver turned around and said ‘my 10-year-old daughter loves your music’.
What are you working on currently?
[Laughs] There might be an album, who knows; I’ve got a load of songs. I’m still writing and stuff, planning and rehearsing for gigs and videos. I’m always busy but every day is something different; I love it.
Catherine Anne Davies aka The Anchoress is a perfectionist. She’s a dynamic blend of musician, academic, and classically trained ballerina. Born in Glynneath, her recent debut album Confessions of a Romance Novelist was nominated for this year’s Welsh Music Prize. Her prodigious talent was recently recognised at the Progressive Music Awards where she triumphed in the Best Newcomer category.
Not content with a solo career, she has also been collaborating with musical luminaries like Bernard Butler (Suede) and Simple Minds.
I spoke to Catherine on the phone from her London home and she told me about her astounding year in music. You’ve been compared to Siouxsie Sioux and Patti Smith; how would you describe your sound? Catherine: Well, the Prog magazine best described it as Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love updated for the 21st century.
“I have zero accent at all which is my one sort of life regret”
Who are your influences? The Manics; they completely changed my life. The moment I discovered that band, it completely changed everything for me. I’m an unashamed massive fan. I take quite a lot of influence from artists who are more autonomous; auteurs like David Bowie, Prince, Kate Bush; people who are very much in control of what they’re doing in the studio. Not only in terms of the music but also the way they are making music, that kind of isolated, workaholic focus on putting tracks together. What have been your career highlights to date? There’s been things that have happened that have really absolutely stopped me in my tracks. For instance, getting asked to play with the Manics is probably one of those moments; somebody pinch me that this is really happening. How does it feel to be nominated for the Welsh Music Prize? There’s such a good music scene in Wales. It was such a shock when I found out I was nominated. You don’t put yourself forward for it, the jury picks the shortlist which is why it’s such a huge honour to be nominated. And that one regret? I have zero accent at all, unfortunately, which is my one sort of life regret, I obviously grew up with my grandmother, my mum and all my family having these beautiful accents. Find out more at iamtheanchoress.com
Estelle Ios is a member of not one, but two successful and critically acclaimed bands. The Zefur Wolves’ debut album was nominated for last year’s Welsh Music Prize whilst Baby Queens were included in the BBC Horizons programme and are tipped for stardom. With a new (untitled) Zefur Wolves album due out early next year and the recent release of Baby Queens’ self-titled debut long player, Estelle’s music career may be approaching its zenith. Joining her on this musical journey have been her sister Cara who plays bass for Baby Queens and partner Cian Ciaran (Zefur Wolves, Super Furry Animals). I met Estelle at her home in Grangetown, Cardiff. Quietly spoken, she is in person far removed from the sassy image of the Baby Queens. The Zefur Wolves and Baby Queens are so different; how would you describe each? Estelle: I would describe the Zefurs’ sound as ambient grunge slowcore stonedgaze fuzz. Adam Walton (Radio Wales) once tweeted that the Baby Queens sounded like TLC produced by Portishead; I would prefer to call it alternative R’n’B.
Do you find it confusing being in two bands with such different musical styles? I generally know instantly the vibe of a song as I write it. The tempo and way it’s sung dictates which band I think it would suit. It’s nice to have the option to do both. Baby Queens stuff is a bit more sassy than Zefurs stuff. I’d like to do a Baby Queens tune Zefur- style and maybe vice versa. Just to see the results. What are you currently working on? The second Zefurs album is already demoed and I played it to a friend who loved it. She said it made her want to be out in the sun in a party; it gave her a free feeling. With Baby Queens we are currently perfecting our live set with new songs off the album that we’ve never played live before - ready for a tour next year. How do you find being in a band with your sister? We’ve always known we would be in a band together since we were teenagers. Now it’s cool because we stuck to the plan and we have a massive laugh making music and playing gigs. We have different styles but generally share the same eye for detail and love melodies so creatively it works well for us.
“Know the truths of this world and be true to yourself”
Who and what are your influences? I’ve always been a fan of music but the only person I’ve felt refreshed by is Morrissey. I really like his solo stuff; he comes out with statements that make people uncomfortable. I think it’s good to be able to educate people through music. It’s nice when you’ve got something to write about that means a lot to you because it makes it more meaningful. What in particular do you want to educate people about in your latest collection of songs? I have a thing about ‘truth’. In a world full of lies and ego I think it’s so important to know your history. Know the truths of this world and be true to yourself. Some of the issues I’ve written about in the next Zefur Wolves album include the native American genocide and how America gets away with committing global crimes. We need to remember that we are all one and this earth is another star in the sky - look to our ancestors for ancient truths and information that people no longer value. I think ancestral medicines such as ayahuasca and 5-MeO-DMT are great tools to heal and connect people and should be a part of all societies. Find out more at twitter.com/baby_queens and twitter.com/zefurwolves