LONDON Fiddle player and songwriter Bella Hardy has been in the vanguard of the British folk revival of the last few years, with six albums under her belt and numerous award nominations, including BBC Radio 2's Folk Singer of the Year.
Hardy has been hailed as a talent to watch since her 2007 debut album "Night Visiting", and in 2012 she won BBC Radio 2's Folk Award for Best Original Song for "The Herring Girl".
Far from resting on her laurels, however, she is planning a tour of her 30 favorite venues to mark her 30th birthday next year and celebrate her work to date before beginning afresh.
"I've always been the youngest in all the things I've done," she told Reuters by phone from a Stafford churchyard while on her Christmas tour. "As a teenager I was the youngest in a band called The Pack. My nickname was 'Baby Pack'."
Turning 30 seemed like a good time to take stock with a tour that would allow her to revisit old material, she said. "I'll just pick some of my favorite songs and tie a ribbon round them. Then I can look to what's coming next."
Her Folk Singer of the Year nomination comes on the back of her well-received album "Battleplan" with her self-penned works growing in confidence and emotional depth. And although Hardy has no plans to release an album next year, she is already relishing writing new material.
"I've been doing a lot of experimenting with different sounds and different approaches to the way I make my music. It's lovely just to have the freedom and time to develop."
Hardy works with a changing lineup of musicians to create a different feel and tone for her arrangements, from the stripped-back minimalism of some earlier work to recording and performing with a full backing band, The Midnight Watch.
She is on tour with long-time collaborator Scottish guitarist Anna Massie and Chris Sherburn on concertina.
In March, Hardy will join seven other musicians for the Elizabethan Session, a joint commission between Folk by the Oak, an annual music festival at Elizabeth I's childhood home Hatfield House, and the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
"We'll have a 10-day period in a house together and write a collaborative set of music," said Hardy. "I don't think we'll come out of it with a set of madrigals. We'll probably have a huge mix of different things."
The group won't get to stay at Hatfield House, but Hardy is working on ways to get into the mood: "I really like cooking so I will have a little delve into the history of Elizabethan food and I have half a plan to spend 10 days cooking and baking. Maybe I'll come out of it with a recipe book!"
Here's what else she had to say about the influences on her song writing and how her work has evolved.
Q: You grew up in the village of Edale, Derbyshire. How did that inform your song writing?
A: I'm from the Dark Peak in the Peak District. My second record was called "In the Shadow of Mountains", which refers to the location as I lived right underneath Kinder Scout. But it was also about some of the shadows we live under in our lives. I'm very much influenced by the hills and valleys around me and the skyline I love, and that does come across very heavily in my earlier music.
Q: "Battleplan" is a mixture of traditional songs like "Yellow Handkerchief" and your own compositions like "Maybe You Might". How did you go about assembling the material for that?
A: I have a handbag full of notebooks and I write things down as I go. Then when it comes to making the record I go through my notebooks and find a theme that ties it together. It's very much like jigsaw puzzles and Agatha Christie.
I try not to see a difference between my own material and the traditional songs. All those songs have been written by somebody, it's just they've had years to evolve and round off the sharp edges, which is what makes them so strong.
Q: Are you drawing more on your own experience now?
A: I think in order to be an honest creator of anything you have to put yourself out there. For years I'd taken personal lyrics and found protagonists from a traditional story to hide myself behind, but with "Battleplan" I didn't always do that. It's important so that people can connect to your music and have a shared experience.
(Reporting by Claire Milhench; Editing by Michael Roddy and Hugh Lawson)