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Nick Passmore meets Harriet Bartlett

15-year-old Harriet Bartlett lives in South Shropshire, but she has already appeared at a number of prestigious festivals, including Sidmouth, Warwick, Bridgnorth and Bromyard, and won the BBC Radio Derby “In The Tradition” award. Furthermore she has shared the stage with Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham on two occasions, and Phil has even offered to produce and play on her debut CD.

Harriet has been playing the piano accordion since she was 8. I asked her what drew her to the accordion rather than any other instrument. “We went into Windband in Shrewsbury to get a video for Dad to learn the banjo. I saw all these accordions in the shop and thought “They’re pretty!”

Were there any accordion players in her family? “My mum’s granddad played it, but I never met him. But neither my mum or dad play music. It’s just me.”

She cites Karen Tweed, Ian Lowthian and Phil Cunningham as influences, as well as Sharon Shannon on the button accordion. “But I listen to lots of different types of music.” She also says guitarist Ian Carr has inspired some of her bass work. “His beats are really amazing!” Harriet’s repertoire leans towards Scottish music: “I love the variety in it”; but she also plays Irish music, French waltzes, and some of her own compositions.

Such was her passion for playing that Harriet started her own music session at The Sun Inn in Marton, but the departure of the landlord has put paid to that for the time being. She took her duties as session host very seriously. “Some people don’t want to be asked to play unless they’re ready to play; and some people do want to play, but you don’t ask them enough. And then people say “You haven’t played a tune yet!” because I’ve been so wrapped up with asking everybody else to play!”

At Sidmouth last year I saw Harriet holding court in one of the rooms at The Bedford with a young fiddle player. “That was Charlie Button. She lives in Nottingham. We don’t really meet up much because of the distance.” Charlie’s dad was running the Hobgoblin stall when they first met at a festival. (Harriet can’t remember which one!) “She was playing outside the stall. We’ve met up a couple of times at each other’s houses.” But there are no plans to perform together on a regular basis. “ I’m really enjoying playing solo. I’ve just recently stared singing too. At Warwick in July was the first time.”

What about the Cunningham Connection?

Harriet first met Phil Cunningham after a concert with Aly Bain in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and kept in touch by e-mail. She asked if she might play a couple of tunes before their concert in Newcastle-under-Lyme. “He said:"Oh I can go one better than that: you can come and play some tunes on stage with us." I was really excited about that!” After the show Phil offered his services as producer and accompanist, should she wish to make a CD. She hopes to get it recorded for next year in time for her festival appearances. She already has bookings for Holmfirth and a second appearance at Alcester and Arden, and plenty more to come.

Not only is her playing technically very impressive, but she plays with great feeling, and has an exceptionally mature attitude towards music: she is keen to develop her own style rather than just copying others. On top of all that she is remarkably modest.

As Karen Tweed puts it: “Harriet is an amazing player who has gone from strength to strength over the last few years. By sheer commitment and listening she has started to earn herself a terrific reputation. She’s a lovely lass too!”