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Young musician Harriet Bartlett has her head screwed on. A Danny Kyle Award winner at Celtic Connections 2003 and subsequent Greentrax recording artist, the teenaged accordionist has quickly earned quite a reputation for herself on the UK folk scene. She's keeping her feet firmly on the ground however, as Dave Haslam discovers.
As a child Harriet Bartlett's folk-loving parents would often take her to festivals, where she had her first inkling that she might like to be a performer. "I used to sit looking up at the stage thinking I'd love to be up there performing. I knew I wanted to be up there, but I didn't know in what guise."
On her eighth birthday, her parents gave her the accordion she'd been pestering them for since she'd spotted it in a local music shop. Understandably reluctant to part with the two hundred pounds that it cost, her parents thought, not unreasonably, that it might just be a childish whim; especially since Harriet's main reason for wanting said instrument was that it "looked pretty." Nine years later, the Bartletts can relax in the knowledge that their money was well spent, as the now seventeen-year-old is being hailed as one of the most talented young musicians currently making her mark on the folk scene.
Five years of classical training honed Harriet's technique, and workshops with Karen Tweed and Ian Lowthian, as well as active participation in the local sessions soon had her ready for her first major public performance, at 2001's Sidmouth Festival. She confesses to being nervous beforehand, though that was short-lived.
I'd never performed in front of such a big audience, but once I got out there I really enjoyed it and as soon as I came off I wanted to go back on again."
When she was fourteen, Harriet introduced herself to Phil Cunningham at a gig. They stayed in contact via e-mails and when Harriet asked him if she might play a couple of tunes at one of his gigs with Aly Bain, Phil magnanimously invited her to join them for the encore. Indeed Phil was so impressed with Harriet's playing that he offered to produce her first CD, when she decided to record it. "I wanted to do one right there and then," she laughs.
In October 2003, Harriet, along with Ed Boyd of Flook (guitar), Mark Maguire of Deaf Shepherd (bodhran) and Phil Cunningham (cittern, piano, whistle) recorded Eyes Wide Open. A stunning debut by anyone's standards, it was released in early 2004 to critical acclaim and heralded the arrival of a major new talent. In addition to her impressive playing, the album also features Harriet, the singer. Amazingly, she only began to sing three years ago, at the behest of fellow musician Keith Donnelly.
He said that, much as he enjoyed watching me perform, forty-five minutes of solo accordion playing was a bit much and that I should sing. I tried a song at a sound-check and asked the engineers for his honest opinion... and he told me he'd heard worse, so that was that," she explains.
A recent session for Andy Kershaw's radio show introduced Harriet to a whole new audience and, having been booked for several festivals in 2005, it looks as though the next twelve months could prove to be Harriet's year. With such a busy schedule, it's no surprise that her studies have been disrupted (the sixth-form college she was due to attend didn't take kindly to her having a week off to record her album), but she is studying accountancy at night school, so she will have something to fall back on in the unlikely event that her music career goes pear-shaped.
"It's also very handy if you're self-employed," she reckons. And she's not wrong.