Harem Scarem:
not pop on purpose

An interview by Tom Knapp,
October 2004

Harem Scarem doesn't do pop on purpose. But the mostly Scottish quintet has definite pop influences overlaying a traditional base -- particularly in its choice of vocal arrangements.

The band, which formed in Edinborough around Christmas 2000, is preparing to record its second CD. Their pop-trad blend, mixed with youthful enthusiasm and talent, certainly swayed audiences at Celtic Colours 2004 in their favor.

Sarah McFadyen (fiddle, vocals) says Harem Scarem's distinctive sound wasn't intentional -- and their first album, Let Them Eat Fishcake, is "slightly disjointed" as a result.

"It just kind of amalgamated," she said. "It wasn't really a defined noise that we put together. We just decided it was time to get something out. But we weren't really defined yet."

Sarah credits the people, not any particular plan, with establishing the band's style.

"It might sound a bit sentimental, but whomever you play with, it changes the way you play," she said. "We're all influenced by certain types of music that we don't have in common."

"We all have different influences and interests in music," agreed Inge Thomson (accordion, vocals, flute, percussion). "We all play in different bands as well."

Harem Scarem has "dug quite deep" with its arrangements, Inge said. "We make it quite complicated ... but it's all for a purpose."

Bandmates sometimes have very different ideas on how to put those arrangements together, Sarah said. "We have quite a lot of arguments. If four people like it, then the fifth person doesn't."

Besides Sarah and Inge, the band is Nuala Kennedy (flute, vocals), Eilidh Shaw (fiddle, vocals) and Ross Martin (guitar). Initially, said Sarah, "we tried to please everyone because it's easier to gig when everyone's happy." But gradually, Sarah said, it all came together for them -- in part because of what they aren't.

"None of us are twee," she said with a laugh. "Or, we try really hard not to be twee. ... We just play what we feel."

The band is entirely from Scotland, with the exception of Kennedy, who hails from the Irish coast. They range in ages from 27 to 30.

For Sarah, performing at Celtic Colours is a bit of a homecoming. "I was here nine years ago," she said. "I actually attended the Gaelic College. But I haven't been back since."

Some members of the band have been there more recently, however, performing with the bands Daimh and Fine Friday at previous festivals.

"I'd like to say the next album will be more mature, but I don't think that's quite appropriate," Sarah said, flashing an elfin smile. "But I can tell you it's going to be amazing."

"It's going to be quite colorful," Inge agreed. "I hope this one you can listen to over and over and over again."

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 20 November 2004

[ visit the Harem Scarem website ]