By Graham Chalmers
Singer and songwriter Vicky Whelan is as much a ‘hidden gem’ as Almscliffe Crag – and nearly as much a force of nature.
Boasting a haunting blend of fragility and strength, the latest EP by this talented ex-convent girl and her band Dragonfly Tattoo is one of the best things I’ve heard all year.
And, by the way, they’re local - you may have seen them playing in Harrogate’s Blues Bar or Knaresborough’s Mitre.
If you haven’t, may I tell you that Dragonfly Tattoo’s music comes very close in both tone and quality to the two greatest female musical forces in Britain in the past 30 years – Kate Bush and PJ Harvey.
Recorded mostly live in a church crypt by Hope and Social’s Rich Huxley, the Closer to the Sun EP is a brooding, sensual, ethereal, moaning, existential thing of wonder.
Amazingly, music is only a part-time affair for Vicky, who somehow packs in being a mother and a West Yorkshire school teacher into her life less ordinary - something which she acknowledges couldn’t possibly happen without the support of her family.
Unsurprisingly, this smart, sensitive, strong woman doesn’t really have time for small talk.
She said: “I never stop. I never watch TV and I don’t want to. I want to use every single bit of energy and every opportunity I get to create music.”
The new EP’s five deliciously sung tracks are a major step forward from Dragonfly Tattoo’s debut EP, Songs of Love and Murder – and that was pretty good as it was.
Crunchy guitars, atmospheric cello, melodic piano, Vicky puts the impressive results of just two days locked inside Hope and Social’s crypt down partly to the studio itself - and the expert engineering of the Hope & Social’s guitarist.
“The sound was absolutely gorgeous in tone. The atmosphere in the studio was great with fairy lights dotted all around the church’s arched ceilings, though there’s no heating in there. It’s more real than the last EP. Rich has captured the band’s live energy brilliantly.”
As if life wasn’t complicated enough for Vicky, the version of Dragonfly Tattoo that made the new recordings is not the same line-up you will see her playing with now.
But she’s accustomed to over-coming obstacles.
“I am a modern women but I felt subsumed by the experience of motherhood. It was such a tidal wave of feelings. I felt like I’d been transformed into someone from the 1920s or before.”
If the beautifully crafted songs of this modern woman of the moors feel in touch with life’s deepest mysteries and meanings, that’s no accident.
“I feel very strongly connected to nature and to the earth. I experience nature as a force which mirrors our own lives. Ultimately, it’s all about love and passion and death.”
To hear tracks from the new EP, visit .www.dragonflytattoo.co.uk
Vicky Whelan and Dragonfly Tattoo play The Regency in Harrogate on Friday, July 18.