Sian Evans: KOSHEEN
In Conversation with Alan Dearling
Web site: https://sian-evans.com/
Alan: Many thanks, Sian, for agreeing to have this chat.
I’m interested in your views on the Old Skool Traveller festies through to the EDM scene today, your days in Kosheen, and what you are up to at the moment? But, we can also discuss just about anything else that you fancy!
Alan: To start the ball rolling, can you tell me a bit about your childhood and the influence of your parents’ and grandparents’ music? I think that was around Cardiff…
Sian: I grew up on a terrace opposite a mountain in Risca.
Our end of terrace was in constant shade but we spent all day out in the weather, scaling mountains making dens and picking (and eating) wild berries. Tubs empty we returned home black tongued and innocent. “There wasn’t none mam!”
We were afforded so much freedom then.
I feel this lockdown is tougher on us latchkey generation, who were only visible at meal times, than it is on the ‘helicopter nanny culture,’ young people live with today.
The only order was at my Grandparents’, where we would eat bread, cheese and an apple pie on Sundays, birthdays and Christmas, by LAW, then to do a ‘turn’ in the front room.
My cousin Meryl and I would do something from ‘Grease’, my mum would sing ‘Dandelion daisy and daffodil’, and cousins would play anything with strings, whilst auntie Amy, bolt upright on the piano would accompany … until it came to my solo.
My Taid (Welsh for grandad) was a Farrier at the pit and had done his fair share of underground with the pit ponies. He would go to work in a suit, a Proud man. He was the Founder and conductor of the Aber Valley mail voice choir. He also taught piano for decades to the children of the Aber Valley for pennies. Some to concert standard. He didn’t believe that music should be reserved for those who could afford to pay for it. He taught piano until he was in his 80s for 50 pence an hour.
He would proudly accompany me whilst I sang Welsh songs and some Haydn, which I would get so anxious about I would develop tonsillitis, but he was so proud of me. He taught me to sing and more importantly, to love music.
I left home on the end of my dad’s boot two weeks before my GCSE and moved into a Biker Squat in centre of Cardiff. I sold flowers in the street, sang at every jam and became embroiled in Cardiff’s musical culture.
Life was a lot simpler in those days, I rented a two-bed house with sometimes up to seven musicians and artists, all crammed in playing music, eating lots of toast and cooking lentil curry together! We would sit up all night playing music, talking and dreaming our futures.
Alan: And I believe you learned a lot of the songs from those artists and performed them live with a lot of other musicians. Can you tell me a bit about those early days?
Sian: I was cutting teeth. Watching all the artists around me.
The internet was a baby at this time so we went to gigs. Learned from the greats. Leanne Harding was my shining light, and when she retired, I humbly took her gig in ‘Mike Harries & The Root Doctors’. These were big shoes to fill so I stepped up.
In one band, early on, I was backing singer, I was struggling with hearing myself in the monitor!! I complained, only to be told: “ You ain’t here to hear yourself, you are here to shake your ass and look pretty…”
This was a turning point for me.
Alan: You were heavily immersed in the Rave and Party scene…can you share some memories of some of the people, artists, places?
Sian: If we knew then how much freedom we had in comparison to today! We were wild and free. We would take sound systems into the woods and within a few hours there would be hundreds of people from all walks of life, all cultures, all dancing under the stars.
The electronic music revolution was just what we needed to empower us, and we became more politicised and active than ever.
Having been kicked out of my family home, and running for my life, I left the city and took to the hills.
I found the family I was in search of in the travelling community. None of us had very much, but what we had we shared. I was already a mum and struggled to provide for Yves alone, but within this community I had support from some amazing life changing people who supported me and my son Yves and gave us the confidence to live the way we wanted to.
Far from idyllic, it was tough, but I was accepted.
Here is where I really began writing. It was to be a while before those songs found their place but living with people as colourful as the nature we lived in was inspirational.
Out of this bunch of raggle taggle ravers came producers, musicians, dancers, politicians, revolutionaries, acrobats, circus, festivals, record labels, a whole industry of pioneers and visionaries.
We would not have the festival culture we do if it weren’t for these star gazers.
I think that is what I remember the most. Feeling the energy of a collective high and the new found confidence in what we were capable of.
Alan: I’ve read on your web site that you had a baby and opted out of the music scene for a while, or, weren’t you fully into it back then? I know (or knew in some cases) a number of the original ex-Convoy crew who set up their tipis and yurts in Talley Valley in Wales. Was that where you lived with your baby?
Sian: My son and I lived in all sorts, all over.
I remember the first night we stayed in our tipi. He was painted up as an Indian and so excited. Until he realised my firewood was damp and my fire skills not quite tipi ready!! .. he hung out of the bottom flap, eyes streaming, “I don’t think I want to be an Indian any more Mam.”
They were a plump, happy, dirty tribe of kids, horses roamed free as did they! The foal when he crashed out in the sun made a shady cwtch (Welsh for cubbyhole with a cuddle!) for them to snooze and chatter, all leaning on his belly.
Alan: I was involved in the Big Green Gatherings that grew out of the green fields at Glasto, and knew a lot of the early new Travellers, whose economy was orbital around festies. I lived on a narrow boat in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s…and happened to be moored at Upton-on-Severn when the Castlemorton rave happened. I cycled the four or five miles over – I was actually meant to be meeting some of my Traveller friends at one of their events which was prevented from happening by the police. I have to say I didn’t enjoy the constant, incredibly loud beats produced from Spiral Tribe. Or, the effect that the noise and behaviour of some of the punters had on the local communities. Really alienating. It also helped to make a bad Criminal Justice Bill worse. Any thoughts?
Sian: I have to agree. I loved the ethos of what we were doing, the energy and the open door that our parties offered disenchanted youth from all over, but there are always elements that take it too far. Or try to take over. There are always gonna be party-ers who take it too far and the clean up after these events just got messier and messier. I remember when you would be sent off site if you sold booze at a rave, but there were darker elements at work.
Eventually the tribes’ reputation got the better of the scene and the majority of original members took off to Europe, I believe.
However, as I said before, out of that chaos came some incredible people organisations and businesses. Cut from that same psychedelic cloth.
Alan: In the 1990s I got to better know members of Bedlam, Circus Warp, the Exodus Collective and the Spirals (and earlier on, Archaos) and their music, and started to enjoy the ‘events’ – run by the techno tribes and dance collectives who travelled across Europe and also the scene in Goa. It was at this time I put together the book ‘No Boundaries: new Travellers on the road outside of the UK’ about the post Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994…and ‘Youth Action in the Environment’, with lots of inputs from the Road Protestors. Then, later, I published ‘The Battle of the Beanfield’. What are your memories of that time?
Sian: You sound like one of my lot! I bet we have met before…!! Steve Bedlam is an inspiration.
I was at Twyford (anti-road protest camp), took me an age to hitch there with my son in a buggy! I lived at Kings Hill for a while and lower rocks where I met many of the Donga (tribe) who were instrumental in many of the gatherings and actions I attended. Newbury blew all of our minds, and brought us all together again with a sense of purpose and force. I think back to the wide-eyed optimism on our dirty faces as we shone thru the dirt with our one motive to save the planet.
We were just lighting the touch paper. Since then our issues have not left the public consciousness, never more than now.
Alan: Dance, disco and trance have been part of the music scene all my life. Bands like Hawkwind and Quintessence used repetitive beats, and reggae sound systems offered drum ‘n’ bass for dancehall and sound-clashes. Frankie goes to Hollywood and the KLF brought techno beats to the masses and I guess that posses like Leftfield, Chemical Brothers, Zion Train and Faithless refined it. DJs joined with live artists. Are these part of your induction into Dance culture(s)?
Sian: Can I say it’s a bit unfair to throw all that music at me at once! Each has its own experience and story… One at a time please…x
We would get stoned and listen to Brian Eno, Gong, Hawkwind, Cocteau Twins… then came the mighty ORB.. Blew me away!!
Acid was an important genre for me. The timing and the space was, for some reason, why to this day, I love it! I gravitated more towards the jungle groove as I am into hip hop.
My son’s dad lived in Bristol. I felt a pull to the city, enchanted by Portishead, Tricky, Massive Attack and Smith and Mighty, and the hum of the underground.
Electronic music creeped into the world then went OFF.
It was a free for all, NEW MEDIUM, everyone is welcome.
I found it very natural to fit melody over the D&B tempo, attending ruff neck ting parties and kidnapping the Mic off the Mcs and singing sweet little bars that seemed to go down a treat.
This is where I met Markee.
Alan: How would you describe the music you produced with Kosheen?
Sian: I remember it was magic. I cycled over to the Ledge, a massive house shared by all the Bristol scene.
I had a housing association flat opposite Ajax, the other side of town.
I was preparing for some pointless vocal over heavy bass.
What I was given was something quite different. Strings in swell, emotive, dynamic, I was at home.
The songs fell out of me. Something new was born in me.
The Welsh folk songs of my childhood, the Americana of my youth, the hip hop and the rave all had somewhere to go.
Alan: I have all five of the Kosheen albums, from ‘Resist’ to ‘Solitude’ and the ‘One Night’ Kosheen DJ mixes. At times it is very deep drum ‘n’ bass, timbres of tribal beats, and sometimes closer to pop and disco… How do you see that process of ‘evolution’ and the development of your own writing?
Sian: There is a big story here.
I poured everything into ‘Resist’ and ‘Kokopelli’ albums. Like a top off a bottle.
I felt free in the studio.
When we got signed I begged the guys not to sign our publishing away… we did!
It didn’t matter soon the blinding light of success was glaring and I was on the wheel.
Touring schedule was inhumane, no management, but the shows were breath-taking. I was in my element. Front woman on main stages, living my dream touching souls.
I was the only woman on the tour bus, separated from my son. I struggled with the schedule and my son struggled with the separation. Kicking off in school and being absent when I would call home. I was so worried about him. I couldn’t jump off the merry-go-round, it was the only option to continue to keep a roof over my son’s head…. If he was ever there!!
The single guys lived it up. I tried to keep up but it all started to break down.
I felt isolated and unsupported. We had some great crew but I wasn’t one of the guys. I was closed out. Exhausted and very lonely.
My drinking was crippling me but the performances were faultless.
When you write it’s a sacred space, you need to feel totally safe to do it. I didn’t feel safe. I stopped writing for a long time.
This, in my understanding, is why the music on ‘Solitude’ and ‘Independence’ is so different from the earlier works. I was still writing and was hungry to write, but the divide in the band was showing in the music.
I took my foot off the gas. I put my foot on a collaboration, with Dan Stein (DJ Fresh).
‘Louder’ with DJ Fresh went intergalactic…
I love a lot of the songs on the other 2 Kosheen works, I wrote them.
I didn’t have much say on how things were put together.
I raised more than once that the songs were getting thin. That we should stay with the Kosheen vibe.
Darren and Mark just didn’t think that was cool enough. Took it on a darker dubbier trend. I didn’t fully connect.
Alan: You are probably best known for the tracks, ‘Hide U’ and ‘Louder’ – both huge chart hits, especially ‘Louder’ with DJ Fresh. Did these hits open doors for Kosheen or did they create any tensions for the Kosheen members?
Sian: ‘Hide U’… is a lovely story.
The guys liked to have a chilli eating competition. They had made this loop. Like a Tango.
It was playing, they were eating chilli!
I just jammed the song like a mantra. I was thinking about how I wish I could protect my son from the world. He was getting bullied.
The guys scrambled over to the desk and hit record…
That’s how it happened, one take.
I remember being so excited about the collaboration with DJ Fresh. I told the guys, they snorted and fluffed feathers. They didn’t want to know. I had done a couple other collabs and they had mocked them.
I wanted to go out as Kosheen /DJFresh, but was advised not to by the band.
Alan: I’ve seen a lot of videos of Kosheen performing live and, more recently, of your unplugged shows. You seem to love your interaction with the audience…is that about right…are you missing it?
Sian: Where do I begin?
My Taid (Welsh for grandad) taught me how to pull your heart through your music. He also taught me to have eye contact. Believe in what you are singing, even if you don’t know what the words mean. Feel.
I also respect that each person there in front of me has invested in this experience and I will do my best to share it with them, and they will leave feeling lifted.
Alan: I recently reviewed Lady Gaga’s latest album, ‘Chromatica’. She seems like a complete chameleon, able to reinvent herself and work in almost any musical genre. From Edith Piaff to Pop Diva. Do you see any similarities with yourself?
Sian: We are Artists.
We are clowns and chameleon, all of us. I would like to think that we open a window for everyone to be whatever mood takes them for a couple of hours.
But then I am old fashioned x lol
Alan: In recent years, I sometimes feel that the DJ events create much more energy than live bands. Not all the time – I still love the smaller more edgy festies like Kozfest, Landjuweel, London Re-Mixed and Surplus. But when DJs like Raja Ram, Gaudi, the late (great) Andrew Weatherall, A Guy called Gerald, Eat Static and more, get the sounds banging and pump up the adrenalin in the audience…something ecstatic does seem to happen? How do you see the relationship between live musicians and djs?
Sian: I guess we all help each other.
If a DJ is playing your tunes you are gonna reach more people than you can physical, so we have a lot to be grateful for.
My life was changed by the artists you mentioned above
We have said goodbye to too many recently…
They live on in our music and in our hearts.
Personally I like to see a band. I love that human contact between the performers the music and the party.
Alan: Kosheen’s five albums are a considerable body of work. From darkness and underground sounds, jungle and pop, through to the exotic fringes of techno. Quite an achievement. Do you have a favourite Kosheen album? I’ll own up, I really like ‘Kokopelli’ and ‘Damage’!
I had a lot of songs written for ‘Resist’ album before I met Markee and Darren.
‘Kokopelli’ was when I felt I could call myself a songwriter, a far cry from the back-up singer with no monitors from the 80s!
Alan: I believe that Kosheen officially disbanded in 2016. But it is probably you, Sian Evans, who is best known for two skills. One, the strength of your song-writing and, two: your amazing, soaring vocal performances. You’ve always said that you can strip out the Kosheen bank of sounds and perform ‘stripped down’, virtually unplugged. You’ve been doing that in a series of live performances since 2016, but no solo album yet? I believe that you’ve been working on it? Here’s the link to some of your unplugged performances. They are really atmospheric: https://sian-evans.com/video/unplugged/
Sian: Ok, so at present I have recorded beautiful versions of so many tracks, some you wouldn’t think of.
I pulled some favours and got some incredible musicians together. Recorded 15 or 20 tracks acoustically, orchestrally.
Let’s just say it has been made very difficult for me to release this work.
Alan: You’ve also been collaborating with a number of other artists on their releases. What are some of your high points?
Sian: Ahh so many… x… collaboration is why we do it. It’s the best feeling.
Alan: Anyway, to end, a couple of more general questions. First up, what are you hopes and dreams for the future?
Sian: That we will be on a stage near you soon.
Alan: And, in the current (or, given Covid, recent) music scene, who are you most enjoying watching/listening to at the moment, both in terms of live work, and on record?
Sian: Buddhist healing mantra, Audio Books, Stevie Wonder.
Alan: I love the huge buzz and electricity that is generated at major festival events like OZORA, but I also love the intimacy and camaraderie of smaller, more intimate gigs, such as at the Golden Lion in Todmorden, where I’ve been lucky enough to see many major international DJs and live bands perform. What are your views on that?
Sian: I’m happy for you. I love them all for different aspects.
I love to see my audiences, always preferred a nice old theatre. Brixton Academy, KoKo. I love a nice intimate festival. However, Boomtown is an exceptional spectacle realised by a tribe of exceptional people.
Alan: Many thanks for sharing some of your thoughts, experiences and more. Luv ‘n Respect.
Sian: It was a great pleasure.
Alan: Big thanks and hugs to Maria Kon and Sian Evans for facilitating this interview and the use of official Sian Evans and Kosheen press photos. Check out the links…
- Official Facebook: https://fb.me/SianKosheen
- Official Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/siankosheen/
- Official Twitter: https://twitter.com/Sian_Kosheen