From Herne Hill and The Half Moon to Nashville

This morning’s Sunday Times, tucked away in the ‘Culture’ section,  delivered a headline that would compel anyone in SE24 to read further. It proclaimed “Rumer interview: from Herne Hill to Nashville via a commune”.

This witty and affectionately crafted article is built around an interview with Sarah “Rumer” Joyce.  A singer whom I must confess I hadn’t heard of before, although she is apparently a known and respected singer in the US (specifically Kentucky) country music scene, and must have some following over here too. Born in Pakistan, once working at the bar in The Half Moon before she was “discovered”, she now lives in Macon, Arkansas with her husband and young son.

The interview was clearly to promote her latest album Nashville Tears: The Songs of Hugh Prestwood  –  he being, in the words of the interviewer, a mostly unknown songwriter: “big deal in Nashville, but not known elsewhere”, she admits. (“Rumer” is an adapted stage name – she is really just Sarah Joyce.) Details  online.


Sarah ‘Rumer’ Joyce, copyright Alan Messer

Let’s choose one paragraph from the interview to set the tone:

“Born in 1979 in Pakistan to British parents after her engineer father was stationed in the country, Joyce grew up wondering why her seven siblings looked so little like her. Then, when she was 11, her mother revealed the reason: her real father was the family cook.”

Good start, pure gold for any interviewer. Anyway, to slide quickly to the point for us south Londoners who are not necessarily avid followers of country music (although the interviewer/critic in the Sunday Times really likes this new album), here’s the bit about Herne Hill because obviously the family came back to the UK:

“Joyce was discovered [comment: this would be around 1988/89 it seems] by La Honda’s founder, Malcolm Doherty, at the Half Moon pub in Herne Hill, where she was working as a barmaid. (In 2016 she published a historic list of poetically named local characters barred from the Half Moon, including Staring Pervert, Flat Cap Coke Fiend and, best of all, Tall Chavvy Fighting Idiot of Old. She claims that making the list public remains her greatest achievement.)” 

Note to other neophytes in the ever-trending current music scene: Malcolm Doherty, the so-called discoverer of Ms Joyce at The Half Moon in the late 1980s, founded the British acoustic pop band La Honda. They recorded their debut album in 2001 which due to the break up of the band, shortly after these sessions, never got released until 2013. But their lead vocalist was our new heroin Sarah Joyce who went on to find major success as ‘Rumer’. Since the failure of his own band, Doherty has cunningly reinvented himself and is now better known, among those who follow such things, as the musical director for Daphne Guinness, the socialite and fashion guru turned wacky singer who has indeed just released a new album ‘Revelations’.

The short article about Sarah Joyce signs off on an engaging note: in the cover photograph of the new album Joyce stands at a kitchen sink, eyes closed, looking as if she’s dreaming about being somewhere else entirely.

“I wanted to stand at the kitchen sink,” she says, “because that is my reality”.

“After all she’s been through, it doesn’t seem like such a bad reality.”

There are plans for a concert here in London next March in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, as well as an appearance at the Edinburgh Festival and elsewhere in the UK. Let’s hope these events can go ahead.

 

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