Lady Maisery in the Peak this week

D Style 2Lady Maisery are three busy young women. It’s taken me months to fix up a date for an interview and even now I have just a duo instead of the trio sitting in front of me.

Derbyshire girls Rowan Rheingans and Hannah James are here but Hazel Askew is from London and can’t make it.

The others promise they will fill me in on anything important about her contribution to the act. “It will be just like she’s here,” says Hannah. “We can tell you she likes a good curry,” she quips.

It’s a damp and cold afternoon in Chesterfield but the café has been lit up by the presence of the pair with their cheerful banter and the fact that celebrations are in order because Rowan has just passed her driving test.

Hannah is almost as happy as Rowan is as it means she will no longer be the only driver in the band and there will be someone else to share the workload when it comes to the long journeys between their gigs.

Which brings me nicely back to the fact that Lady Maisery are seemingly always on the road.

In the first couple of weeks of March they will be up and down the M1 like yo-yos as they are appearing first at Chinley, then in Surrey, Warwickshire, back up here to Sheffield and Bamford, down to Warwickshire again, and then back to Doveridge before heading south for Hertfordshire, Birmingham, Warwickshire and then Worcestershire.

“It is hard work and the journeys are tiring but at the end of it we have our reward which is the gig. That’s when we relax and enjoy ourselves,” said Rowan.

“If you were just joining us for the ride and watching it would be awful. It is playing the music which makes it worthwhile for us all,” she explained.

On top of this busy schedule all three have other commitments with other bands or as session musicians.

Hannah, a Chesterfield girl and champion clog dancer, performs in a duo with Sam Sweeney and was in Derbyshire-based band Kerfuffle and the accordion trio Hell Said the Duchess, she also plays with the legendary Maddy Prior; Hazel is best known for her work with her sister Emily in The Askew Sisters but also plays the harp with medieval ensemble The Artisans while Rowan, from Grindleford, was in the duo Fidola with Marit Fält and also performs with her sister Anna in The Rheingans Sisters.

All three women are from musical families (Hazel’s parents both being morris dancers was one of the facts offered by her peers in her absence) and have grown up surrounded by folk music and being carted around festival and summer schools.

They all began performing at an early age and confess that they have never really considered doing anything else other than being professional musicians.

“We grew up thinking it was normal to be like this,” joked Hannah. “We sort of all knew of each other from either folk schools or performing and we have just developed from there.”

The trio finally forged their vocal harmonies and burst on to the scene with their debut album Weave and Spin in 2011. Their live performances were the talk of the festival season and they received much critical acclaim for their work.

“We were one of the first UK groups to explore the tradition of diddling (tune singing) which had almost died out here but is still big in Scandinavia where Hannah and I have both studied,” said Rowan.

They deliver beautiful close harmonies and are not afraid of issue-led material.

On their latest album Mayday, which was released last summer, they sing a range of traditional and contemporary songs from the folk repertoire with some fresh arrangements brought alive by their ability on a wide range of instruments from the fiddle and banjo to the harp and accordion.

The songs reflect their concerns about the world: power, class politics and gender and they are certainly women with strong ideals and a need to make a difference.

Mayday has a more political edge,” said Hannah. “We have got to know each other a lot better since our first album which had more harmony material.

“We have all got these similar strong views and I think in the second album our true colours have come out more.”

The very name of their group was chosen because it reflected a strong female character. Lady Maisry came from a wealthy family who wanted her married off to forge political alliances. She was killed for wanting to marry for love.

“An honour killing we would call it today,” said Rowan poignantly.

“We chose her name because we wanted people to know we were an all female band but we didn’t want a flowery or light-hearted name. Lady Maisry was strong-willed and stood to her guns. For us that’s what it is all about so it is the perfect name.”

The trio can be seen at  The Bamford Institute, Bamford on March 6 and Doveridge Village Hall on March 8.

Hannah is playing with Maddy Prior and Giles Lewin at a Peak Concerts gig at the Whitworth Centre in Darley Dale on April 19.