I had checked out their website so I was prepared for a lively interview when I went to see the three-part harmony group Red Ruff. But I had definitely under-estimated quite how eccentric they would be.
The three red-headed women were excited to have artsbeat in the house (very understandable) and had dressed in their stage outfits ready for a photo shoot (slight misunderstanding) but eventually I managed to get them to settle on the sofa for a chat over a cuppa.
With the subjects of relationships, cats, and children out of the way we got down to business – music.
Red Ruff are Jen Aitken, Sue Devine and Nansy Ferrett. They play, perform and teach music and can often be seen wearing kick-ass boots, red and black tutus and corsets. If you were going to compare their sound to anyone it would be Fascinating Aida.
They admit they are possibly Belper’s most embarrassing mums – they have been known to turn up on the school run in their outrageous garb – but clearly have no intention of conforming to the conventional and take great joy from being original.
Nansy, who has her knees pulled up under her chin, childlike as she sits on the sofa, explains that the threesome met as parents in the school queue.
“Sue and I had already met and then Jen arrived with her children. It was her boots I noticed first,” she said.
They all laughed at the private joke they share from that occasion, but say they were instantly drawn together by a kindred spirit and became firm friends. It was only later that they discovered they all had a desire to perform.
Sprawled out and relaxed on the sofa beside Nansy is Sue. She is a classically trained pianist and has a background in performing arts.
She had been on a Maddy Prior (of Steeleye Span fame) course at Stones Barn in Cumbria when the trio started forming their harmonies and says before that she wouldn’t have had the courage to be able to stand in front of an audience.
“If it hadn’t been for that course then none of this would have happened,” she declared.
The other two look at her with raised eyebrows. “It’s true,” she protested. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it and so Red Ruff would not have happened.”
Jen, whose home we are in, has been sitting relatively quietly on the other side of the coffee table until this point.
But now she joins in to explain that they had no plan to perform in front of an audience when they originally started singing together.
“In fact I was quite insistent that I wanted to wait until we were really, really good before we even considered setting foot on a stage,” she said citing her perfectionist nature as the reason for her reluctance to rush things.
Nansy laughs. “You two may not have had a plan but I did and I was just going to force you all into it,” she quipped.
The 38-year-old confesses to blagging her way through life and spent her youth travelling between festivals. Although she has no formal musical training she is now the inspiration behind most of their material.
On their website it says Nansy has a gravitational pull towards muddy fields and a goblin inside her head who writes the songs for her.
“She is amazing. She is just so creative and is not bound by any of the rules faced by those who have been trained,” said Jen, who at 37-years-old, is herself a renowned artist and flute teacher.
The three disparate characters are linked by the need for a challenge and the fact that they get bored if they are not trying something different.
“It’s true we get itchy feet and when we met we were all looking to try something new. Red Ruff has changed our lives – in fact changed us quite a lot,” said Nansy.
The trio eventually took the plunge to perform at Wirksworth Festival two years ago and they haven’t looked back.
They had a half hour slot as part of the busking session and the audience loved them.
“We only had 15 minutes of material so we had to repeat some. If we hadn’t had a positive response that would have been the end of it I expect but everyone was so excited they just carried us along,” said Sue.
Since then they have been turning up at festivals all over the country with their big boots, red hair and three-part harmonies.
This year they were at Bearded Theory here in Derbyshire, Shambala in Northamptonshire and at Maddy Prior’s Stepping Stones Festival.
“That was the most major gig of our lives. We opened the festival on the Saturday night in front of 250 people and it was amazing,” said Sue.
The women also perform at weddings and parties and hold fun singing workshops. It seems people just can’t get enough of them.
Behind the wit and humour of their act is a great deal of talent and it is incredible what they can do.
“We don’t set ourselves any rules. That means we can be utterly creative without boundaries and it is quite addictive,” said Jen.
“What we all love about it is that life’s issues just disappear when we are together and we don’t really know what is going to happen in the future. That’s what is so exciting,” she added.
To find out more about Red Ruff visit their website: http://www.redruff.co.uk