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“It takes you back to the roots of what you do, boils things down to the basics – you’re so exposed and, depending on who you are, some find it too intimate!”

Aussie-raised but Brit-based folk songstress Emily Barker is not talking about some on-the-couch confessional, but of her and hubby Dom Coyote’s Folk In A Box project – where an audience of one gets a most intimate musical performance. 

Barker and Coyote bring this startling project to the Spitalfields Music Festival, but it was almost by chance that the pair came up with the notion, Baxter reveals when we catch up with her ahead of Folk In A Box’s upcoming east London performances.  

“We were at Standon Calling a few years ago and there was a failed camera obscura room, this little outdoor building that didn’t work,” she tells us. “Me and Dom took it over and started inviting passers-by in for performances, often one by one, and it has grown from there.” 

From humble beginnings in which cast-off wood found abandoned in London skips was bolted together to construct a makeshift box (“each time we set it up it was like building a shed, we needed a tool box and power saws”), through a second design (“it had a lot of pros and cons that we learned from”), to its current incarnation designed by architects David Knight and Cristina Monteiro, Folk In A Box has been taking music to the people in this most intimate manner. 

Rather than standing squashed together in some sweaty venue, or a mile away from the stage in the middle of a field, Barker and Coyote bring music and performance back to its stripped down and raw campfire roots – one musician, one audience member, one box. The results have been astounding – for both audience and performer. 

“It’s overwhelming as the performers are at their most vulnerable and the audience picks up on that,” explains Barker, who moved to these shores from her native Bridgetown, Australia more than a decade ago. “At festivals when people have been drinking their emotions are heightened – quite a lot of people burst into tears! 

“Dom often performs the same song and gets really into delivering it in different ways but, depending on how I’m feeling, I sometimes ask the audience what they’d like to hear, a mellow song or a more upbeat number. Once when I did an upbeat number I had a person who stood up and began dancing around the box, bumping into the walls.” 

The box has popped up everywhere from street corners and front rooms to music festivals and museums such as Tate Britian and Battersea Arts Centre. It even had a three-month stint at the Venice Biennale exhibition. 

The Box, which has a small side door for the audience and a larger rear door for the musician, is on tour, too, its east London pitch being just a pit-stop in Barker and Coyote’s highly ambitious Land’s End to John O’Groats jaunt. And it’s not just the varied audiences who have found this experience to be an emotional journey.

“I find it very refreshing as a performer,” Barker says. “But it can be quite tricky. It is darker [inside the box] now.  


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Interview: Aussie star Emily Barker brings her one-to-one Folk In A Box performance to east London
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