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It was more daunting when it was lighter as both musician and audience member didn’t know which way to look.” Guest musicians to enter the box have included poet and novelist Simon Armitage and ginger-dreadlocked singer songwriter Newton Faulkner, but while some found the experience revelatory, for others it has been quite the opposite. “Mark [Chadwick] from The Levellers found it a bit too much!” Barker reveals.

These one-to-one shows will work as a very strange warm up tour for Barker who has her new, fourth album Dear River out next month and embarks on an autumn UK tour in support with her band The Red Clay Halo, including her biggest ever headline show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. 

“It’s quite a contrast,” she laughs. “I played as the support act there a few years ago, in 2007 maybe, so it’s a big milestone for us to be playing a venue that size.”

River is a step forward for Barker, being her most produced record yet as well as her first on respected musos’ label Linn. It also demonstrates a hitherto untapped rockier edge, inspired by the likes of PJ Harvey and her Mercury-winning Let England Shake. “The concept of the lyrics being about war and England was a big influence,” Barker says of River’s genesis. “And I wanted to head a bit more in the direction of the rock element that she does [and move away] from the folky thing we’ve done for a while now.”

Fittingly for someone who has made their home on the other side of the world, 10,000 miles from where they grew up, Dear River is about what constitutes home. “It’s a collection of songs all about the concept of home, where and what that is,” Barker explains. “It’s about my personal story, growing up in Bridgetown, southwest Australia, and travelling around the world, but along the way I tell the story of many others, with subtexts including displacement, exile, indigenous politics and colonialism.” 

One of the other stories Barker touches on is the tale of her Dutch grandparents who moved to Australia in 1952. “People are a part of what home is and the stories you inherit from them has an impact on who you are,” she says of her grandparents’ story. 

“Growing up I was always very aware that my grandparents were Dutch and as soon as I could I went and explored Holland. [Album track] Letters is about my grandfather’s time during World War II when he was separated from his family and imagines what it must have been like waiting for lettersto find out whether his family or girlfriend, my grandmother to be, were alive or not.”

Barker now calls Stroud in Gloucestershire home. “I realised I wanted to do music for a living and got my first big break over here,” she says of the initial lure of swapping one island for another. “The music scene here is very rich and over the years things start to embroil you,” she adds. “My husband is British.” So where does she call home now?

“Having been away for 11 years I have spent most of my adult life over here – to move back would be quite an uprooting,” she reasons. “But through exploring these themes I have worked out that you can have more than one home – but my truest home is down by the Blackwood River.”

Dear River is out July 8 through Linn. 
Folk In A Box, Spitalfields Festival, June 18-21. Free.  E1 6EW  
folkinabox.net  
Tube | Liverpool Street 

Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo play Shepherd’s Bush Empire. 
Oct 16. £15.  W12 8TT  
o2shepherdsbushempire.co.uk  
Tube | Shepherd’s Bush


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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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