The Scotsman Sessions #299: Hen Hoose featuring Susan Bear and Karine Polwart

Welcome to the award-winning Scotsman Sessions. With the performing arts sector still impacted by the pandemic, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, Hen Hoose members Susan Bear and Karine Polwart perform their song Go Easy, which is “all about being kind to yourself”

We do like our exclusives at the Scotsman Sessions, broadcasting performances which would not have happened otherwise. We also like our collaborations, bringing artists together remotely or, as restrictions allow, in person. As we approach our 300th session, we are doubly chuffed to host the first ever face-to-face meeting of singer and songwriter Karine Polwart (solo star of our fourth session way back in March 2020) and producer/multi-instrumentalist Susan Bear, formerly of top indie pop duo Tuff Love.

The pair are already well acquainted via Zoom, having worked remotely on their Sessions track Go Easy as members of Hen Hoose, a new Scottish collective of women and non-binary songwriters coming together from across musical genres to collaborate on commercial briefs for TV and film sync campaigns.

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“The brief for this one – folk, indie, organic – about resilience or pulling through – basically sounded like a description of my entire back catalogue,” says Polwart.

Suse Bear and Karine Polwart

“The song’s all about being kind to yourself,” says Bear. “We wrote it in winter 2020/2021. That was a hard winter for everyone I think.”

In addition to Bear and Polwart, Hen Hoose comprises such diverse talents as solo artists Emma Pollock and Carla J Easton, Admiral Fallow’s Sarah Hayes, singer and multi-instrumentalist Inge Thomson, electronica artist Elisabeth Elektra, Bossy Love’s Amandah Wilkinson, composer Pippa Murphy, Cloth frontwoman Rachael Stirling, rapper Jayda and, until her untimely death in November, Beldina Odenyo Onassis, aka Heir of the Cursed. The production house was founded in 2020 by Glasgow-based musician Tamara Schlesinger, former frontwoman of 6 Day Riot, aka MALKA, who hosted this session in her living room, socially distanced with a snazzy Bowie-inspired cushion between the performers.

“All credit to Tamara for creating and managing the team,” says Polwart, “especially at a time of such isolation, anxiety and all-round decimation of work. Hen Hoose has already forged some brilliant new collaborative partnerships, bolstered the confidence of many of us who’ve been reticent to view ourselves as co-producers, and won actual commercial contracts too.”

Bear agrees. “Hen Hoose has helped me connect with other female producers, and created a network. When I was young, noodling around on music software on my mum's computer, there weren't any examples of female producers or engineers around me in society.

“Despite the music industry having changed quite a bit over the last few years equality-wise – I am now not always the only woman in a band on a bill, sometimes adverts for music technology now feature women, and sometimes there might be one female monitor engineer at a gig (but very rarely...) – behind the scenes there's still a lot of work to do. We're still stuck on gender equality on festival line-ups, but gender inequality in music goes deep below that.”

Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon, no less, have spotted the potential of the organisation, selecting Hen Hoose as one of the recipients of 50 limited edition acetates of Happy Xmas (War Is Over) to auction for future project funding. Meanwhile, Hen Hoose’s debut album Equaliser is out now. Go Easy is released as the final single from the album on 25 January.

For more on Hen Hoose, visit https://www.henhoose.com/

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