Electric dreams

Sian Evans from electronica pioneers Kosheen, talks about music, teaching and helicopters.

Kosheen were one of the leading exponents of electronic music, blending cutting edge rhythms with traditional songwriting. A new tour underway, singer Sian Evans is, presumably, still ahead of the game when it comes to the innovative technology that has transformed the musical landscape in the twenty-first century.

“Hardly – I can just about get my e mails. I’ve been working in a university doing some covering for teachers. I love the teaching and being able to share the experiences I’ve had throughout my career but when it comes to doing marking and writing up the charts I can be up all night trying to get my head around it all.”

You’re not moving away from music are you?

“There was a bit of a lull in Kosheen and I was feeling pretty much unemployable after a career in music so I was wondering what I could do. I’d started working with some young people on an anti-knife crime initiative in Cardiff. I was terrified when it began, all these huge lads towering over me but when I started working with them they shrank and became kids again. I was getting them to read music and songwriting, expressing themselves, and they really took to me, I was lucky.

“I felt a bit like Julie Andrews. ‘Hi, I’m Sian,’ turning up with a wicker basket and my songwriting materials. After a few hours of explaining my craft, who I am and what I’ve done, then they looked me up on the internet and checked my credentials out. These kids are so used to being told to shut up and do what they’re told and you’re not good enough, they have so many chips on their shoulder but you break that down a little bit and they really want to have contact, they want to communicate with someone.

“No-one really listens to them and that’s where music comes in. Their medium is music and if you give them that after they’ve been told they can’t read, they can’t write, they can’t so anything, they’ve not really had a place in the education system but if you give them something it’s like opening Pandora’s Box.”

It’s a two-way thing. You can’t blame any section of society, whether it be children, immigrants, anyone, for feeling disenfranchised when they’re being told they don’t belong to it.

“They are hard to get through to, I recognise that. I’ve got a 23 year old son and I’ve seen the changes in which the government have discouraged learning; that’s not progressive or helping them. Talk for five minutes to young people and it’s fascinating. No, they haven’t got a great deal of respect but then again there’s not much respect shown to them. Respect is a cycle – you have to show it in order to gain it.”

It’s interesting that such a self-confessed technophobe fronts an electronic band that always had more of an element of traditional music, playing live and with guitars having such an influence.

“Yes, we aimed for that. It was a hybrid, when the band started we all got together and played what songs we’d each got already. This was the time when bands like Tricky and Portishead were doing similar, we were into that style but there was something else that we were moving towards.”

There were certainly reports that you were a bit too rockist for the rest of that particular scene.

“All the talk about us hanging around together is bollocks. At one time we were living round the corner from some of them, I would go into the same shops and they were rude to me, they didn’t like me, they didn’t like my voice, they saw me as an outsider. I’d go to gigs and it’d be ‘Kosheen, who are they? Never heard of them’ I’ve been far more influenced by where I grew up in Wales, and where I’ve lived. It’s a community, there are artists and musicians, all my influences are there.”

There was a big gap between Damage and Independence. Was that deliberate?

“It wasn’t planned, it just happened. The boys were away with their families and I’d started writing. We recorded a bunch of tracks over the years, none of which I thought were the sort of thing I wanted to do, and they were eventually released on Independence which I think is still a nice album.”

Are there any more releases on the horizon?

“It’s out of my hands but I don’t rule it out. I did a solo show at the Jazz Café in London last year because that was something I wanted to promote, and we’re doing a band tour now. We’ve played Birmingham a few times before but this will be tour first gig at the Institute. We’ve still got a massive following in the US and Europe and the British fanbase is still there. I like performing. I wouldn’t like the level of touring that we used to do but it’s still fantastic to play live.

“I’m looking at doing some new material, but the old stuff, I’ve found that taking it out of the electronic arena, the songs don’t fall apart. They still sound great and just performing them is a joy. I’m going to be doing a lot more of that this year.”

When your son was eleven he was flown by helicopter into Glastonbury when you played there. That must have been some experience.

“Yes, we both were but it was a one-off. During the time Kosheen were touring regularly we helped keep his feet on the ground; we had friends and family around us. He’s 23 now and he’s not glamorised by the music world, he’s in the business himself now and he knows it’s not all helicopters and headlining. He works hard and I’m very proud of him.”

You seem to have a strong sense of community.

“Yes, we’re not here on our own. We have to live together and we have to help each other. I went from uni last night to the local community centre where we’re auditioning and rehearsing for this year’s pantomime. We’re doing Aladdin.”

Kosheen play the Institute, Birmingham on 5th February. Tickets www.ticketmaster.co.uk