Based in Birmingham, they built an enthusiastic following at their monthly gigs at the Hare & Hounds, across the road from the Kitchen Garden Cafe where Sharon will play her solo gig to support her second solo album, Roses at the Top.
Now living in Brighton, Sharon took time out to answer my questions.
Your first solo album, The Hour Lilies, was released in 2004. Why have we had to wait so long for the follow-up?
After The Hour Lilies came out I spent a few years going back and forth to America touring and collaborating with Boston songstress Rose Polenzani. We toured the UK as well and made a live EP of our songs. I loved singing with Rose, I felt like I was in heaven when we sang together.
I then joined my friend's country/blues band in Brighton for a while, playing keys and electric guitar. It was great to do something completely different and take a break from my own music.
After that I branched out quite a bit and made connections with other artists such as 1 Giant Leap with whom I wrote and recorded a song for their second album What About Me. It was such an honour to be a guest on their album alongside great artists like Michael Stipe and kd Lang. I also collaborated with a band called The Climbers which featured Nick Hemming and Christian Hardy from The Leisure Society and recorded a couple of tracks with them for their album The Good Ship which we also toured in the UK and Latvia.
In 2009 I started recording Roses at the Top. It was a slow process because I produced it myself and I am quite a perfectionist and a bit of a control freak. All the arrangements were painstakingly thought out, especially the backing vocal harmonies.
At times it was a bit of a drag working alone, but I enjoyed the whole process of having a creative project to focus on alongside my day to day life which revolves around teaching music. I run guitar workshops in schools and also teach the piano.
It was a lingering album that I would work on for a while during the winter when I had the time and then take breaks during the summer holidays.
Between 2009 and 2012 I spent most of my summers touring around Europe with my friend and fellow musician Esther Bertram. We teamed up together and drove through France, Germany and Austria in her VW transit van, playing festivals and busking together.
One year we even got as far as Lake Garda in Italy. It was a real gypsy adventure as we were living and sleeping in the van too. Some of my fondest memories are from those travels.
In 2011 I was invited to perform in Anais Mitchell's folk opera Hadestown which was performed in Glasgow and London and featured Ani Difranco and Martin Carthy. I played the part of the three fates alongside Wallis Bird and folk singer Nuala Kennedy. It was an amazing project to be part of. I am a big fan of Anais's music.
Once the album was finally mixed I spent a fair bit of time procrastinating on which songs would go on the album and also the actual song order. Because it's a self released album, everything takes much longer than if you have a team of people behind you. There is so much that goes into making an album that takes a lot of time and attention, like mixing and mastering and organising the art work. It really is a labour of love.
What was the inspiration for Roses at the Top?
The album is mainly a collection of songs that I had wanted to record for a long time but I would say one of the main themes that keeps recurring on the album is the idea of transformation.
The title track is really about a difficult life journey from childhood to becoming an adult and all the lessons that are learnt along the way.
When I write songs I often get my inspiration from imagery. In that song I pictured quite a bleak, lonesome mountain with very beautiful flowers at the top. That song is all about the journey from the bottom of the mountain where there are shadows, fear and uncertainty to the very top where there is light , love and understanding.
It's a song about healing, growing and ageing... it's a very hopeful song!
Why did you decide to release a new four-track EP, Simple Things, at the same time as the album?
The songs were all recorded in the same timeframe and I originally intended that they would all go on the album. But once they were mixed I felt that it would be too many songs for one album and that's when I decided to make an EP and an album instead.
I released them together because I felt like they were related, like musical sisters, and wanted them to be heard together.
What will you be playing at the Kitchen Garden gig? Any Pooka tracks?
I will mainly be playing songs from my recent album as well as a few newer ones. I have not planned to play any Pooka tracks but if someone requests one I would consider it.
Will you be calling in across the road to visit your old stomping ground the Hare & Hounds?
Funny you say that because there is a band that I met and played with when I was touring the States called Session Americana and they are playing at the Hare & Hounds the night after my gig at the Kitchen Garden Cafe. I think I will probably stick around for an extra night in Birmingham and go see them play.
Why did you and Natasha, as Pooka, decide to base yourselves in Birmingham?
I was born in Birmingham and lived there until I was 11-years-old so Birmingham is home for me but not for Natasha as she is from up north, Wigan to be precise. The main reason that we decided to base ourselves in Birmingham is that my dad lived there so I had family nearby and we could not afford to live in London any longer.
It was a great place to be at the time and we also met Brian Duffy whilst living there who went on to produce our third Pooka album that we made for Rough Trade Records.
Do you still enjoy playing live? Are you planning to tour more? I love playing live but I am not a full time musician any longer so I work my tours around my teaching business. I do what I can when I can which is mostly in the school holidays for the time being. I would definitely like to tour more, it's something I really enjoy.
You're now living in Brighton. Are you tempted to return to Birmingham? I have lived in Brighton now for over 15 years so it really feels like home to me now. However, who knows what the future holds? My dad is now based in Tamworth so at some point I may want to be closer to him.
I am certainly looking forward to returning to Birmingham for my gig and seeing old friends and family. It's been many years since I was last there and have heard lots of great things about all the changes and developments that have taken place in the town centre.
I am excited to come back and play at the Kitchen Garden Cafe, it's such a beautiful venue. I am also looking forward to hearing Steve Ison's new band, The Strangest Feeling, who will be playing a set the same evening.