Twin sisters Charlotte and Laura Carrivick are one of the recent success stories in British bluegrass. The talented singers and multi-instrumentalists have been part of the bluegrass scene for several years, first as members of the bands Blue South and Miles Apart and now performing as a duo, simply named The Carrivick Sisters. They’ve just released their second CD and are currently gigging extensively around the country. We spoke to them about their rise to fame and their ambitions for the future.
The girls first started playing music at a very early age and discovered bluegrass soon after. “I started on violin when I was about 9 or 10 and got into bluegrass when I was 13,” Laura says. “I started dobro a year later when I was 14 after hearing Sally Van Meter at Sore Fingers.” Charlotte’s path was much the same. “Guitar was actually my first instrument, but classical,” she tells us. “As with guitar it was our Dad who made me want to play mandolin because he did and it looked like fun. I started playing mandolin when I was 11 or something – not very much though as I didn’t know what to do with it until Sore Fingers where I was lucky enough to be taught by Matt Flinner who’s now my favourite mandolin player. Soon after that I started flat-picking guitar too.”
Their work is influenced by all sorts of acoustic music from folk, country and swing, but their foundation is very much in bluegrass. “After my first few weeks of having classical violin lessons and not being allowed to even put the bow on the strings yet I started to rebel, playing along (very, very badly) with Chieftains CDs,” Laura explains. “I got into folk music quite early on and found bluegrass through a series of books of traditional fiddle music. I probably would have stuck with sharing my time equally between classical, folk and bluegrass had I not found the bluegrass scene to be so friendly and welcoming.”
Their talents don’t end with their singing and playing, as much of the current album, Better Than 6 Cakes, is self-penned. They first started composing whilst studying GCSE Music, and have become prolific songwriters in the past few years. It would be easy to adopt the clichés of trains and cabins on mountains, but the twins have instead found their own voice and focus on local legends and myths from their home county of Devon.
These haunting tales of highwaymen and witches translate naturally to a bluegrass setting and could easily have come out of Appalachia, but there are some quintessential British songs too. “We do write a lot about the weather which I suppose is a very English thing to do,” jokes Charlotte. “As our old German teacher pointed out once – all we ever talk about is the weather!”
They’ve taken a year off between school and university and have been working hard with gigs all around the country. 2007 was successful enough and included an appearance at EWOB in the Netherlands, but 2008 looks set to be even bigger. Last year they won a busking competition and earnt a spot at Glastonbury in June, but July will be the pinnacle of their music careers so far with a North American tour in the works.
They’re booked for the Vancouver Island Music Festival and are looking to do gigs elsewhere in Canada and the USA. “We are very thankful to Doug Cox who got us that one. As well as that we are planning to play as many festivals around the UK as we can,” Laura tells us.
Whilst most bluegrass musicians would be happy with this level of success, the sisters have ambitions to progress even further and hope their gap year from university lasts a lot longer than 12 months. “The aim is to do music professionally,” says Laura, “and if that happens then I won’t go to uni at all.” Charlotte agrees. “The ideal would be not to go. Even though the course would be fun, I’d rather not have the debts!”