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New Voices: Sarah Hayes

Currently best known for her bittersweet vocals and flute and piano playing in indie-folk combo Admiral Fallow, Sarah Hayes is a woman of even more talents than this multitasking suggests.

Six years' intensive study saw her earning a masters in music performance (with distinction) from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2011, since when - between Admiral Fallow's increasingly globetrotting schedule - she has been performing with chamber ensembles Flutes en Route and the Northern Lights wind quintet, and working for the Live Music Now scheme.

Her three past appearances as a finalist in the UK-wide BBC Young Folk Award, however, point to the fact that, in many ways, it is the traditional music she grew up with that remains closest to Hayes's heart, a first love foregrounded in her New Voices composition, Woven.

Born in the Wirral but brought up in Northumberland, Hayes often went with her music-loving parents to folk concerts at the Alnwick Playhouse, where acts including the Battlefield Band and Kate Rusby made a big impression. She attending several of the renowned Folkworks summer schools in Durham and before starting her degree, she had begun performing around local clubs and festivals.

Once in Glasgow, the demands of her course ("I was completely green, and really had no idea what I was taking on, studying classical flute," she says), latterly compounded by Admiral Fallow's snowballing success, put the trad side on the back burner.

But last May, Hayes released her first solo recording, Mainspring, a folk-based EP of songs and instrumentals. She describes Woven, written for a six-piece ensemble, as being "basically folk music", but with her diverse experience - musical and otherwise - brought to bear.

"The title refers to how all your different life experiences weave into who you are - like all the individual threads, the warp and the weft, in a piece of cloth," Hayes explains. "The starting point was actually thinking about ageing and dementia - the way this whole accumulated identity or self can eventually disintegrate.

"I've focused in on some of our most universal experiences, which connects very naturally into folk songs, so the vocal elements combine traditional lyrics with brand new settings, on themes including love, loss, work, hard times, friendship and contentment."

Through-composed as a cohesive entity, Woven incorporates two main instrumental strands, involving recurrent themes and newly-written tunes in traditional forms. Alongside Hayes are Fiona MacAskill (fiddle/backing vocals), Mairearad Green (accordion/backing vocals), Ali Hutton (guitar), James Lindsay (double bass) and Admiral Fallow bandmate Phil Hague (percussion).

Hayes originally envisaged the piece - her first extended composition - as a musical embodiment of its title, interweaving all the genres across which her talents extend, and while its folk components might sound more prominent, she has fulfilled her intention. "Recording with the band has really taught me to think about different forms of writing - where you need a bridge, or another verse; pacing and shaping - that whole bigger picture when you're putting material together," she says. "And some of the harmonies in Woven reflect a classical influence, but what's been really useful from that side is being able to notate it all. So these two aspects have maybe come through more in the method, but it does feel like all of me's in there."

Mitchell Theatre, January 19, 1pm

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