5 Minutes with… Karine Polwart, patron of Live to Your Living Room

Live to your Living Room 3.-Credit-Sandy-Butler-Copy-1024x1024 5 Minutes with... Karine Polwart, patron of Live to Your Living Room
Karine Polwart – Photo by Sandy Butler

Karine Polwart has always been a fantastic supporter of the work we do here at Live to Your Living Room, and we’re thrilled to have her on board as our patron. This role will see Karine returning to our living rooms each year, as well as helping us raise the profile of our online gigs.

Ahead of our new season, we caught up with Karine to find out more about what this patronship means to her, and why she feels online gigs are so important.

Karine will be joining us for another special festive gig this year on Sunday 17th December.

A few words from Karine

The Q&A

Karine, we’re thrilled to have you as patron of Live to Your Living Room. What made you decide to take up the post?

I think you folks have done an amazing job in creating an online gig hub that feels like a welcoming, community venue space, and which makes live music accessible to so many people who can’t get to gigs in person.

You’re taking care of a huge invisible realm of labour for artists too – online ticketing, admin, technical support and marketing – and you’re supporting and promoting musicians at all levels of profile and experience. It helps many of us – both performers and audience members – to feel less like wee isolated atoms and more like we’re part of a shared collegiate scene.

You’ve done lots of online gigs over the last few years – what have they meant to you as an artist?

Online gigs have evolved a lot over the past few years. Early doors – for me – they were both a financial lifeline and a massive morale boost, especially festival-style events like the ones hosted by Folk on Foot. It was great to feel part of something bigger than yourself. They enabled connection when nothing else was possible.

In addition to open online gigs such as Live to Your Living Room, I’ve also offered private online gatherings for weddings, anniversaries and birthdays (feel free to ask!), as well as single household connections to people with life-limiting illness.

Have online gigs helped you to connect differently with audiences?

The bigger online gigs are an evolving beast. I’ve been working out how to create the most easeful experience for both myself and an audience. How much does space matter (for me, lots)? Solo or collaborative performance (pluses and minuses)? With or without a live audience (possibly without edges it)?

There are lots of unexpectedly tender and humane possibilities in the online ‘gig’ form, and with smaller events, there’s often a genuinely conversational feel.

Come Away In – a snippet from our 2021 online gig with Karine Polwart & Dave Milligan, recorded at Castlesound Studios with thanks to Sandy Butler and Stuart Hamilton.

Do you think online gigs have helped to make live music more accessible?

Definitely. For example, I’ve heard directly from people who live with chronic illness or who find busy public spaces challenging, about the importance – the safety – of online gigs. They’re way more practically and financially accessible to families with young kids too. And to be honest, for me they’re a kindness too. I’m in my 50s now and I’ve noticed a huge shift in my own energy and capacity for touring. I find it much harder on body and soul and connection to loved ones than it used to be. Online gigs enable a bit more balance.

Streamed gigs have also allowed me to reach people in rural areas where I’m unlikely ever to gig in person. And there’s an international connection. People have attended online gigs from Melbourne to Minnesota, Singapore to Barcelona, some folks tuning in from the middle of the night in different time zones.

When will we next see you in our living rooms?

I’ve enjoyed my Live to Your Living Room gigs in December these past few years, because it’s a time when loads of us want to stay home and cosy up, including me! By request, this year I’m testing out a Sunday afternoon gig as I know many folks based in the UK find even online gigs at night a bit of a struggle. This year will be even cosier than last. So get the kettle on!

What else is in store for you over the next year?

One of the most exciting new projects for me this year is a three-part documentary series for BBC Radio 4 called Seek The Light. I’m writing and hosting these programmes, and co-writing the music with my friend and regular collaborator Pippa Murphy.

Each show is inspired by light and focuses on a different field of scientific enquiry. The first is inspired by the Arctic tern, a beautiful sea bird which undertakes the longest migration on Earth from the Antarctic to the North Sea coast each year. One of their nesting grounds is the Isle of May in the Forth estuary. Another explores the connection between the contemporary mapping of the South Pole of Mercury and an amazing but little-known Scottish woman songwriter, who was a contemporary of Robert Burns.

I’m never happier than when I’m learning and making connections between apparently disparate ideas. The programmes will go out on Sunday afternoons on BBC Radio 4 from 27th August.

Karine Polwart will be joining us for a cosy Sunday afternoon gig on 17th December. Save the date in your diaries, and book your ticket here.