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MUSIC FEATURE: Miranda Sykes, from Spalding Folk Club and St Nicolas Players to Show of Hands and Borrowed Places




Folk musician, ambassador, diplomat and evangelist Miranda Sykes has accomplished what a growing number of South Holland singer-songwriter prospects would like to do.

Meg McPartlin, Lucinda Flynn, Connor Nickols and Phoebe Ophelia should all take heart that it is possible to emulate Spalding-born double bass and guitar playing Miranda in making a living out of music.

Raised in West Pinchbeck, educated at the village's St Bartholomew's Primary School, then Spalding Parish Day School, Gleed Girls Technology College, Spalding, The Deepings School and Spalding High School sixth form, Miranda is as authentic a child of South Holland as you can get.

Miranda Sykes attended St Bartholomew's Primary School, West Pinchbeck, Spalding Parish Day School, Gleed Girls Technology College, Spalding, The Deepings School, Spalding High School sixth form and Boston College. Photo by Rex Preston.
Miranda Sykes attended St Bartholomew's Primary School, West Pinchbeck, Spalding Parish Day School, Gleed Girls Technology College, Spalding, The Deepings School, Spalding High School sixth form and Boston College. Photo by Rex Preston.

Having made Gosberton her last stop before eventually moving to Devon 12 years ago, where she still lives now with husband Dan and son Wilfie, Miranda has gone on to record four full solo albums and one solo EP, three albums with mandolin player Rex Preston and at least ten albums with acoustic roots duo, Steve Knightley and Phil Beer who are better known as Show of Hands.

Miranda said: "I feel utterly blessed to be making a living out of something that I just love.

"But I've never done anything else, having played on the main South Holland Centre stage and also been in the St Nicolas Players' theatre group.

"I never take it for granted how far I've come because you never forget where you've come from and I've never forgotten the opportunity that Spalding Folk Club gave to me."

Miranda Sykes is taking her 'One Woman, One Bass and One Guitar' tour around the UK. Photo by Allan Wilkinson.
Miranda Sykes is taking her 'One Woman, One Bass and One Guitar' tour around the UK. Photo by Allan Wilkinson.

It was as the club's guest artist in March that Miranda made a brief return to at least one of what she called "my old haunts", South Holland Centre to go alongside with now closed pub, The Birds, off Halmer Gate, Spalding, and very much still open The Punchbowl in New Road.

Playing a cross-section of songs, both from her career and others, Miranda delivered a set list which included Lincolnshire Changes, Time of Inconvenience (Nanci Griffith), I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free (Nina Simone) and, perhaps most tellingly of all, My Heart's Where My Home Used to Be (Gareth Turner).

Miranda said: "Lincolnshire is a very, very different county to the one I was born and brought up in.

"My mum and dad (John and Penny Sykes who together founded Spalding Folk Club in 1979) gave me the opportunity to do what I do, seizing an opportunity to learn an instrument.

"I first saw a double bass being played in an assembly at primary school where a group of visiting music teachers came and encouraged us to have 20 minutes of tuition a week on a range of instruments, string, woodwind and brass.

Penny Sykes, mother of Miranda Sykes and co-founder of Spalding Folk Club, performing at the BBC Children in Need Song for Lincolnshire competition at South Holland Centre, Spalding.
Penny Sykes, mother of Miranda Sykes and co-founder of Spalding Folk Club, performing at the BBC Children in Need Song for Lincolnshire competition at South Holland Centre, Spalding.

"I think I must have been overwhelmed by the size of the double bass which led me to mention it to my parents when I got home from school, having also shown some enthusiasm for learning.

"So my parents made it happen, but when I was in the sixth form at Spalding High School, I didn't know what on earth I wanted to do.

"My parents suggested that I do a popular music course at Boston College which I started before a chance came up to tour with country rock band Young Country, sleeping in a van each night whilst touring the working men's clubs across the country."

Thirty years later, Miranda shares rare but distinguished company with other famous double bassists, including the legendary Ron Carter (accompanist to trumpeter and band leader Miles Davis), Ray Brown (who played with Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson) Jimmy Garrison (best known for his work with jazz saxophonist John Coltrane) and the equally ground-breaking Esperanza Spalding, a musician very much on Miranda's radar.

She said: "I don't really see myself as being famous, although I'm well-known in the folk world, as it was my parents who suggested that my voice would be best accompanied with the double bass.

"There are one or two other people who do it as well, such as Hilary James, Chi-Chi Nwanoku and Esperanza Spalding.

"It's helped my profile because, with the female voice being quite high and the instrument quite low, singing and the double bass are quite supportive of each other."

Miranda is currently concentrating on her "One Woman, One Bass, One Guitar" tour, building on her two most recent albums, Borrowed Places and Behind the Wall.

Miranda Sykes has gone from being a regular at Spalding Folk Club to being an indispensable member of the acoustic roots trio, Show of Hands. Photo by Rex Preston.
Miranda Sykes has gone from being a regular at Spalding Folk Club to being an indispensable member of the acoustic roots trio, Show of Hands. Photo by Rex Preston.

"There are only so many gigs out there that one can play so there is plenty of time off the road during the year," Miranda said.

"Although I am touring for the new album, Behind The Wall, I am already starting to think about the one after that as I'm never short of inspiration.

"I'm also looking forward to doing some solo festival appearances in the summer and a short, solo tour in September before returning to tour with Show of Hands and special guest Cormac Byrne in the autumn.

"Folk music is quite a small genre where everybody knows everybody else and looks out for everybody else."



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