Ella Edmondson - Chagford's Enchanting Chanteuse
PUBLISHED: 11:34 26 March 2009 | UPDATED: 15:53 20 February 2013
Helen Stiles talks to singer songwriter Ella Edmondson about her debut album Hold Your Horses and her punk loving father.
Though she's only 23, Dartmoor-based Ella Edmondson has already led an interesting life and it's about to get a whole lot more exciting for this rising singer songwriter, as favourable reviews of her new album catapult her into the limelight. Over Christmas, Ella played alongside Jools Holland on a five-date tour which included the Albert Hall, and she's currently gigging around the UK with Chris Difford, Holland's former bandmate in Squeeze. With a raft of gigs booked for the festival season, this could well be Ella's year.
Ella grew up in a household filled with music. "There was a lot of punk and heavy metal coming from my Dad's side, and from my Mum's side country music and T-Rex, so car journeys were certainly interesting!" But for Ella her early years belonged to Doris Day. "I loved Calamity Jane," she sighs.
Ella and her younger sisters, Beatrice and Freya, put on musical plays for their parents, where Ella would ad lib songs, usually about Snow White, but by the age of 11 she had moved on. "I wrote a song about a little devil man with red eyes. It went down very well with the family. They even recorded it and someone has got a copy of it. I've got to destroy it before it gets out!" she laughs.
When she was 15, Ella's parents moved the family from London to Dartmoor, a decision she definitely approved of after the restrictions of the metropolis. "I already had friends in Devon and they were going out to parties, making dens on the moors, but most importantly they had ponies."
Ella certainly enjoyed a very happy Devon upbringing, going to school in Exeter, working at the Castle Drogo tea rooms in the holidays, and riding her longed-for pony, but like all teenagers you have to rebel at some point.
"I became a huge Goth fan, into Manson, Slayer and Metallica, and yes, I did the full Goth thing... piercings, black hair, big black boots, black lipstick, black clothes. Mum wasn't particularly excited about going shopping with me at that time." It's hard to shock your folks when Mum is Jennifer Saunders, aka Absolutely Fabulous' fashionista Edina Monsoon, and Dad is Adrian Edmondson, who played punk rocker Vyvyan in The Young Ones.
It was Adrian, a talented musician himself, who gave Ella the push to embark on a musical career. "I was scared to go out and take criticism, but my Dad built my confidence and told me to get on with it and stop being such an idiot, so I did."
Adrian gave her a guitar and taught her to play a few songs. "My Dad and all his friends were in bands playing music together and it looked like a good laugh, and I thought I can do that."
Ella did her first gig at age 16 at The Angel in Exeter. "It was so nerve-racking. I did Moonglow and Breathe as they were the only two songs I'd finished at the time, and then I did lots of Alanis Morisette covers. It went down very well and I've been gigging ever since."
Like any gigging musician, Ella has had to turn her hand to a range of jobs: she worked as a barmaid and a professional painter and decorator. Then she chucked it all in to go to Canada where she got her qualifications as a snowboarding instructor.
But the pull of music soon got Ella back behind the mic, and Adrian lent a guiding hand to his daughter's nascent musical career. "Me and my Dad make all the decisions together. We made an EP called Blame Amy and were giving it out at festivals and gigs, so the next step was to make a CD of more recent songs."
Last summer they recorded some tracks with producer Andy Seward, who's worked with Kate Rusby and Eddi Reader, and things really began to take off.
"I was introduced to folk music by Mum. She's a really big fan of Kate Rusby and used her music on her TV series Jam and Jerusalem. I loved the sound of the instruments that are used in folk music so we took my songs and we took some folk instruments and blended them together." The result is her debut album, Hold Your Horses. In fact Breathe, one of the tracks from it, was used in the Devon-based series, and Kate Rusby appears on Ella's album doing backing vocals.
"I still can't quite believe that she's on my album," says Ella. "Andy Seward brought in other hugely talented musicians such as John McCusker, Andy Cutting and the Angel Brothers." These are all key instrumentalists from the burgeoning new UK folk scene. "I brought in friends of mine from the Devon music scene like Jim Causley," adds Ella. "I was completely stunned that people of this calibre were playing my music."
The result is a delicious folk rock pop fusion. All the songs are written by Ella, apart from Hidden Scars, which was co-written with Ethan Johns, who has worked with Kings of Leon and Ray LaMontagne. The title track shows off the skills of her remarkable backing band, Ella's powerful voice grabbing your attention right from the start.
The day the finished album arrived was an exciting one for the Edmondson household. "It's the weirdest thing holding a proper, professional CD with your face on it and a bar code!"
The album was released on the independent Monsoon label set up by Ella and her Dad. "We were batting around cool names for our record company and it just made sense to keep it in the family and make it part of Mr and Mrs Monsoon, Mum and Dad's company name. It's great to have the control over your own life and decide when to tour. I only have to answer to myself, which is a nice position to be in."
Her Dad is also getting on the family's musical bandwagon, with his new band Bad Shepherds. Ella's a big fan. "They play punk songs with folk instruments. It can take a while to recognise the tune, and then you think wow, this song is really cool with these instruments!" she laughs.
Certainly Ella has had a great start to her year and alongside her UK tour dates are a number of Devon gigs.
"I'll be doing Chagstock in July, the IvyLive Festival in Ivybridge in September, and I'm supporting Dad at a gig at the Exeter Phoenix on 16 May."
I for one will definitely be there to see this talented singer songwriter take the stage, and see her proud father strut his stuff too.