Beatie Wolfe moves to the beat of her own drum. An entrepreneur, recording artist, song writer, polished public speaker and folky technophile, Beatie is making and promoting her music, her way. We met at The Hospital Club to talk about music, fashion and technology.
An Independent artist with an impressive roster of mentors and collaborators some of whom were met through family contacts, others by chance at events and gigs – She met Wynton Marsalis, who now mentors her, while gigging at Ronnie Scott’s. She’s not shy and grabs unexpected and obtuse opportunities with both hands. She is pushing the limits of her musical vision and staying true to her love of storytelling, eschewing potentially lucrative big label offers. It’s a bold move that she says is instrumental in maintaining her integrity as a recording artist and allowing her to work with other artists, maintaining the freedom to say yes to exciting collaborations without a big label calling the shots.
It’s fascinating to hear Beatie’s journey. She began playing piano aged 8 and confesses she used her piano tutor to transcribe her songs for her, rather than learning to play herself. The piano was restrictive in a way the guitar was not and a chance conversation with a Spanish handyman (who happened to be a guitar virtuoso) fixing her parents kitchen led to lessons and a passion for getting her songs down on paper via acoustic guitar. From then her storytelling and songwriting passion grew.
The decision not to study music was an early one – Beatie says she prefers to learn on her own terms rather than in a pre-prescribed way. A degree in English Literature followed secondary school, culminating in a dissertation on the poetry of Leonard Cohen (an act of defiance against her tutors who contested the choice citing Cohen’s work as absent from the English literary canon). Beatie got a first and the dissertation has been published and shared with Cohen since. Beatie is articulate and eloquent and admits she’s honed her email-writing skills over the years which has helped her make initial connections with people and grab opportunities. She is clearly a highly motivated, goal-oriented entrepreneur who is neither phased by the fame or expertise of her peers and mentors nor prone to listening to those who say there’s a ‘right way’ of doing things. There’s the path most trodden, then there’s the Beatie path.
Beatie’s recent Power of Music and Dementia project is the first of its kind to attempt to engage and reconnect dementia sufferers with emotions and memories through new music. The Independent reported it as ‘A musical miracle for dementia’ and it’s one example of an array of interesting projects she is involved with.
Beatie’s upcoming album is to be launched via cards embedded with NFC technology, enabling smart phone users to scan the cards (created in collaboration with Moo) to initiate instant song playback whilst viewing the song artwork and lyrics. It’s a tactile, immediate and intimate introduction to her music – via technology – which is what makes it so interesting. No wonder it captured the imagination of David Rowan, Editor of Wired Magazine and iTunes pioneer and founder of record label AWAL (Artists Without A Label) which counts Nick Cave amongst its artists, Denzyl Fiegelson. Beatie’s deck of NFC playback cards harks back to an era when music was sold on vinyl. It also reminds me of giving and receiving CDs as gifts, compete with the lyric booklet and album artwork. Nick Cave’s textured and embossed CD cover for the Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus album still sits proudly on my bookshelf as an object of beautiful design and Beaties cards are giving back that tactility in an age of downloads and streaming.
Individual NFC cards for each song off Beatie’s album
Beatie’s NFC launch is powered by Microsoft’s Nokia Lumia, whose fashion tech collaborations with Fyodor Golan were covered in my previous blog post.
I first met Beatie at Wired Next Generation and was compelled to speak to her on hearing about her upcoming collaboration with the head of soon to be revived fashion label Mr Fish, David Mason.
The founding designer, Michael Fish, crafted elaborate shirts for musical icons from the Rolling Stones to Jimi Hendrix in the late 60’s. He also created the kipper tie and velvet frock worn by Bowie on the album cover of The Man Who Sold the World, so it’s fitting Beatie is collaborating with Mr Fish’s successor for the launch of her new album.
The images above remind me of fashion designer Jonathan Anderson’s direction at JW Anderson.
David Mason is also the Creative Director of British bespoke tailors Anthony Sinclair, famous for creating James Bond’s suits until Tom Ford took the mantle recently and whose first clients were the Beatles, followed by Eric Clapton and Elton John. Beatie bumped into David at the Royal Albert Hall a couple of months ago and he revealed he had moved into the flat once occupied by Yoko Ono and John Lennon – the site of many a famed and industry-defining recording, including Paul McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby” (incredible animated music video here) and Hendrix’s “ The Wind Cries Mary”.
Jimi Hendrix at 34 Montagu Square
Beatie went over for tea and on discovering the musical history of the room in which she sat, concocted a collaboration with David that at once allowed her to record the song Take Me Home to a gaggle of music industry insiders and David to measure them up for Mr Fish shirts, marking the relaunch of the fashion brand.
Beatie explained that there was still something missing in the mix and subsequently filled this gap by collaborating with BeatWoven – a textile designer creating digitally generated woven fabric from sound. The live recording of Beatie singing Take Me Home with the ambient sound of her audience at David’s flat at 34 Montagu Square is currently being woven into a fabric to be crafted into a gown by David Mason and launched at DLD (Digital-Life-Design) conference in January.
The process of BeatWoven founder, Nadia-Anne Ricketts is a fascinating fusion of textiles and technology, explained in the video below.
A BeatWoven fabric
This isn’t the first time Beatie has explored promoting her music via technology and her first album 8ight launched with 3D interactive Palm Top Theatre app which projected Beatie atop a smart phone screen, effectively putting the listener/viewer in the front row of a virtual Beatie Wolfe concert. Pretty ingenious.
We chatted about the new album Montagu Square, which I had been listening to on my way to the interview. Firstly, I’m surprised at the simplicity and ease of the songs. It doesn’t sound overly-produced (which is refreshing after being forced to listen to commercial radio far too much recently) and a strong percussive sound with a bluesy overtone, especially on Green to Red. It’s sounds low-fi and honest. It’s storytelling – no bells and whistles. Maybe that’s why the innovative tech-led presentation works so well in contrast. In her music, Beatie is concerned chiefly with lyrics and expression. Her literature degree is an important and powerful tool in this amazing all-round creative tool-kit she has built. It makes me think about the BA fashion students I teach and how important a creative and entrepreneurial approach to life, study and work is, rather than simply relying on being a creative individual. Beatie’s story is both a lesson and an inspiration.
Beatie will be promoting her album via iTunes appearances stateside and public speaking engagements in the coming months and I can’t wait to hear next collaborative instalment. I’m finishing up this article listening to 8ight. Bowie’s Man Who Stole the World is next on my playlist (for musical and sartorial reasons).
Make your own NFC cards with Moo here
Header Image: Clay Patrick McBride. All other images (except Beatie and I at The Hospital Club): Stuart Nicholls