I have met Miriam (Lady Mim, which seems an apt name for a woman of her calibre, which I like calling her) through the puppet shows she and her beloved husband does all around Durban and its surroundings in the province of KwaZulu-Natal of South Africa, for children. The first time I met her, she had a beautiful sense of aura about her giving off a fairy-like sense of wonder. She is an intriguing woman with plenty of wisdom to go around for decades and generations to come. She is the great admiration both in the quaint little places of South Africa and the United Kingdom. You would not find her in the hustle and bustle of the modern day musician but in fact, she plays in little gems found hidden amongst the magickal lands and traditional folks. Here is my interview with her.
1.What is Traditional Folk music?
In the days before modern methods of transport and communication, the local village was one's world. People all over the world would gather round in the local hostelry or by their own firesides, and sing about the work they did and the stories that happened to them. They also wrote songs about the changing seasons, and, because the life back then was so agricultural, there are songs about milkmaids and plowmen, Lords and Ladies. A shanty, or seafaring song, is a story about life at sea. Many are “phrase and chorus” to fit the work on board ship. Later, during the Industrial revolution, they made up songs of the mills and mines.These songs were sung, and listened to, and became what we know as the 'oral' tradition, passed on from singer to singer over the centuries. The same happened with melodies and we get the rich diversity of instruments, notations, and sounds from traditional music of every country on the planet.
Nowadays people still write music and songs in the 'traditional' way, using the tonalities and phrasing of the old songs. Some of these melodies and songs have, in turn, become a part of the continuing tradition.
Many of the so-called 'Pop' songs have found their way into our hearts and, if we sing or hum them around the house, could well be referred to as 'traditional' !!
For me, the traditional songs I sing come from the British Isles, most of them hundreds of years old. I have to confess that, thanks to the collectors of the early 1900s, most of my songs come from books.
2.A beautiful story. Thank you for sharing that. I have read that there are different classifications of folk music eg. folk rock, folk metal, and electric folk. Do you fall in any of these classifications?
I have dabbled in all the varieties and recorded songs that may fit into any of these categories, including 'progressive' arrangements.However, I think that “Traditional” fits my style best, as I love telling stories through song.My guitar style is what is known as 'finger style' as I use the guitar as both, accompaniment and as the other 'voice' when arranging my songs.
3.I have read that you have been singing and performing in front of an audience since 5years old in England and moving to SA after being married was seen as a betrayal of your home country. Can you tell me more about this?
It was more a case of a few folks not understanding that I was marrying the man, not the Country. There was a flurry of 'last concert' bookings before we left. Unfortunately, back in the late 70s when I met and fell in love with John Erasmus, South Africa was seen in a rather bad light. Some people were rather unkind, but, to be fair, most of the clubs didn't even notice.
4.You now travel back and forth to your home country singing folk music and stringing your guitar. Are you more welcome back in your home country?
Yes, it has been very validating over the years to return and sing for the same folks I knew way back when. We have all 'matured' together and still love to share folk music. The problem these days is that there are too few clubs and too many artists, much like here!!!
5.When is your next tour period in the UK and venues you playing at?
May to August 2017
Mostly the Folk Clubs and Festivals, but now and again, a house concert or Senior Citizens home. Visit my Facebook timeline for current details.
6.How is folk music received in the UK compared to SA?
In the UK and Europe, it is still a small 'niche' in the big scheme of the music world. The Folk community is very welcoming and still in love with their music. The trouble is that most 'everyday' people don't connect with the music that runs in their veins, preferring the modern pop genres and looking on Traditional song and dance as “Quaint”.
In South Africa, for the UK tradition, there are only a handful of Folk Clubs. I don't know about the other cultures. I very seldom get the chance to share my songs here, which is why I tour overseas for my Folk 'fix'!
7.I have known you from the puppet shows you present to kids (and adults as I enjoy them just as much as the kids) in SA. I have to say those puppet shows are wonderfully entertaining. Why do you do puppet shows? I mean folk music on one side of the scale and puppet shows on the other side?
John was retrenched in 1986. We decided to give music a go to make ends meet, as he is an accomplished piano player. We started working as “Auntie Mim and John” in pre and early primary schools.
Someone asked, “Do you do Puppet Shows?” We discussed it, said “Yes!” and Suzy and her friends were 'born'. John made the booth, I made the puppets and wrote the stories and songs, and John played his keyboards for the accompaniments. We now have 10 different “Puppet Pantomimes” as I call them.
8. I have noticed that you are not famously known as an artist like the big pop stars out there. Why did you choose to keep your circle small? I mean, you absolutely had/have the potential and gift but you chose the more intimate crowds. Why?
I think it's because I never wanted to be a “Pop” star. I chose to be a folk singer. John Erasmus, from South Africa, came overseas on a round the world trip in 1977. We fell in love, and I came back to Durban with him. I was determined to be a stay at home mom, so, when the children came along, in 1978 and 1981, I really loved being a wife and mother.
However, as I get older, I have become a traditional singer in my own right, and am now getting more gigs than I can hope for – there's life in this ole gal yet!!
9.What was the biggest number in a crowd that you played for?
Cambridge Folk Festival 1975, 12,000.
10.That is wonderful. How many albums have you created and can you name them, please?
Gypsy without a Road
Port Elizabeth Lounge
Best Loved Folk Songs
Now and Then
11.Miriam Backhouse? Is Backhouse your maiden name or is it a stage name?
My maiden name is Thorpe. Richard Backhouse was my first husband, so, in the '70s I used Miriam Backhouse.
In S.A . I am known as Miriam Erasmus.
12.Back to playing folk music in SA. Which venues do you play and do you have any dates for us to come hear/watch you play?
Roland Stansell is very supportive in this and I played at The Rhumbelow and Windsor Tennis and Tunes for him. The next show is on April 17th at Windsor Tennis Club.
Also in April, I will be playing for the Veterans concert at Splashy Fen, and Grosvenor Girls High School Senior Citizens party on 26th. All are open to the public.
Last year I went to Delia Sainsbury's Waterfront Theatre School in Cape Town and did some concerts there. They have invited me back, and several other venues in the Cape are interested. People will be updated on my Cape Town tours on my Facebook profile.
13.It will be really hard, to sum up, your whole life in an interview, so what would be some of the key points that you would like the world to know about YOU? What makes Lady Mim tick? What are the reasons you get up every morning?
John makes us coffee every morning – a ritual that we love. I get up, smile at myself in the mirror, and head out for the day. I once read “Get up, dress up, and show up !” However some days I stay in bed in my PJs, with a guitar, some knitting, a song book, the tv remote and my cell phone on the bed and just 'chill' – being semi-retired has its perks.
My life has been a series of opportunities to share the love of the Creator through songs and stories shared with souls of all ages. Before every concert, I gather myself and ask that the love and music flow 'through' me, not 'from' me. That way, my ego is out of the way and a sharing of something on a higher level takes place. Many people say there is a certain something 'extra and healing' to the times we share, and that brings us all joy.
14.I know you to be a very simple woman, whom, I admire and adore. You are very present with your views of current world occurrences, quite righteous and wise to the old ways. What advice would you like to part to the rest of the world?
Dear Pragashnie, my fondest wish is that we could return to the “Village” mentality. Where close neighbors nurture and look out for each other.
Our souls and their destinies are so rich and varied, colorful and valid. Never be afraid to shine.
Find something that you really love to do with your life, and don't just do it, be GREAT at it. I still practice my guitar and do vocal exercises daily.
My life's philosophy has always been based around the simple phrase “Be Kind”
I wrote this song for our precious little ones, but I think it applies to children of all ages.
Be good and kind to others.
Be good and kind to others.
Never make somebody cry.
Speak words of gentleness all the time.
Or at least, have a jolly good try.
Never tell lies.
Never tell tales.
Never blame anyone else.
Always be good.
Always be kind.
Always help somebody else.
Here are the current details for Miriam Erasmus' tour dates in SA and the UK.