Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper



Sean O’ Shea talks with Sian Hayward of Rattlebag, a popular all-female harmony group from Hastings who have been performing a mixture of traditional and contemporary music around the Sussex folk scene since 2005.

How did the group Rattlebag come about Sian and what inspired you to choose that name?

The group got together back in 2005. We knew each other from Morris dancing with Hannah’s Cat Morris, apart from Meg who met Faith at a folk session and liked the sound of what we were doing. We all liked folk sessions, joining in with choruses or singing solo songs. We got together, learnt a few songs, arranged our harmonies, had a lot of fun and then took them to the Tuesday folk session at the Stag Inn, Hastings. We wanted a name that related to The Stag. We came up with Rattlebag; a rattlebag is a bag made from Stag hide with antler pieces inside. Hunters rattle this to reproduce the sound of stags rutting, knocking antlers together. It also resonated with us because of Seamus Heaney’s and Ted Hughes’ Rattle Bag of poetry

What is your own background and what are some of your main musical influences?

My background – well, I’ve been a special needs teacher for a while. I’ve loved Morris dancing, ceilidh dancing and listening to all sorts of music. My more recent interest in singing traditional folk songs grew partly from going to story-telling festivals; I used to sing folk songs to my children as well as telling stories at bedtime.

My influences musically are quite diverse. I like blues, Americana, and European Folk and Indie. I love John Martyn, Hedningarna and the Bonzos!  I listen to Eliza Carthy and The Decemberists.

Sian Hayward

Sian Hayward -

What about other group members?

Meg Foster: I was brought up in the Salvation Army, a fabulously musical organisation, and was singing in choirs from the age of 5 as well as playing a number of instruments: keyboard, flute, guitar as well as tambourine! I found I had a talent for harmony and the first all-female harmony group for me, at the age of 16, was The Kingston Trio – three of us singing around Scotland. I’ve since been involved in a number of choirs and groups, ran a folk club in Dorset and was a founding member of a four-female harmony group in Dorset singing Celtic folk – Monday’s Wine.

Lynne Heffernan: I grew up to the dulcet tones of Val Doonican, The Dubliners and The Clancy Brothers. The record player was always on so these songs and tunes seeped into my half-Irish bones! I performed in a madrigal choir at school and we were used as the backing for a record that got to number two in the charts and for television appearances. This led to other recordings in various studios – a very heady time. I have been in various folk groups over the years and helped to set up and run H.A.M. (Hastings Acoustic Music) back in the 80s. I belonged to a group in London that took Old Time Music Hall to hospitals and care homes – whether they wanted it or not! As a teacher in a special needs school, singing was very important and they particularly enjoyed the repetitious shanties. I now sing in Vocal Explosion – a world music choir – and of course Rattlebag. I love all forms and styles of music (except modern jazz and opera!). My current listenings are Natalie McMaster, Shooglenifty and Baka Beyond.

Lynn Hefermann

Lynn Hefermann -

Faith Brooker: After growling along as a bass in an all-girl school’s choir, I fell into folk, where a nasal whine was considered a positive thing. I later joined a bizarre theatrical rock band that played Glastonbury, Stonehenge, and many booze-sodden venues where I provided most of the screaming. During a career in book publishing I formed an ad hoc trio with two other editors performing a mix of cabaret and Willie Nelson, performing at pantomimes, and various wakes. I like folk, jazz, rock, blues, soul, and the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. I don’t have influences as much as heroines and heroes, some of which are –  Norma Waterson, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Dusty Springfield, Nina Simone, and Amy Winehouse.

So Sian, how do you choose the selection of songs you perform?

Any one of us might bring a song to the table, we listen, and if we all like it we will try it. That’s a real table by the way! We practice round my old wooden kitchen table, with a few drinks to release the creativity. The song needs to work without music, and so we choose songs with a melody that lends itself to good harmonies and which will work without instruments. If we like a song, and enjoy singing it, then we play around with it to really make it ours.

The singaround is a time-honoured custom which you enthusiastically preserve and promote. What is its special appeal for you?

We love our singaround. It is very special to us. When we started the Stag singaround there was nothing like it happening in the area. A cappella singing was somewhat marginalised in pub sessions and open mics tended to suit accompanied singers. We like to foster the tradition of social singing and we’re very proud of our singaround.

Rattlebag at Jack in the Green

Rattlebag at Jack in the Green

You host regular monthly sessions at the Stag Inn, Hastings. Could you describe these sessions

Every singaround is different, and always fun. We never know what songs will be sung, and there have been some surprising gems, such as songs from other counties. We have theme nights, e.g. spooky songs at Halloween, seasonal songs and occasional fancy dress! We pass the Rattle-Bag around as a turn-taking marker, each person sings a song if they want to or passes the Bag on. We have been known to fine people £1 if their song is long and boring; just to keep the evening fun! Some songs are joined in by everyone in rousing choruses and rich harmonies, others songs are sung with a quiet audience hush. We sing a few songs, often with dazzling choreography and occasional sign language. We have regulars and newcomers every month. The diversity of the singers creates a smorgasbord of entertainment.

Do you think that many young people are being drawn to this form of entertainment?

Yes, creative and talented young people are drawn to unaccompanied singing, like Lady Maisery for example.

You also play fiddle and recorder. Could you say a bit about Sian the instrumentalist?

I don’t call myself an instrumentalist, but I do like playing with others. That’s really fun.

What would be your message to potential visitors to Hastings in terms of its musical and other attractions?

I would say to anyone thinking of visiting Hastings to check out the pub music scene. Almost every night there is some live music; something to suit everyone. Visitors who stumble upon our Stag singaround are often blown away by the whole experience. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but many feel they have discovered a rare treasure in the heart of the Old Town.

What of the future for yourself and for the group – any special events or projects on the horizon?

Our future? Well, more singing and more performing! Maybe more CDs. We have recorded two CDs so far. Faith is currently working on a piece for Rattlebag about the Battle of Waterloo, from the perspective of Hastings fishwives. Watch this space…

  • Rattlebag comprises: Sian Hayward, Lynne Heffernan, Faith Brooker and Meg Foster
  • Join them  at The Stag Inn, Old Town for a singaround on the third Thursday of every month
  • Watch a recording of them performing at the Jack in the Green Festival:
  • Website
  • All pictures courtesy of Rattlebag

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Posted 10:33 Friday, Jul 18, 2014 In: SOS

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