Bity Booker loves to keep busy. Between her travel, study and music, she gets to fit in a little trip to the Woodford Folk Festival as well over the new year. The young songwriter is blossoming to an interesting sound full of the simplistic set up of delicate guitars and sweet, sweet vocals.
Bity was kind enough to lend some time to us to chat about her upcoming Woodford experience.
I’m intrigued by your background and how your music fits within that. Can you tell me about your time growing up in Italy and Australia?
I grew up in Italy and was born there. My father is Australian and my mum is Italian. They’re over in Italy at the moment. I moved here in 2010 and am an Australian citizen. I eventually got to study and play my music. I pretty much stayed here from that time until… I don’t really know.
I moved to London for two years within there as well. I came to Melbourne recently and live here for the time being. Not quite sure though. You never know with me. I may move back to London or Italy and then come back to Australia again. I do feel like I have a stable place in where I want to be. I just want to play music everywhere.
I love Melbourne in particular. It’s my favourite city in Australia. So many great places to play.
Do you identify yourself as a type of ‘travelling musician’?
I do think I’m a bit of a troubadour. I’ve always been like that because I’ve travelled a lot since I was 14. That’s when I started travelling by myself. I don’t really identify as an Italian person, an Australian person, an English person. I just suppose I just travel and that’s my identity.
I just like to go with the flow, to be honest.
Have you performed in either England or Italy before?
Yes – before I was a folk musician. I played in rock and metal bands, mainly, over there. I was also in choirs and in music circles for a long time too. I started playing music as a solo musician when I moved to Australia. That was around when I was living in Brisbane in 2011, to be exact.
I decided I just liked singing my songs with my guitar when I got here. I played the songs that I write and not what others write now too – although I play a few covers as well in my set. I’ve played for an audience everywhere in all kind of places in Italy and England. It was wonderful and unique.
I’m fascinated you were in a metal band!
It was really fun at the time. There are many musicians I’ve come across that don’t do folk but have this interesting folk mentality to them. I know Björk, for example, played in punk and hardcore bands for quite a while. Feist, I think, played in a heavy band; it’s fascinating.
I still like metal still, but I just don’t do it anymore. I was screaming and not singing. Although while I was in the metal bands, I was writing these songs that I have now. I was doing it just in my room and a little ashamed to sing these cute folk songs to the metal people. I thought they’d be judgemental. I was happy when I decided I wanted to play my own songs finally and I really enjoy it nowadays.
Is this your first Woodford Folk Festival?
Yes, it is! I’m really excited. I actually applied thinking that I would apply and not get in. They are all very open-minded to little musicians like me there. A friend said to me I should apply to perform and I didn’t feel I was a fit. I haven’t released an album yet. They would never let me play because of that. When I got the confirmation email that I was playing, I was all [like] “No way.” I clicked it and I got to the point where it said I was successful in the text. I was like, “Yaaayyy!”
Considering this is your first time there, what stories or tales have you heard about Woodford?
That it’s really, really cool. I have played a few other festivals while here in Australia, but not this big. Everyone around me has been saying, “Oooh you’re playing at Woodford. That’s awesome.” I’m going by myself and I don’t know anyone else who is going either. I’m just going to see what it is like and go around the grounds by myself. Hopefully, I meet a bunch of people there!
I am also seeing other artists playing, obviously. There are a few musicians I know who are playing actually. I’ve played with Fanny Lumsden, who is also playing Woodford. There are a few others there as well who escape my mind. I will have to check the program.
Are there other performers that you may not know personally who you want to see?
Buffy Saint-Marie, for sure! She’s one of my favourite folk singers ever. She is also an influence on the music I’m making now. I didn’t know much about her music until a year or so ago. She is a fascinating person who is recently been within my influences lately.
I found out about her through Sonia Kristina, a friend of mine from the band Curved Air. She mentioned her and then I found Buffy out through “Universal Soldiers” and other songs. Somehow I missed out on some of the songs she is widely known for and realised she was playing in London, so I went and got a surprise at some of those more popular songs. She was also the first person who I have asked for an autograph. I got her album Illuminations when I was living in London and got her to sign it at a show I saw of her there. I hope I am making music at 75 years old like she is.
I also want to do workshops too at Woodford. I draw as well, and the artwork on my EPs is made by me. I like crafty things, so I’d like to do some crafty things there for fun as well. Maybe some yoga as well. I started yoga here in Melbourne, so maybe doing it in the festival environment will be an interesting experience.
Your music from your two releases online is marked by this kind of 60s old folk revival movement which Buffy Saint-Marie was a huge part of. What is it about that time that resonates with you musically?
I think the main thing is that my expressive medium is the guitar and voice. That is how I see myself and that is something that was done in that time. There were many many many singers who used just a guitar and voice, and it expressed what they were singing about the best. Maybe I was just born at the wrong time, but I like that style!
I also really like how there is a story inside a song that was prevalent in the 60s. You can follow a song from the start to the end, you want to know what happens. People actually listen to the lyrics then and I try to do that in my songs as well. Include a story in there or have something happening in my lyrics.
What do you think you have achieved musically in 2016 and what do you hope to achieve next year?
I think I evolved a lot, musically. I am happy that I played a few festivals here in Australia too. Also, I completed a degree in ethnomusicology at the University of Melbourne, which I am proud of. I was the only student in the course! It was incredible because I thought I’d make friends there and bond with fellow students, but I made friends anyway outside of the course.
I’m also growing musically. Next year, I’d like to record an album and I feel ready to do that. Hopefully, 2017 will bring that creativity through to complete it.
Bity Booker is playing at the Woodford Folk Festival on various stages on Wednesday 28th December, Friday 30th December and Saturday 31st December. For more information on the festival head to woodfordfolkfestival.com. For more info on Bity, head to www.bitybooker.com.