Me, Thee & Ev - the Lancashire band who find inspiration in Bowland
- Credit: Archant
Bowland is the one place I have worked where I’m late for work because of the views and not the traffic jams.’ It’s a phrase that Hetty Byrne has heard more than once among colleagues at the office that looks after this treasured if largely undiscovered part of wild Lancashire.
Hetty is the sustainable tourism officer for the Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and their office near Dunsop Bridge puts them in the heart of the forest where they can feel the pulse of the local communities.
People say: ‘There’s an amazing feeling of space. One of the few places you can feel connected to nature.’ The sense of privilege locals get from living and working here is an obligation, as well, to keep it alive and well for future generations.
If Bowland stands for sustainability, in farming and tourism, it’s evident this attitude stretches to its offerings in culture, starting from locally sourced food offered in pubs to Bowland-formed artists such as Tom Gill and Evie Rapson, who puts her heart into a rendition of Chipping poet William Michael Neary’s song with the wonderful lyric: ‘Bowland, a princess that’s rarely been kissed, cloud-cloaked and rain-soaked she hides in the mist. Take in a shelter that offers a view, sunrise in Bowland, a blessing on you.’
Evie and Tom, two Lancashire musicians, have just brought out their first album, which is titled “Sunlight Soap Opera”.
Tom grew up around Longridge and Ribchester and Evie hails from Barnoldswick. They met a decade ago at St. Mary’s College in Blackburn during A-levels. The two used to play a live slot every week on the Sally Naden show on BBC Radio Lancashire until they moved to York to study music.
When a former bass player texted them to check if “Me, Thee & E” were on one night in one of York’s old pubs, their duo’s title was conceived.
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Stepping out into the world of music as professionals, they knew it wouldn’t be the easiest of careers. ‘Not many would have called it making a living at first,’ says Evie. Perseverance got them a long way from busking in the streets of Cambridge and York.
All the music on their album was written by Tom Gill with Evie’s impressive vocal range in mind. The chords are powerful, dense and soulful, the lyrics deep, often making a topic of the northern landscape, in the literal sense, but also culturally. In “Northern Line” we hear about environmental issues and society’s response or lack of it but the “Sunlight Soap Opera” takes us into a spiritual whirl where we all try to consolidate our psyche with the discrepancies in society through all-powerful nature. The Rock Society magazine calls their music a “melting pot of sounds that have been expertly forged through live performance.”
Tom says: ‘The music’s message becomes more important in our times.’ The duo have long found inspiration on Bowland’s wild fells and country lanes. The land between Pendle and Morecambe Bay has played a big role in their artistic journey and they keep returning to their old haunts to play their songs.
Evie’s voice transforms their messages into tunes that will long play on in the listener’s mind, heart-rendering and thought-provoking, but capable of bringing peace and joy – a perfect accompaniment for driving along a curvy Bowland road.
Evie loves to tour from village hall to café with Tom, finding their audience, being part of their community.
‘You do appreciate your childhood landscapes, the hills and the dry-stone walls, so much more when you’ve been away and lived in cities,’ says Evie. Their first ever concert was at the Cobbled Corner Café in Chipping, in the heart of Bowland. On the day of our interview, Tom’s boots showed flecks of paint from helping to paint the café’s walls. It’s a typical mark of that sense of community that makes Bowland special. It is so much more than an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but a place that obliges you to love the same, work together and to protect it.
Because tourism arrived more slowly in Bowland than in the neighbouring Lake District or Yorkshire Dales, there were few mistakes made in trying to cater for too many. Sustainability was the watch-word ever since the first cyclists and hikers discovered the area around the Trough of Bowland with its rolling hills and dramatic fells interspersed with mountain brooks and ruined bridges, straight from a fairy tale illustration.
The landscape asks to be explored off the beaten path, but the visitor is guaranteed to find a spot unique to them.
After a concert with “Me, Thee & E” – they have their own website at metheeande.com – the listener will feel they’ve made such a secret discovery as well.
Tom and Evie may have played in front of 2,000 people at the Great British Folk festival in Skegness, but their music is personal and they manage to connect with the listener on a profound level.
‘I enjoy small venues,’ says Tom, ‘I can’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t. I prefer it when everyone’s got a face.’
Maybe this is true for the whole of Bowland.