Nostalgia brings Barker back

IT’S hard to believe Emily Barker has never done a Fairbridge Festival before, given she’s one of the hottest folk acts in Britain, but like many homegrown talents it’s overseas where her talents have been better appreciated.

Barker burst onto the scene back in 2008 when her haunting tune Nostalgia was picked as the theme for the BBC’s drama Wallander, featuring Kenneth Branagh. She backed it up with another theme tune for the BBC’s The Shadow Line, which also screened on the ABC.

She’s back living in the Freo area thanks partly to Covid, and will be one of the headline acts at next April’s Fairbridge, which is moving to the Edenvale Heritage Precinct in Pinjarra after the village which shares its name decided it would no longer host festivals.

To give the resurrected festival a bit of a PR boost, and let locals know she’s back with a force, Barker will be sharing the stage with Spanish bluegrass-shanty band El Pony Pisador at Freo.Social next Friday September 22.

Originally from Bridgetown, Barker took off backpacking in 2002 to try her luck in Europe, landing in Cambridge where she formed her first band the-low-country with guitarist Rob Jackson. 

They released a couple of albums and she even picked up a couple of WAMI awards.

She went solo, but formed the all-female trio The Red Clay Halo in 2005 and released their debut album Despite the Snow in November 2008.

Barker had been waitressing to make ends meet as well as managing the band’s bookings and trying to raise funds to produce the album by playing at house concerts. 

It was at a regular cafe customer’s house party that she met composer Martin Phipps who’d been commissioned to produce the score for Wallander.


“He heard me play the song Nostalgia, and then rang me up a few days after and asked me if I would come to the studio to do a new recording of it, to pitch to the directors of the series,” Barker said.

Still being “totally DIY” at the time, she was busy with the band and didn’t even know that Wallander had been aired.

“I was on tour with my band at the time, the Red Clay Halo, and suddenly all our gigs sold out,” she laughs.

“It meant that I could then get a team around me, some management and agents, and suddenly, I wasn’t having to do everything myself. And then that led to more film and television work as well, which I really enjoy.

“I seem to be called up for crime thriller themes; I don’t know what that says about me, but I’m happy to provide those.”

Barker’s last album A Dark Murmuration of Words came out in 2020 with a heavy focus on the environment, and she’s got a new one on the way that comes at the issue from a different angle.

“The next record, it still speaks to that, but I read somewhere… about how one of the biggest environmental concerns is actually compassion. 

“So it’s about human beings and if we are able to keep conversations going and create this compassion in society, then we’re able to more readily solve a lot of these problems because we understand each other and have each other’s best interests in mind.”

Barker says she missed Australia while she was away, and her Covid lock-down project with husband Lucas Drinkwater was the album Room 822, named after the hotel room they spent two weeks locked in, and inspired by songs from her teens growing up in WA.

She says we’re a pretty compassionate lot, though the Voice referendum has given that something of a shake.

“Oh my gosh, it will be devastating if it doesn’t go through,” she says.

“I absolutely want to see it pass through, so I’m glad I’m back and managed to put my name on the electoral roll again, in time to be able to vote.”

Tix to the FolkWorld Fairbridge Festival concert at Freo.Social are available via Moshtix.


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