When Karen met Sarah met Pat met Jaye met Nia met Sally … that’s how all-female singing and multi-instrumental group Raven was formed.
Within a year of forming in 2004 they had performed their first concert, write their own material and are now favourites on the music circuit in Scarborough and beyond having played Grassington Festival twice.
Reviews describe them as mix between the Dixie Chicks and Steelye Span and audience reaction ranges from “rich joyful evening” and “fantastic” to “brilliant” and “more entertaining than Elton John”.
To give me a flavour of their sound they insist on a concert in the conservatory of Nia’s home where they are rehearsing.
They burst into song as well as hit the keyboards, ring the cowbells and blow the penny whistle. The ukulele, accordian, guitars, flute, congas, recorder, didgeridoo (Pat) and djembe can also be brought into play.
The sound is joyful, pagan and harmonious – simply ravishing. Not to want to join in – never mind join this sextet of vibrant women doing something they clearly love – is irresistible.
There’s salsa, blues, pop and rootsy folk fused together.
The name Raven, thought up over food and wine, was chosen because it suited their style of music – mysterious, earthy and spirited – and one of their songs, Pictish Girl, described a young girl wearing ‘pagan black’. A raven also has the biggest vocal range of any bird.
The driving force was Karen Chalmers, a teacher at Overdale School, Eastfield. “I felt medieval, folk, traditional and original songs would be a refreshing change from singing in shows and covers bands,” she said.
Karen first got together with Sarah Dew and Pat Edmond, a parent support advisor for North Yorkshire County Coucil. The three of them knew each other through the Scarborough music scene.
Sarah met Sally Lidgely at work. Both are teachers at Northstead Primary School in Scarborough. She noticed she could sing and suggested she come along.
Sally met stenographer Nia Davidson at a book group, believed her when she said she could sing, and encouraged her to give the band a try.
Jaye Lewis, PA to the artistic director Chris Monks and executive director Stephen Wood at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, invited herself in because she just knew she belonged in the band after hearing one of the early concerts.
“The band soon discovered the immense joy of singing and creating music together and we became firm friends,” said Karen, who with Sarah, writes most of the material.
“A huge free rehearsal space, on the promise of a concert, allowed for big ideas, proper practice and lots of fun,” she said.
All six are married or have partners and betweem them have 11 children aged from nine to 28. They share musical backgrounds, ranging from classically trained piano to singing in the school choir.
The colloboration is obviously a harmonious one but being part of Raven means something different to each of them.
For Jaye, an actress and dancer, it “has been a fantastic opportunity to perform again, as well as being choreographer for the band”.
Nia finds herself perfectly at home in Scarborough singing with Raven and Sally adds weight and liveliness to the music with her versatile djembe and conga playing. Sarah enjoys pushing boundaries with vocal harmonies and mixed genres, resulting in song styles from up-tempo salsa to avant-garde choral.
Raving about Raven is becoming a pastime on the Scarborough scene. If you have not seen or heard them there are plenty of people lining up to tell you what you are missing – despite this the women remain humble and focussed on the joy of it all.
“We did not know how successful we would be. Our first gig was at Burniston chapel where a hundred plus people said ‘you must do it again’,” said Karen.
They take it in turns to host rehearsals and they spend the first half hour or so catching up on each other’s lives. They eat out together and when they played Grassington Festival booked into a B+B days before the concert so they could hang out together.
“It’s really important that we get on well, fortunately there is a great rapport between us,” said Jaye. “We feel we are sharing something really special.”
Forth coming gigs
Raven at Raven Hall, Scarborough
October 2, 7pm
Raven at the Friendship Club, Whitby, during Goth weekend.
Nov 2 8pm
Raven at All Saints’ Church, Kirkbymoorside
Nov 24 7:30pm
Raven Christmas Concert at Woodend, Scarborough
Dec 21 8pm
Raven, with John “Hutch” Hutchinson and John Watton, at Burton Fleming Village Hall
Mar 2 8pm