REVIEWS & INTERVIEWS
PUNCTURE (January 1, 1994)
Something so raw-edged has no business being so pretty. The voices of the Pooka duo, one sweetly mezzo, one sweetly high, wander through their songs as though grazing the tastiest melody lines at will.
There's nothing primitive about it, in fact. The lightness and finesse of the fills are the proof, with barely perceptible touches from instruments like harmonica or bodhran nudging the pair's traipsing guitar lines over the lea. When a part steps forward there's a reason, like the way producer John Coxon's slide guitar on the three-and-a-half-minute suite "Rolling Stone" puts a scary pagoda up over the acoustic framework.
Yet the wispy singing of these two young Manchester women (the vocals of "Dream" threaten to float away on their own sibilance) belies the audacity with which they hack out their skeletal melodic structures (for a somberly masterful guitar line, try the I'm-leaving-you-babe blues "Between My Knees"). One of them, Natasha Jones, revealed to a journalist, "We do nothing but get up in the morning, write down our dreams, and then turn them into expressive drawings or music." Nice work.- Penta Prism
CMJ - New Music Report
Although Pooka adopted its name from an Irish goblin, the band actually hails from Great Britain. In stark contrast to the foggy days one finds in that country are the band's own warm and sharply clear songs. While Pooka is, for the most part, an acoustic guitar romp through sunny and sometimes mystical dreamscapes led by two writers/musicians/singers, Sharon Lewis and Natasha Jones, occasional bass and electric guitar make guest appearances, further drawing out the essence of Pooka's dynamic realizations. Much of the album waxes psychedelic, with delicately swirling and intertwining notes bucking folk's traditional predilection toward the strum. Particularly effective at conveying these intricacies are songs like "The Car," which blends both Natasha and Sharon's voices into a single beautiful vocal line, while recounting the ancient adage that it's better to carry on with one's own internal truth rather than follow the advice of others. Other airy melodies: "City Sick," "Graham Robert Wood" and "Breeze."
MOJO (October 1997)
Follow-up to 1993's eponymous, acoustic-based debut. Bass player Steve Lamb and P.J. Harvey's drummer Rob Ellis lend a hand with grooves and arrangements.
A refreshingly-skewed alternative to the Meredith Brooks school of bland-out, Sharon Lewis and Natasha Jones of Pooka manage to explore their dark sides less petulantly, and thus a mite more sexily. Like Kate Bush they have a penchant for dreamy soundscape intros (Higher, She Is A Rainbow) and unsettling, yet erotic narratives (The Insect, Sweet Butterfly). On this evidence, they haven't made their Hounds Of Love yet, but in places, the strength of their songwriting and imaginative use of vocal harmony still beguiles. God Sir, which rocket-launches from middle-eight to final chorus, is a stand-out, and the aforementioned Higher - built on a delicate acoustic guitar figure and meandering vocal redolent of Joni circa Blue - shines too. Don't let Spinning's occasionally over-indulgent production put you off; Lewis and Jones have a special, if not yet fully-matured, talent.
Reviewed by James McNair
Q (October 1997)
Decamping to Devon, being dumped by Warner Bros and roping in
PJ Harvey's drummer has had a peculiar effect on Pooka. This second album takes
the sparse acoustic-and-beautiful-voices blueprint of their self-titled debut
and wraps it in all manner of sound effects and studio trickery to produce songs
that lie midway between the aural experiments of Kate Bush and the introverted
moments of Throwing Muses' The Real Ramona. Grabbing a flight into the world
of singer/songwriters Sharon Lewis and Natasha Jones is an unsettling but enthralling
experience. No effect has been spared: tape slips, birdsong and the sound of
the ocean ebb and flow, so that at times Spinning is in danger of resembling
an off-kilter relaxation tape instead of the rather fine collection of songs
Reviewed by Anthony Thornton
ROCK AND REEL (Spring 1998)
According to the dictionary, a pooka is a malevolent Irish goblin or spirit, sometimes assuming animal form, and said to haunt bugs and marshes. Sharon Lewis and Natasha Jones, who make up Pooka -the band -, are not malevolent spirits, nor do they, as far as is known, haunt hogs and marshes. They do, however, share their mythical namesake's shape shifting ability. Dave Haslam tries to keep them in focus.
Since their inception six years ago, Pooka have changed from being a two guitar, two voices acoustic duo into something which, although it retains much of the spirit of the original, is a different kettle of fish altogether. In 1993 the duo released their eponymous debut album, a purely acoustic affair (sadly deleted, but still apparently available from Harrods!) featuring just guitars and voices.
For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that old industry chestnut of never ending legal wrangles, it's only now, some four years later, that they've released their follow up album, 'Spinning', which sees them firmly back on track and which, with its darker edge and full complement of supporting musicians, marks something of a departure from the first album.
The music scene has changed considerably since these early days, so it's hardly surprising that Pooka have followed suit. But the twist is that, where today the choice of venues they can play is expanding from folk clubs to rock clubs, at the time of their genesis they were, not to put too fine a point on it, searching for a paddle, creekwise! The mainstream, unable, or unwilling, to comprehend that it is possible to create good pop music acoustically, assumed that Pooka were a folk act, despite the fact that their music wasn't traditional, the song writing was contemporary and the guitar playing owed as much to the blues as anything. Not surprisingly, some folk clubs being what they were (are?), the folk clique disagreed with the mainstream.
"When we started, we went to a couple of folk clubs but they said that if you hadn't been on the circuit for at least twenty years then you had no chance, so we thought -get lost then!"
Song writing remains Pooka's raison d'être, and on 'Spinning' they've added musicians and ideas from other sources. When they were an acoustic duo they used to imagine how things would sound with other instruments, but the more they played together, the more the intimacy of what they did became apparent. Now though, they both agree that it's good to work with other musicians.
"We've just progressed really. We had some raucous songs and we felt that they'd be better suited to a band. The beauty of Pooka is that we can do so many things and don't have to be tied down to one particular style (as their recent acoustic shows demonstrate). The first album was to show the bare bones of our song writing: to show that you can put songs onto an album without all the fancy arrangements. A good song stands on its own, but we've always been experimental, even on the acoustic stuff."
One of the main collaborators on 'Spinning' was Rob Ellis, former drummer with PJ Harvey's band. He's recently released 'Spleen', an album of avant-garde classical music which Sharon and Natasha played on.
"We did some weird stuff with Rob. He's a friend of one of Pooka's early managers and he really liked our first album, so he came along and played, and he's such an imaginative musician that we were really inspired by him."
Together with bassist Steve Lamb, and keyboards player and producer Joe Leach, Rob provides the backing for Natasha and Sharon to weave their tales of the ups, downs (and occasional sideways movements) of love, life and everything.
Although it's all systems go now, the past few years have been totally frustrating for Natasha and Sharon and, as is often the case, it wasn't of their own making. When they left Warner Brothers, their original home, they were taken under the wing of Rough Trade supremo Geoff Travis who, as (bad) luck would have it was about to be out of a job, thanks to internal wrangling within the company.
For a while they moved to Atlantic Records in the States, before Geoff finally found a new position at Island, where they now reside. Not that they were sitting around waiting for things to be sorted. They were living in Birmingham at the time, and filled their time gigging, playing with Ultramarine and teaming up with the aforementioned Rob Ellis. During these years there was a common misapprehension among many of their fans from the earlier days that, because there had been no recorded output for so long, they must have called it a day, as Sharon points out.
"It's been really annoying. We'd be in Birmingham giving out fliers for our gigs and people would be surprised we were still going. It's annoying because you feel as if you're to blame. We love what we do; we're dedicated to it and when people don't believe that we've been working really hard trying to get out of our situation, it's really frustrating, but it's just down to had luck really."
If there is an up side to all this, it's that they now have, in demo form, a large back catalogue of material to draw on, and they've also done some live recording, but whether any of this will ever see the light of day is in some doubt, because having finally found a home where they feel good, they're eager to get down to writing and recording new material.
Musically Pooka are a difficult band to categorise. The two guitars and voices remain at the heart of 'Spinning', but it's not some jolly campfire strum along ... anything but. Comparisons have been drawn with among others, The Indigo Girls, Ani DiFranco, Kate Bush and even Led Zeppelin (!) and, although they acknowledge that there may be some similarities, what they're really influenced by are songwriters, with Bjork, Paul Simon, John Martyn, Dylan, Joni Mitchell - and even Morrisey - being high on their list.
There's also a folk element to what they do, Sharon having once played accordion in the band Red Ciel, alongside Ed Boyd, now guitarist with Flook!
"I've always liked Irish music; sad songs, jigs and reels," - and it's possible that their acquaintance will be renewed later this year, since the girls have managed to get their hands on a lottery grant.
"We're doing some stuff with Ed, Michael (McGoldrick) and Sarah (Allen). We're going to put on a performance next year with all our back catalogue, and we've written string arrangements and things, so we're going to put on a concert with them which will be filmed and recorded."
All of that remains in the future. What matters now is to re-establish their position in the scheme of things, and to date it seem to be going very well. With a string of well-received gigs behind them and favourable press, they are making themselves heard again. 'Spinning' should do much to help that process along with its quite dark, almost painful songs sitting alongside the more whimsical, and with a side helping of the tongue-in-cheek thrown in for good measure.
It could be argued that it is because of their single-mindedness that major commercial success eludes them - not that they seem slightly bothered by this assumption. As far as they're concerned, the album is about sending people on a trip between different emotions, although quite what emotion the sound of waves beating on a shore is supposed to represent is anyone's guess.
"That was our producer's idea. He's really into this binaural recording and he's made these microphones that you put in your ears and record what you hear. He recorded that ocean in Australia and, if you listen to it through headphones, it's really scary because you can hear the waves. It works really well though, because it links the song 'This River' to the last song on the album, 'Ocean'. It does work quite well when you listen to it on headphones."
If all this sounds a bit 'New Age' - "It probably is, but we don't really care. People call us everything," - don't panic. 'Spinning' is a unique listening experience and should redress the balance after those years in limbo.
Mind you, Pooka have also been called hippies, which could be cause for some concern. Sharon reckons not "Well, we do sometimes go on stage barefoot, and we've got centre partings, and people do sit on the floor, but that's fine because it's listening music. It's not the sort of thing you get up and head bang to. You can go anywhere to hear music like that." How very true.
Derrière Pooka se cachent deux fortes personnalités ainsi que deux magnifiques voix, celles de Sharon Lewis et Natasha Jones. Elles sont aussi à l'aise accompagnées d'un bassiste et d'un batteur qu'en duos des plus émouvants. Une musique sexy, envoûtante et rageuse.
errière Pooka se cachent deux fortes personnalités ainsi que deux magnifiques voix, celles de Sharon Lewis et Natasha Jones. Elles sont aussi à l'aise accompagnées d'un bassiste et d'un batteur qu'en duos des plus émouvants. Une musique sexy, envoûtante et rageuse.
"Les murs tremblent, les voix crissent: on ne sait pas encore très précisément d'où viennent ces choses - noires, brutales, fiévreuses - qui sortent si âprement de ces deux gorges bavardes, mais l'on reçoit le puissant signal de cette musique dévergondée comme une mise en demeure à revoir nos certitudes."
ROCKERILLA (Maggio 1999)
...La vita è un'avventura: abbandoniamoci dunque all'abbraccio delle sensuali modulazioni umane di "Otoño" e "Nothing Left 1 & 2"! Nel primo persino il battito del cuore rallenta e si ferma, per assaporare il bacio delle bocche di Sharon Lewis e Natasha Jones aka Pooka, che già avevano coltivato due perle selvatiche come gli album Pooka e Spinning, nonché partner degli Ultramarine nel penultimo Bel Air e di Rob Ellis nel primo del progetto Spleen, Soundtrack To Spleen"...
(estratto dalla recensione di "The Middle of Nowhere" degli ORBITAL)
...Life is an adventure: let's indulge in the embrace of sensual human modulations of "Otoño" and "Nothing Left 1 & 2"! In the first one even the heart-beat slows down and stops, to taste Sharon Lewis' and Natasha Jones' (aka Pooka) kiss, they had already cultivated two savage pearls like Pooka e Spinning albums, as well as being Ultramarine's partners in their penultimate Bel Air and collaborating with Rob Ellis in the first episode of his Spleen project, Soundtrack To Spleen"...
(from the review of ORBITAL's "The Middle of Nowhere")
WHAT'S ON - aug-sept 2000
Now signed to French label Telescopic, POOKA look to release their import only Monday Mourning on UK shores to coincide with upcoming live dates. It's been a while since the abortive Island album, but if anything the girls have emerged stronger than ever, their slightly sinister cobwebbed Celtic faerieglade atmospheres beautifully evocative on the breathy harmony 70s progfolkisms of The Rocking Chair and One Day We Will See. You Were Enough broods with darker tones, like being caught within forests as night and clouds gather in, contrasted with the ensuing More Than I Love Myself spidery siren sensuality, rippling out over keyboard drone and whispered breezes of acoustic guitar, while in 2 minutes the closing Spirit Boy does everything the Mediaeval Babes couldn't over three albums. Beguiling, bewitching, blissful pagan fecundity from Queen Mab's own minstrels. Love to hear them do a cover of Lord of the Reedy River.
Q (September 2001)
In the mid-to-late '90s, Pooka started out as a folk duo. Their meandering vocals were reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, and their dark eroticism owed something to Kate Bush. Those influences are still here, but producer/ programmer Brian Duffy has updated the girls' sound, lending beats, bleeps and radical manipulations of timbre to their increasingly unique songs. Among the highlights are the saucy, bird-song imbued Ovum, and the Natasha Jones-penned Joy, calling to mind Wendy & Lisa jamming with PJ Harvey, until the vocal turns into Cher circa Believe. If Jones' lyric on the latter, coupled with her sleevenote thanks to "that nice man at The Samaritans" suggests she's had a troubled year, it's certainly made for some affecting music.
WIDE Mail Order (2001)
Arrivano con Shift alla quarta fatica sulla lunga distanza le inglesi Pooka. Si tratta di una vera e propria escursione nei meandri di un’elettronica eterea, che oltre a suggerire paragoni evidenti con la new wave del pop digitale (pensiamo a Mouse On Mars o agli islandesi Mum), offre interessanti parallelismi con altre eroine dei giorni nostri come PJ Harvey ed Alanis Morrisette. Sharon Lewis e Natasha Jones vantano tra l’altro prestigiose collaborazioni al fianco di Ultramarine ed Orbital.
Life's not been kind to slightly mad duo Natasha Jones and Sharon Lewis. Initially signed to WEA, their 1993 debut album got short shrift from the label, leaving a four year gap and a brace of independent singles before returning via Island and pretty much a similar fate for the sophomore release. They resurfaced a couple of years back with hard to find French label mini-album Monday Mourning, but now seem to have finally found a home where they can get their feet under the table. They've certainly been busy. Available only direct from the band (PO Box 67 Wigan, Lancs WN2 4FL), Fools Give Birth To Angels sees them exploring string quintet and hand bells while this more conventionally distributed set is a collaboration with B'ham electronic artist Brian Duffy. A progression from their work with Orbital and Ultramarine, while it obviously comes wrapped up with scuffed beats, loops, and assorted bleeping, the melodies are potent and the duo's style remains centred on their cobwebbed wood-sprite folk derivations with its pagan New Age witchery vocal colours.
Given their experiences, it's no surprise to find the songs thickly veined with themes of disappointment, broken relationships, self-worth questioning, joy on hold and attempts to cling on to hope. Listen to Empty if you want to be brought down. But at the end of the day , it's a sense of determination that pulls through, as Jones sings on Joy "I might not be strong, I might be blind but I will seek and I will find." Seems a reasonable recommendation.
Mike Davies on
Excerpt from an interview with Natasha (June/July 1999) by Michael Whiting
Tash: "Thanks for peoples suggestions. It all helps. Shaz and I are still working on music recordings. We've just signed a deal with Geoff Travis of Rough Trade to do an album with Brian Duffy in Birmingham, so we hope to be getting that going very soon."
Mickey: "What's the new stuff like for those of us that haven't heard it?"
Tash: "The new stuff we are doing has a lot of string arrangements, it's still very song based. But you'll have to wait and hear it for your self. We are still working on it."
Mickey:"Are you gigging in the south soon?"
Tash: "I'll try and get some gigs in the south of England possibly September time. Latest Dates are 5th August Ronnie Scott's Birmingham. A couple of dates in September in Brighton which I tell you about when I get more info."
Mickey: "Where do you get your inspiration from?"
Tash: "We get our inspiration from love, life and other music. Right now I'm listening to Fun Lovin' Criminals. This is my latest faze. Sometimes a walk in the park is just as inspiring as the best record around. People E-mailing me. That's inspiring. A smile from a stranger on the street. Thunder storms and lighting. Nice people. 70's rock bands. Big music festivals. Children, animals. Jungles. Black Adder. Thoughts of women walking on the moon naked. Dark Spanish Men with scouse accents. Swimming in the sea. Kate Bush. Patty Smith, P.J Harvey and her drummer Rob Ellis. Paul Chi, Barnaby, (People in Brighton), hmmmm."
Mickey:"Are there any Pooka videos available?"
Tash:"There are a few videos. Mean Girl, City Sick, an epk but where people can get them from I'm not sure. I'll look into it if you want?"
Mickey: "Yes please - What do you do when you're not writing great songs?"
Tash:"When I'm not writing songs I'm usually thinking how to record them. It's an obsession. Or listening to other peoples music that is an obsession too, or playing the song to someone else, this is another obsession. This is a difficult question. I don't think about what I'm doing I just tend to do it. I went busking to day. I went swimming. I'm thinking of doing a parrishoot jump. I chill out on park benches eating juicy peaches in the summer. I fantasies. I like to paint. If I wasn't so obsessed with music, I'd be trying to get obsessed. hmmmm, deep questions."
Mickey: "Who's Graham Robert Wood?"
Tash: "Graham R Wood is this lovely person who really cheered me up when I really needed it. He told me he was going to become a writer. But I never hear from him, and I can only assume he wants a quiet life. I had a dream that he was teaching me to fly by leaning back on the wind in the front garden of the house where I lived at the time. It was twilight and a really wonderful dream full of love and magic hope. I hope he's having a happy life."
A message from Natasha (July 1999) collected by Michael Whiting
"Yes we are still signed to Geoff Travis. I am having to list these events explaining as other wise it will seem long winded and complex.
1. We signed to Travis under his record label named "Rough Trade" but he had done some sort of partnership deal with some other man. They had a row. Travis was told to leave. Everything went strange, people telling us different things. But the bottom line was that Travis didn't own the name "Rough Trade" anymore.
2. Travis having left "Rough Trade", went to Island to ask them for a label deal. They gave him one. He called his new label "Trade 2". He then signed us, jointly with Island.
3.Island got taken over by Seagram, and so dropped "Trade 2", along with a lot of other small labels and bands signed directly to Island.
4. Travis has now gone to someone else to ask for some sort of label deal. Who it is I'm not too clear. I've been told his name and that he is a music lover. Travis has two companies set up with this man, they are new names as far as I know, "Tug Boat" and "Blackburst". But Sharon tells me that Travis has somehow regained copyright of the name "Rough Trade" so we could end up with that name again.
I like Travis because he's always stood by us. It's unfortunate for Pooka though, because the continuous change of names and endless disappearing acts must make it look like people try then drop and us us like a bad egg. But this isn't so! It's been Pooka and Travis all along. I can be a stupid romantic. I signed to Travis because of his reputation. And The Smiths of course, who I have worshiped in my time. I didn't take any notice of the facts about the times, and there have been a few times, that his company went bust. We could have stayed with Warner if we wanted to, but we left, because the chairman at Wea, can be difficult with people who want to make unusual music. Also our A&R man had left at Wea. We knew Travis was genuinely into our kind of music.
Travis has his fingers in a lot of pies, and his eggs are in different baskets. So He always has something to fall back on. His reputation is always shining because he cares... at the moment he manages Beth Orton. He had that success with Pulp who he manages. Then there was the big boom of Everything But The Girl on his label Blanco Y Negro.
Since Wea though it's always been Pooka and Travis. Even though the names are changing. That him not us. However, because this next deal we are doing with him is non-exclusive, we may appear on other peoples labels. When I know for definite that these records are being released, and the date of the release, I will let you know. But the company names are: "Play Pen Records" and "Telescopic Records" both baby labels.
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