Glasgow-by-Nottingham songstress Sam Lou Talbot plays with fire. Her alluring and unswerving anti-ballads come about through the mouth. Gloriously lo-fi, transparently personal, and reverently untamed — they want to take on the world.
Whilst our contemporary musical mores would have us on our knees, churning out tunes, ever sweetening the algorithm; Talbot’s impulsive and improvisatory first takes, self-produced and released as definitive versions, rather threaten to fall apart, mid-bloom.
Sam Lou Talbot debuted with Mer-Made, her full-length “beautifully intense and hypnotic” one take, one channel, bedroom repertoire, with “spacious, intense guitar playing” (Donna Matthews), which washed up on shore / in digital stores, back in June, 2018. Her alter-ego sank without a trace though, its siren song only to be picked up two years’ later by a marginal folk reviewer from the North, who somehow caught wind of it on Bandcamp, and brought it back to life. The album was unleashed on a handheld Tascam in a studio flat above a garage in the Home Counties, with latter tracks being laid-down in a Scottish mountain village. Mer is French for ‘sea’, and the title is a twist on man-made.
Her next statement of intent, and translucent shamanic lament, the “incredible” (David J Reed) and “soulful and fierce” (Simone Smith) eight-track LP Body Down (Live) released December 3rd, 2021, is a loaded affair, which lays bare her emotional tattoos, reviewed as:
“…an extraordinary album – eight intimate sketches on desire and its discontents performed with remarkable emotional reach; unswerving, magnetic music from the hidden wilds of human reality.”From the Margins.
The album was recorded on location at St. Mary’s Space, a converted church studio in the Scottish Highlands, during a three day deluge which seeped into the mix, engineered and illuminated to striking effect by composer / producer, Jamie Smith, of sonic novel Notes from a Tremulous Hand (2021). Sam Lou Talbot had never picked up, let alone played, several of the instruments on the mix, including the autoharp and harmonium. This was a case of breaking them in, or a reckoning.
At night, she slept in a converted hut without wi-fi, decorated with bones, skulls and antlers. The fully-equipped kitchen opened out onto the elements. Spiral stairs led up to the bedroom, which had a tiny window overlooking the main house, on which condensation would grow. She would trace her finger across it. After dark, a trail of lights wove a path through the garden, like fallen stars.
The provocative set criss-crosses autoharp, mandolin, bones, rain shaker, guitar, hand drum, and harmonium. In lieu of the drum kit in the corner, she had Jamie mic up her Western boots for tempo, a one-woman band, ricocheting and reverberating around the church, imbuing proceedings with a Southern Gothic vibe, fearlessly shot through with her impassioned post-punk poetic spate and lyrical free-association, primally mastered by Jake Kave.
Sam Lou Talbot’s wider performance works are improvised solo riffs, unmediated and unscripted domestic, or spatial turns. The very conceiving and doing of them ruptures capitalist flow. They generate space beyond consumption and assimilation. On top of that, by documenting and publishing them, she ushers in a radical everyday aesthetic which would otherwise go unseen, and unheard. Similarly, her wordless songs, or instant compositions for voice, draw upon the pioneers of avant-garde and free jazz. She terms these ‘uox confusa’. These songs can’t be written down, or scored as they pre-date language. Sam Lou Talbot is hunting down some kind of ecstatic truth. A weaver of songs, akin to Anna Halprin’s (1947) The Prophetess, a dancer eulogised by Terry Riley as “a vortex of spontaneous action”, she spins an alternative phenomenology of time as other than labour, and as an antidote to the harm of contemporary power structures. Moreover, her lungs call us back to the radical present, which we now need more than ever.
Recent collaborations include: the official performance music video “Blue Valentine”, featuring Lithuanian composer and violinist, Dr Rūta Vitkauskaitė, shot in the wilds of Glen Coe, and directed by and Glasgow-based filmmaker, and BAFTA New Talent Awardee, Simone Smith; music for film directed by the ultra-lo-fi, critically revered “godfather of the Argentine New Wave”, magical handmade aesthetic, snd recipient of the 2022 Buenos Aires International Cinema Critics’ Prize, Raúl Perrone, in collaboration with Argentine novelist and cultural critic Fernando Sdrigotti who releases music as Also Known as Ariel; audiovisual composition and experimental dance with Welsh musician and visual artist Donna Matthews (Klang, ex-Elastica); and monthly feral shenanigans at The Glad Cafe, Glasgow, with Jer Reid, Jessica Argo, Raymond McDonald and GIOdynamics, a collegiate offshoot of Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra.
Samantha is a doctoral candidate in Music at the University of Glasgow, with Dr Matt Brennan, Dr Louise Harris and Dr Iain Findlay-Walsh. She is also a Lecturer in Music at Perth College, University of the Highlands & Islands. She teaches on undergraduate programmes in popular music and creative practice, and is a GTA in Genders at the University of Glasgow, where she is also a Guest Lecturer, and dissertation supervisor on the MSc in Popular Music Industries.
Her performance practice-based research pioneers an aesthetics and onto-epistemology of spontaneous song/writing and its formal, methodological, and conceptual entanglements. It uncovers the recurring themes and impulses which occur both in the practice, and in writing about the practice, and comparable practices. Her original contribution to the field is to make an interdisciplinary intervention. With its systematically rebellious, embodied rationale, hers is a material, and thus, political practice; yet, when it comes to matters beyond time, Marxism, has nothing to say, and so she must look elsewhere.
She publishes and gives talks internationally on her research interests. Hers is a passionate scholarship. As a working-class artist and scholar, and the first in her family to undertake a PhD, she advocates for open-access, and platinum journals which override paywalls, gatekeeping, and author processing fees. She has also published work in progress, beginning with her podcast series Sam Lou Uncased which aired in 2019 on CAMP Radio; and uox confusa, her new show and future LP on creative practice, out now.
She has performed and exhibited work internationally and gained a number of recent awards for album production, travel, and conferences, including a four-day residential recording retreat at St Mary’s Space, a trip to Sweden, and collaborative filmmaking. Previous arts residencies in the UK and abroad have been subsidised by Arts Council England, and Creative Scotland. She was also previously awarded a competitive, fully-funded grant from the University of Glasgow to complete her doctorate thesis (2019-2023).
Sam Lou Talbot will be premiering the official music video Blue Valentine directed by Simone Smith in a private listening room at GLEAM Festival, Glasgow, on June 8, 2022, and doing a Q&A at Connect Fest! She will also be screening it and giving a talk at “New Perspectives in Popular Music Research: Changes and Turmoil” at the University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway, on the 1-2 June, 2022; and at the Innovation In Music Conference June 17-19, 2022, at the Royal College of Music, Sweden. She will also be showing the video via her personal theatre, roaming camper van-ishing show / installation on the pop-up summer, 2022, Space Junk Broadcast Tour around the Isle of Skye and other unfixed locations. Her paper “Where Do I Go in a Song Like San Bernardino?”, on improvising and recording songs in contested, or imaginary spaces, will be published by The International Association of the Study of Popular Music (IASPM) Journal Special Issue: Practice-based Research in early 2023.
Samantha is co-organising the interdisciplinary conference Autotheory: Thinking through Self, Body, Practice along with Lauren Cooper, Sophie Saxon, Serena Wong, and Dzenana Vucik, to be held at the University of Glasgow, and Glasgow Women’s Library, in October 2022. She will also be doing a reading “Some Notes on Fire: Performing Desire and its Discontents”, coupling her own practice with that of the American visionary auteur, David Lynch. Her peer-reviewed article “Burning Trees, Rivers, and John Berger on Song” is forthcoming in the The Songwriting Studies Journal #2 on Narrative. This autoethnographic paper advocates for improvisation as a legitimate form of songwriting, drawing upon the late John Berger’s social ontology of song, écriture féminine, and nomadism as metaphor.
In 2011, she graduated with an MLitt. in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow, under Prof. Michael Schmidt, and Dr Elizabeth Reeder. She then moved to Hamburg. Yet her fictionalised novella / travelogue was written on location in a village in the Axarquía mountains, in Andalucia, Spain. It was called The Housekeeper; and it was about a housekeeper who was never there.
On her Painting degree completed at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton (1997-2000), she began experimenting with super 8 footage, making intimate and poetic cuts, set in kitchens and forests. These pieces segued into video installation, and for her graduation show, she drew out £200 from the hole in the wall and handed it over the kiosk at Sainbury’s in exchange for 200 National Lottery Scratch Cards. (Quantification had already kicked in.) She then proceeded to ‘fix’ the cards onto the gallery wall with blue tack, to resemble a landscape painting, only to watch the cards slowly disappear, glass in hand, at the private view. Scratch Cards, on every corner at the time, tendered a way out for the working-class. Her ‘painting’ represented a possible escape hatch, a flash new car, or a palm fringed beach in more exotic climes.
Sam gained a CELTA from the University of Cambridge in 2005, and in 2008, she was funded by The University of Nottingham to undertake a Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching English for Academic Purposes. In 2017, she gained Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy for effecting change at the University for the Creative Arts. Her case studies were on ‘EAP, Neoliberalism, and Practitioner Agency’, and ‘Creative Writing in the Contemporary Arts University’. In 2018, she took the SQA masterclass ‘Women in Music, Empowerment and Employability’ at the Academy of Music and Sound, Edinburgh, with pop-stress Karla J. Easton and popular music academic and vinyl aficionado, Karlyn King. She has taught at numerous Russell Group universities, and recently at Glasgow School of Art, Strathclyde University, and the University of Glasgow.
In 2003, she jetted off from London on an around-the-world ticket with her guitar on her back, and The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” blasting away in her ears. First stop – Mexico City. She then flew to Cuba, where she, and her newfound Israeli travel companion, Nava, hitched around the island on chicken trucks. They bought new reeds for a local Saxophonist, who learned perfect English listening to Celine Dion lyrics on repeat, and improvised and did promo with a local band, Buena Vista Social Club types who had neither the money nor means to go about it.
On flying back into Mexico, she met Javier, a sound engineer, and illegal alien living in New York City, who just happened to be visiting his family in Juchitan. With an effortlessly French girlfriend from the circus, they played didgeridoo and drums in public squares on their way north to Baja California, via the silver mining town of San Real de Catorce for the annual pilgrimage.
carried on for an hour,
Metal, dust and grease on the mouth.
Women – mute
in horse-drawn carts,
buried in shawls.
At night, we wandered out
into the liquid hills,
dotted with cacti, mosquitoes,
and night dust.
in the border town
You said you’d go on ahead.
Last I saw of you was in the interrogation booth
at The Gateway to the Americas International Bridge.
Wandered across the forecourt of a gas station, as it were a revelation, at 1 a.m.
The gas attendant said: “You didn’t ought to be walking around here like that… there are 40 drive by shootings per month alone, and half of those are cops.”
I left with orange juice.
Boarded a three-day Greyhound ride
from Arizona to LA.
by the strangeness
of the cacti,
with their arms stretched out,
under shifting, violet skies,
by the scent of mystical futures
hanging on the air,
with trippy, Lisa Gerard
time in my ear buds,
and collapsing space, on repeat.
Hopped to Fiji.
Landed a job as a co-curator with Sydney painter, Don Clancy.
Ran a gallery above a jazz cafe on Parramatta Road.
Waited for the owners to run out of money,
and close the joint down.
Carried on to Queensland
on a whim, tomato picking at Boogie River Bush House
around 60 km inland.
1996-2010, Inter-railed on an all-zone pass x3.
2006, left London again, for the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Moved to Hamburg.
Moved to PAF, in Saint-Erme-Outre-et-Ramecourt, a user-created, user-innovated platform in Hauts-de-France.
Lived, worked or travelled in 26 countries.
Sam Lou Talbot is a member of the Musician’s Union, Equity UK, The F-List, International Association for the Study of Popular Music, the Royal Musical Association, Scottish Women in Music, The General Teaching Council for Scotland, the Scottish Music Industry Association, the Music Industries and Popular Music Research Seminar group, led by Dr Matt Brennan, and University of Glasgow’s new Creative Practice Research in Music (CPRIM) group. She has also initiated and hosted grassroots creative practice research and writing communities, both in Glasgow’s West End, and on Zoom.
Sam Lou Talbot’s poetry, said to ‘fold space and time’ (Rachael de Moravia, 2018), is published by Burning House Press. Her forthcoming spoken word album My Spiritual Cowboy, poems on female desire, will be published in 2023.