Midnight Skyracer has distinguished itself in several ways since the band first formed in 2017. Aside from the fact that this Anglo-Irish outfit is an all-female ensemble, they also earned the honor of being the first British act nominated for an award by the International Bluegrass Music Association.
The group consists of singer and mandolin player Leanne Thorose, singer and banjo player Tabitha Benedict, bassist Eleanor Wilkie, fiddler and dobro player Laura Carrivick, and guitarist Charlotte Carrivick. All five women contribute vocals to the groups’s immaculate, interlocked harmonies.
Laura and Charlotte originally met Wilkie at Sore Fingers Summer School, a bluegrass music retreat that takes place in England’s Cotswolds district every Easter. “It was my twin sister Charlotte and myself who had the idea to put the band together, and we were the common link between all the members,” Laura explains. “We all play in other bands as well, but mostly in more stripped-back line-ups, or involving other styles of music. We initially came together just for the fun of playing straight down the line bluegrass in a full five-piece band, expecting to do a few gigs for fun and to cover the costs of travel. We made a few videos at our first rehearsal and the first one we released just went mad. We had something like 40,000 views in the first couple of days. From there it all just took off in ways we could never have imagined! We were getting offers from big festivals and venues all over the world, and now we have a major record deal!”
The band’s first album, Fire, was released in February 2018. They’ve just released a follow up effort titled Shadows On the Moon, on Island Records. It was recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios, and on their website, they describe it as “a scintillating mix of hard-driven bluegrass and mountain balladry, both edgy and infectious, tender and tough.”
Asked about their influences, Carrivick offers a fairly succinct response. “As a band it’s really broad,” she muses. “But the main one we would all put at the top of the list would be Alison Krauss and Union Station.”
She also insists that while the bluegrass audience in England and Ireland is relatively small, its followers are both dedicated and devoted. For their part, Midnight Skyracer has transcended that base by playing a part in a wider folk scene.
Of course, bluegrass began by tapping into English tradition. Carrivick notes that it does bear a distinct connection to the Ulster Scots traditions of Benedict’s home environs in Northern Ireland.
In addition, she insists that the audiences the band has played for thus far greet their performances with a wealth of enthusiasm. “They love it,” she insists. “The best thing is that because bluegrass is such a niche over here, for a lot of people we have been their first experience with the music. It’s so rewarding to be able to introduce people to a new genre they never knew they loved.”
Midnight Skyracer has shared that experience beyond their own borders as well. Although they mostly perform in the U.K., they’ve also toured in in Germany, Switzerland and Australia. In addition, they’ve had opportunity to perform with other musicians of note on various occasions.
“Sore Fingers Summer School brings in all kinds of incredible tutors from the USA, including many of our musical heroes,” Carrivick explains. “Through the years of going there, we’ve all progressed from being students jamming with those heroes in the bar, to tutors performing with them on stage. Leanne once joined Peter Rowan on stage, and Tabitha has performed with Bryan Sutton and Mike Marshall while attending the Acoustic Music Seminar in Savannah, Georgia.”
Indeed, for Carrivick, it’s that universal connection that provides bluegrass with such a universal appeal.
“It’s just so much fun,” she suggests. “It’s simple and accessible on the surface, but also so creative and exciting, with a huge scope for variation. The offstage jamming element makes it really sociable, too.”