Interview: Miles Apart

Didmarton Bluegrass Festival is one of Britain’s biggest bluegrass events, and attracts some of the top names from the US, UK and beyond. This year, on the weekend of August 31st – September 2nd, top US band Blue Highway will be headlining along with fellow American acts Mollie O’Brien and Rich Moore and Kathy Chiavola. There will also be a wealth of British and European talent on show, including a debut festival appearance for the youth band Miles Apart.

Miles Apart are a group of five 18-year-olds who all excel on their chosen instruments. They are John Breese (5-string), Michael Giverin (mandolin/vocals), Charlotte Carrivick (mandolin/guitar/vocals), twin sister Laura Carrivick (fiddle/dobro/vocals) and Kieran Mooney (double bass). The youngsters met at Sore Fingers Summer Schools several years back and have been considering forming a band ever since. The only problem, hinted at by the band name, is that they live so far apart. Charlotte and Laura are from South Devon, John and Kieran both hail from Somerset and Michael lives in Lancashire. Through hard work and much support from the bluegrass community, they have managed to overcome this obstacle and earn a spot at Didmarton.

They had been thinking of putting together a band for some time and it was an informal get-together that finally made it happen. “Laura and I had John, Mike and Kieran staying with us in Salcombe just jamming and having fun and we decided to go busking to cover some of their train fares,” Charlotte tells us. “After a little while busking the manager from a pub came up to us and asked if we’d like to play there that night. We didn’t have a set or anything and I have no idea how we managed to fill three hours but we did and so we decided to become a band officially!”

They quickly had ambitions to make the group a successful act. “After this gig, we decided to enter the BBC Young Folk Awards as a band,” says Michael. “Miles Apart was born.”

It’s unusual for youngsters to be so fond of bluegrass music and all the band members agree that Sore Fingers Week is the biggest factor to their continuing involvement and also the secret behind their musical talent. “I don’t think I would still be into bluegrass music if it weren’t for Sore Fingers,” says Laura. “Not only have the tutors helped me progress, everyone there has been so supportive and encouraging.”

Charlotte agrees. “Without Sore Fingers I would still hardly be able to play mandolin and would have never been introduced to flat picking,” she says. “I’d probably also still be playing folk music instead of bluegrass – eep!”

They are also grateful for the support given by various individuals around the country. “The people at the Totnes session have been very helpful,” Charlotte says. “Also Arthur Robinson who sells mandolins – he very kindly lent me a beautiful little mandolin for a year at the first Sore Fingers I went to after having compared mine to a plank! That got me into it more than anything.”

Michael is an active member of the Helsby scene, and was taught by Stuart Williams. “Stu (and everyone in Helsby and members of the House of Plank) has been unbelievably helpful to me as a person and a musician,” Michael tell us. “At every given opportunity Stu has put me up on stage. This has meant that I do not become nervous when playing to other people. He has also given me lots of useful hints on playing in a band and the role the mandolin has in an ensemble set up.”

John is a student of Leon Hunt, arguably Britain’s best banjo player. “Leon gave me the very best possible introduction to the bluegrass community by getting me into Sore Fingers which was the first place I ever sat down to jam with other people. He has always been incredibly supportive and encouraging – doing whatever he can to help us all out,” John explains. “John and Moira Wirtz are also key people in terms of helping the band out with advice and getting us all to Sore Fingers and playing at Didders. I guess everyone in the bluegrass community has helped us all out. And outside of the bluegrass community there have been all our parents who have put up with our rehearsals!”

Didmarton will be the first major gig for Miles Apart, but the members are not new to high profile performances. Michael competed in the mandolin contest at Winfield in 2005 at just 16 years old. “The whole trip was very humbling,” he tells us. “I went over to Winfield mainly to see what the standard of the competition was like – it was unbelievably high. Everyone played their pieces in a Chris Thile style – unfortunately, so did I. The people who progressed in the competition were those who did something a little different in style to the others. Upon returning from Winfield, I decided to listen to and study other mandolin players other than Thile. I will enter the competition again at some point.”

The Carrivick sisters are a band in their own right, and recently represented Great Britain at the EWOB Festival in the Netherlands. They find playing in Miles Apart to be a different challenge. “With a full band, your role is more defined – there are set things you need to do to get the right sound and also you have to make sure you’re not duplicating what someone else is doing,” says Laura. “In this sense, playing in a duo has a lot more freedom. Overall, I would say I prefer playing in a band though – its a lot more fun socially and there’s more scope for interesting arrangements.”

Charlotte also prefers the full band. “Personally I’d rather play in Miles Apart any day – it’s so much more fun and you can do a lot more with a five piece than a duo,” she says.

Asked for their influences, the band name contemporary groups such as Nickel Creek, The Infamous Stringdusters, AKUS and Crooked Still. But their tastes range much further than that. “As a band, our influences are fairly wide,” Laura explains. “I tend to like the more traditional bluegrass styles whereas I think the others prefer newer stuff. We also take influence from pop, jazz etc.”

John certainly doesn’t want the band to adhere to a bluegrass ‘formula’. He explains, “I am much more interested in the more modern 5-string players who use extended chords in their playing and are generally more progressive in style. I love the traditional Scruggs style but I feel it has been done and it’s time to move on so I try to avoid as many cliche licks as possible! I listen to a range of musicians and musical styles but I guess the people who influence me most at the moment are the other band members!”

The band’s set consists of both covers and self-penned material and reflects their wide-ranging influences. “Our three instrumentals have taken strong inspiration from the instrumentals written by Bela Fleck for New Grass Revival,” says Michael. “Our arrangement of Orphan Girl came about after listening to Crooked Still’s version.”

What are the future plans for Miles Apart and what will happen to the band after Didmarton? “I’d love to carry on after Didmarton,” says Charlotte, “but with university and gap years coming it’s going to get even harder, so we’re not really sure.”

Michael is confident that the band can continue despite the difficulties. “I really enjoy playing in this band and can feel it going somewhere. I would love to keep playing as Miles Apart,” he says. “I hope someday, maybe next summer, Miles Apart could mount a UK tour and maybe release an album to go with the tour.”