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Invisible Music by Polly Paulusma review – a vibrant celebration of Angela Carter the folkie

Neil Spencer
·1 min read

The folk-singing interests of the novelist Angela Carter are usually confined to the margins of literary commentary, but alongside her first husband the mistress of magical realism was an ardent enthusiast of traditional song. The pair ran a folk club and made field recordings of voices such as “tinker singer” Davey Stewart, from whom Carter claimed you could “learn more about style than from books”. She herself sang and played concertina.

The singer-songwriter Polly Paulusma, on this her eighth album, explores the connections between Angela the folkie and Carter the feted novelist – Paulusma recently completed a PhD on the subject. On offer are antique ballads such as Reynardine and The Streams of Lovely Nancy, some delivered a cappella with an admirably light touch, others to bass, fiddle, bodhrán and guitar. The songs are interspersed with readings of Carter’s work by Paulusma, the singer Kathryn Williams and novelist Kirsty Logan.

It’s easy to see links between Carter’s female characters and, say, the cross-dressing heroine Jack Munro, or the weirdness of The Bloody Chamber and ballads that are themselves “bizarre, grotesque, beautiful”, as Paulusma describes them. Does folk song “leak out all over Carter’s prose”, as Polly suggests? This vibrant, insightful tribute makes a strong case.