It has been said many times that being a musician is a vocation and not a career and the travails and successes of The Red Dirt Skinners is proof of that.

Sarah is a finalist and semi-finalist in numerous songwriting competitions and together with husband Rob they have won many nominations at the British Blues Awards, British Country Music Awards and Country Radio awards including this year’s British Blues Awards where Sarah is again nominated as Best Instrumentalist.

Music-News caught up with the Red Dirt Skinners to ask a few questions about their career and the way that their music and the scene have developed.

M-N When I reviewed your album ‘Sinking The Mary Rose’ I said of your music “this album does struggle to fit into anyone’s pigeonhole” – would you agree with that statement and is that something that you are aiming for?

The funny thing is, Andy, until we started putting out albums as the duo, we never really thought about genres. Between us, over the years we’ve played in rock, blues, country, jazz, metal, prog, classical, ska, and pop bands. Many people seem to get very agitated if they can’t pigeonhole music and it is a struggle to break that mould. However, we do what we do, and audiences seem to love it. The phrase “refreshingly different” is always used by an audience member at some point at all of our shows, and that’s fine with us. Change is good.

M-N While you have had a fair amount of success in terms of awards and critical acclaim you have also had some hardship in the past – I believe that you were burgled some time ago? How did that affect you and your music?

We were burgled on April Fools day 2012. We weren’t amused! The thief broke in through our back door and managed to get away with £30k worth of instruments, computers and jewellery. He was never caught, although we have our suspicions. Something amazingly positive came out of it though; although we’d lost our ideas for the next album (they were on the stolen computers), we were freshly inspired by the events of that weekend. We managed, very quickly, to have a collection of songs all about that weekend, and how we felt about it, and after a few months in the studio Home Sweet Home, our second album, was ready to go. It’s an album that we’re very proud of. Proceeds from the sale of Home Sweet Home put us in such a financial position that we were able to purchase our first home together.

M-N What are your musical origins? Did you start as a duo or were there any other band involvements along the way?

Musically, I (Sarah) started on the clarinet at the age of 6, and Rob started on piano (his grandmother was a piano teacher). We have extremely eclectic musical tastes, perhaps that’s why we can’t be pigeonholed. We’ve been performing together in a few different line ups for the past 5 years, but this is what feels right.

M-N How do you find the scene in the UK at the moment? How easy is it to find gigs? How much do you think you travel each year?

We tend to do a couple of European tours, and a few UK tours per year. Next year we’re heading out to Canada, where our music has been extremely well received. In fact, we are in discussions with a very forward thinking label in Toronto at the moment.
The scene here in the UK is cliquey. If we’re not “Country” enough, we’re not welcome in certain “Western” clubs, and the same with a great deal of the Blues scene, although we have to give a special shout out to Hebden Bridge Blues Festival who’ve really been right behind us from day one.
(M-N note – this year’s festival held over the May Bank Holiday weekend was the last under its current management but once again the Red Dirt Skinners featured among a host of other performers)

M-N Have you been playing anywhere in Europe? If so, how different do you find the European market to that of the British?

We’ve played Belgium and the Netherlands quite extensively, and have a tour of Germany planned for later this year. We find audiences there are unbelievably welcoming of our music. CD sales are always far higher than the UK, and the hospitality from both venues and audiences alike has bowled us over. We’ve never paid for food, drinks or even accommodation whilst on tour in Europe. They really look after their musicians.

M-N ‘Sinking The Mary Rose’ was your third album. How has it been received by the general public? What was the response to your previous releases?

Sinking The Mary Rose was funded by pre-orders from fans and includes a couple of covers but is mostly our own material. There are songs about lost friendships, terrible landlords, domestic violence, and some pretty hard hitting stuff, as well as some calmer songs such as Stillwater, an almost completely acapella tune we wrote about Stillwater, Oklahoma. We write lyrics from the heart and we met some interesting people in 2012/13. We’re thrilled at the buzz that our music is getting.

M-N How do you generally fund your recordings? Do you ever use any of the Pledge sites to raise funds for recording? What else do you have to do to fund your band activities?

Sinking The Mary Rose was funded by pre-orders, which took the pressure off the recording process. Home Sweet Home was a gamble for us that we self-funded and then the orders just flew in once it was available. We don’t have day jobs, hence the relentless touring schedule! We do take on a few selected music students in our “down time”, but for the past four years, both of us have been full time pro.

M-N Where next for the Red Dirt Skinners?

We’re writing our fourth album. I won’t say too much, but it’s another themed album and no, we won’t be trying to make sure we stick to any particular genre! It is likely that it will be released in Canada first, to coincide with our tour in late spring 2015. There are plans to head to America at some point in the future and we’ve had a fair few enquiries from Australia. All is looking very rosy for us right now, and we are very happy with where we’re at.

Thank you Andy for taking the time to interview us :-)

Upcoming dates

Jul 11
The Tin at the Coal
Coventry, United Kingdom

Jul 12
Scotland, United Kingdom

Jul 13
Rothes Revelling
Rothes, United Kingdom

Jul 16
The Market Bar
Inverness, United Kingdom

Jul 17
The Tea Posy
Dingwall, United Kingdom

Jul 18
The Blue Lamp
Aberdeen, United Kingdom

Jul 20
TheVenue@No24', West High Street,
Crieff, United Kingdom

Jul 21
The Room With A View
North Berwick, United Kingdom

Aug 03
Cafe Westerdok
Amsterdam, Netherlands

Aug 06
House Concert
Duisburg, Germany

Aug 07
House Concert
Kiel, Germany

Aug 08
Kleefeld Kultur
Hannover, Germany

Aug 09
House Concert
Guben, Germany

Aug 10
Ravensburg, Germany

Aug 15
Bentworth Blues Festival
Bentworth, United Kingdom

Aug 16
Friends Reunited CMC Festival
Farnham, United Kingdom

Aug 22
The Hearth
Northumberland, United Kingdom

Sep 05
The Big Green Cardigan Festival
Staplecross, United Kingdom

Sep 06
The Sofa Sessions
Kettering, United Kingdom

Oct 09
House Concert
Brussels, Belgium

Oct 10
T Gildenhuis
Kruibeke, Belgium

Oct 11
Cowboy Up
Oostkamp, Belgium

Oct 12
Station Berlaar
Berlaar, Belgium

Oct 13
House Concert
Duisburg, Germany

Oct 14
Hommel Music Cafe
Vlaardingen, The Netherlands

Oct 17
House Concert
The Hague, Netherlands

Oct 19
Station Berlaar
Berlaar, Belgium

Nov 14
Applause Touring
Kent, United Kingdom

Nov 15
Applause Touring
Kent, United Kingdom

Nov 16
Applause Touring
Kent, United Kingdom

Jan 30
Sheep Dip Sessions
Coventry, United Kingdom

Jan 31
Iron Horse Ranch
Peterborough, United Kingdom

Feb 06
Roots Music Club
Doncaster, United Kingdom

May 23
AUER House Concert
Toronto, Canada

May 30
Toronto, Canada

May 31
Active Arts Centre
Rednersville, Canada

Jun 04
Edmonton, Canada

Jun 05
Edmonton, Canada

Jun 06
Edmonton, Canada