“Polwart writes music for social change, with lyrics that articulate their values poetically and succinctly, obliquely and persuasively” The Guardian
"An unflinching social eye" The Observer
"One of our most lyrically striking, and significant, artists" The List
Sometimes the smallest and most particular of stories speak to the most powerful of human emotions and experiences. And so it is with Karine Polwart’s songs, peopled as they are with the ghosts of childhood adventures, elderly neighbours, eroding shorelines and exiled mothers. Her talent for crafting enduring melodies, her gift for saying just enough without overstating her case, the range and dynamism of her arrangements, all come together in songs of powerful contemporary relevance. She has also the most approachable of singing voices, drawing the listener towards her like a fireside storyteller.
Five-times winner at The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, twice for Best Original Song, her 2004 album Traces (produced by Iain Cook of Chvrches) was shortlisted for both the Scottish Album of the Year Award and BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Album of the Year. The Guardian chose it as international folk-roots release of 2012. Her debut solo album Faultlines won Best Album at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards back in 2005, following six years of touring as a traditional Scots singer with Malinky and Battlefield Band.
It’s a track record which has opened up intriguing musical opportunities in recent years. Karine has composed for two Scottish BAFTA nominated animation shorts, and produced song commissions for documentary film including the award-winning You’ve Been Trumped. She has worked in collaboration with Lau, Chris Wood and and as a member of erstwhile Scots-Canadian combo The Burns Unit, featuring King Creosote. She is also in ongoing collaboration with acclaimed Greek-Cypriot songwriter and composer Alkinoos Ioannidis.
Throughout this whole period of collaborating, recording and touring, Karine has continued to teach with and write for community-based and educational projects, which is a key part of her core work as a singer, songwriter and composer. She says, “I joined a folk song evening class in Edinburgh in my late twenties whilst I was still working in the field of domestic abuse and child protection. I can’t overstate how much it changed my life. It introduced me to a world of beautiful songs and brilliant people and offered me a quite unexpected opportunity to develop a career as a singer and a writer years after many music scenes have shunted women out the door. So, teaching and community-based work is really energising and inspiring to me on a personal level, and great fun”.
2015 found Karine writing about human migration for Flit, an Edinburgh International Festival, Barbican and SAGE Gateshead co-production directed by Martin Green of Lau, and featuring Becky Unthank and Adrian Utley, ex of Portishead. She is composing also for the first ever stage adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Leaf, By Niggle” in conjunction with Puppet State Theatre Company in Edinburgh.
In 2016, in association with The Royal Lyceum Theatre and Edinburgh International Festival, Karine wrote, musically directed, and performed a sell-out, three-week run of ‘Wind Resistance’, her critically acclaimed debut work for theatre. A poetic meditation on midwifery, ecology, sanctuary, and solidarity, it combines elements of memoir, essay, myth, sound art and song. Wind Resistance won the Best Music & Sound Award at the CATS (Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland) 2017 and Karine was also shortlisted for the Best Actor in the Sunday Herald Culture Awards. There is also a script of the show, published by Faber & Faber which was picked by Robert MacFarlane for The Guardian’s Best Books of 2017.
New album ‘A Pocket Of Wind Resistance’ (“warm, wise, compelling” The Observer 5*****) written in collaboration with sound-designer Pippa Murphy, is the musical accompaniment to the theatre show was selected as BEST ALBUM 2017 by Songlines Magazine and BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction.
Karine is currently back in the recording studio with her trio, regular, long-term collaborators: Inge Thomson (accordion & percussion) and brother Steven Polwart (guitars).