Singer passes the mike

Jackie Bristow, right, and Freya Jeffery (13). Photo: supplied
Jackie Bristow, right, and Freya Jeffery (13). Photo: supplied
Jackie Bristow is platforming a new generation of songwriters, Tom McKinlay writes.

Helping a group of young — very young — singer-songwriters find their voices has been a revelation for alt-country musician Jackie Bristow. But not just for Bristow.

"I’ve been very excited about it," she says. "Being able to bring that out in them. Because some of them, actually, their parents didn’t even know they could sing. None of them really knew they could write songs."

The group of six young songwriters are part of Bristow’s SongCatcher initiative. They are aged between 9 and 16, mostly based in the Lakes District, and will next week launch their EP at Parliament.

For some of them, the journey began with another project, Jackie B and the Mini Band, that Bristow initiated after Covid-19 put the entertainment world on ice for the time being. That also resulted in recording and releasing music and some of those involved, aged just 8 when it started, are now part of SongCatcher.

"It has been quite a special journey for me and for them to discover their talent," Bristow says.

For Gore export Bristow it’s been a mix of teaching, collaborating and guiding.

"I was able to share my experience and my contacts to put it together," she says, which included recruiting Nashville producer Mark Punch — who has previously worked on Bristow’s own recordings — to put the tracks together after vocals were recorded in Queenstown.

"One of the things I am most excited about is the lyrical content, nurturing that to get to the heart of the matter," she says. "And they speak to kids their own age, which I think is also really cool."

Among the young songwriters is Dunedin-based Freya Jeffery, whose song Reach The Highest Peak speaks to the breadth of human emotion.

"I love the lyric in the chorus: ‘I am going to raise like a flame of fire/ I am going to fall like an autumn leaf/ I am going to cry like a rushing river/ and I am going to reach the highest peak’, and that’s about her emotions."

The other five singers on the EP have tackled a variety of subjects in their songs, from girl-power to the difficulties of navigating relationships. Their music has the potential to fill a bit of a gap in music publishing, Bristow says.

"Because there is a big gap. There is kids’ music, and there is a big genre of kids music, then it goes straight to adult music, pop music."

SongCatcher has essentially been a pilot programme, launched with help from Bill Moran, of Play It Strange fame, and supported these past two years by Youthtown. It is Youthtown that has organised the launch in Parliament on Tuesday, which Bristow says takes the initiative to the next stage, getting the word out.

Freya Jeffery and Taylah Miller (12) will attend the Wellington launch.

For the future, Bristow says some of the girls may now work towards an EP of their own.

The music

 - The SongCatcher Youthtown Compilation Volume 1, featuring Taylah, Ivy McKenzie, A-Jay, Freya, Mala and Saige Galloway, is available on a variety of digital platforms for download and streaming.