Ida Mae at Arts Centre – Norwich

Norwich Lanes

British folk duo Ida Mae with their new album ‘Thunder Above You’, live in Norwich.

Let Ida Mae take you on a joyride across the vast American expanse. Be introduced to all manner of eccentric characters along the way – drunken poets, fallen oligarchs, heartbroken country music stars – and revel in the chaos and carnage of a world on the brink. This is the British folk-rock duo’s spectacular third album, Thunder Above You.

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Recorded in just seven days, Thunder Above You marks the most significant creative period in Ida Mae’s astounding career to date. It followed months of touring the states with legendary artists including Willie Nelson and Lucinda Williams, driving from clubs to arena shows and, all the while, being inspired by the dramatic landscapes that surrounded them.

Ida Mae are husband and wife duo Chris Turpin and Stephanie Jean Ward. They met while studying at university, quickly bonding over their mutual passion for music and later forming their first band, Kill It Kid. Penning three critically acclaimed records they spent their early twenties touring extensively across Europe.

As Ida Mae, Turpin and Ward have garnered further acclaim with their bold sound that traverses classic English folk, sprawling Americana and scuzzy, frenetic rock. Moving to Nashville in 2019 led to the release of their debut Chasing Lights, produced by Ethan Johns (producer of Laura Marling, Kings of Leon, Ray Lamontagne). Praised by national publications including The Independent and Rolling Stone, Ida Mae set out on the road on a tour that would serve as the backdrop for their second album, the self-produced Click Click Domino, Recorded in the strange isolation of lockdown, the record melded familiar country blues and folk tones with more synthetic sounds. On the swing and grind of the title track, Turpin duels with guitar hero Marcus King; the foot-stompin’ riff is reminiscent of Howlin’ Wolf or Jack White.

Thunder Above You was born out of the most dramatic of circumstances. While out on tour with Willie Nelson and Lucinda Williams, the couple learnt that Stephanie was pregnant. It was then, in San Francisco, caught up in a bomb cyclone, that they decided to return to the English countryside. “We wanted this album to be more of a live thing,” Turpin explains. He’d recalled a friend’s family home in Norwich:

“The most unbelievable mansion I’d ever seen.” After bonding with the friend’s father over music, Turpin convinced him to let the band record there, ensconced among the mahogany panelling and warm acoustics with all the vintage equipment they’d collected over the years.

“We cut the record in under a week, pretty much all live including the vocals,” he remembers. “We wanted it to be an immersive experience – for listeners to feel like they were joining us at this house, recording in the glow of lamps at night. And there was no pre-production, there were no rehearsals. What you hear on the record is what went down in the room.” He and Ward were delighted, too, by the opportunity to get back to playing with their longtime collaborators Ethan Johns, who contributed drums on the album, and bassist Nick Pini (Laura Marling, Nick Mulvey). “There are so many artists now who’ll work from home to a click track, samples, beats, autotune…” Turpin says, “which is an incredible thing in that it democratises recording. But you also lose the communication of musicians working together in a space, who are really competent enough to play to one another.”

This explains the gorgeous intricacies on Thunder Above You. On the startling second track, “Into Your River”, Turpin and Ward’s voices intertwine over soft-shimmering percussion and the subtle meandering of the piano. It’s an incredibly tender performance, enhanced by the extraordinarily intimate recording set-up and dexterous musicianship of each artist. “Soon my heart will be fearless and I’ll say your name ‘til it rings like silver, let me dive into your river” Turpin sings in his velvet croon. Ida Mae would stick to just two or three takes of a song: “You’re not thinking – your subconscious is there, but everything you’re doing is on instinct,” he explains. “The result is that you can dive into this record and live within it.”

Around the time the band were beginning to think about recording their third album, Turpin had found himself drawn towards the English folk music of his childhood. “Much of my teenage years were spent obsessing over what bands like Free and Led Zeppelin were listening to, and as a teenager I’d go to my local arts centre and see people like Martin Simpson and Bert Jansch perform,” he recalls. “As I’ve got older I’ve begun to rediscover them, Nick Drake, and John Martyn. So I began to lean more into the British folk world, and that’s definitely expressed itself on the album.”