Polly Paulusma (pron. pauls-mah) is an English singer-songwriter, touring recording artist, record producer, label founder and author.
Paulusma signed in 2003 to Björk’s label One Little Indian (now Independent) and to Sony/ATV Publishing, releasing her debut album ‘Scissors In My Pocket’ in 2004 to international critical acclaim.
Uncut **** “the finest young British female singer-songwriter to emerge over the last 12 months”
MOJO **** “complete, pure and personal”
In the years that followed she released the sister-album to ‘Scissors’ entitled ‘Cosmic Rosy Spine Kites’ (2005), ‘Fingers and Thumbs’ (2007) produced by Ken Nelson at Liverpool’s legendary Parr Street studios and its sister ‘Fights & Numbers’ (2008), film soundtrack ‘Clear Lake’ (2011), ‘Leaves from the Family Tree’ (2012) and its sister ‘The Small Feat of my Reverie (2014), ‘Invisible Music: folk songs that influenced Angela Carter’ (2021), ‘The Pivot on Which The World Turns’ (2022) and its sister ‘When Violent Hot Pitch Words Hurt’ (2013).
Paulusma is making a new album with acclaimed producer Ethan Johns, slated for release in 2024.
Paulusma founded indie-folk label Wild Sound in 2012, and sold it in 2016 to One Little Independent as a folk imprint in order to do a PhD in relations between song and literature. Her albums collectively have achieved international critical acclaim; she has toured the USA, the UK and Europe supporting Bob Dylan, Jamie Cullum, Coldplay, The Divine Comedy, Joseph Arthur and Marianne Faithfull.
Polly Paulusma is an English singer-songwriter, touring recording artist, record producer, label founder and author.
In 2003, tucked away in her garden shed, 28-year-old Polly Paulusma recorded her debut album ‘Scissors In My Pocket’. Record label One Little Indian signed her up and ‘Scissors…’ received immediate and widespread critical acclaim upon its international release in 2004.
Uncut **** “the finest young British female singer-songwriter to emerge over the last 12 months”
MOJO **** “complete, pure and personal”
Nic Harcourt, KCRW “the best album to come out of the UK this year”
Paulusma was catapulted round the world, supporting Bob Dylan, Jamie Cullum, Coldplay, Marianne Faithfull, and played Glastonbury, T in the Park and Cambridge Folk Festival.
She also toured the USA twice, supporing Joseph Arthur and The Divine Comedy. Her montage video for ‘Over the Hill’ from 2004 captures some of those adventures.
Since then she has made 10 releases, completed a PhD and published an academic book on folk music and prose. She founded indie-folk label Wild Sound in 2012, which is now a folk imprint at the newly-named One Little Independent. A new album with producer Ethan Johns is in production, slated for release in 2024.
Back in 2003, tucked away in her garden shed, the 28-year-old Polly Paulusma was putting the finishing touches to her self-recorded debut album ‘Scissors In My Pocket’ when indie record label One Little Indian (now Independent) signed her up.
‘Scissors In My Pocket’, a work of aching acoustic tenderness, received immediate widespread critical acclaim upon its international release in 2004.
Uncut **** “the finest young British female singer-songwriter to emerge over the last 12 months”
MOJO **** “complete, pure and personal”
AllMusic.com “a spectacular debut”
Ruth Barnes “pure folk pop genius”
Rolling Stone USA “an enchanting debut of understated, intelligent folk pop”.
Nic Harcourt, KCRW “the best album to come out of the UK this year”
She was catapulted around the world supporting Bob Dylan, Jamie Cullum, Coldplay, The Divine Comedy, Marianne Faithfull, Joseph Arthur and Gary Jules, and played Glastonbury, T in the Park, V Festival and Cambridge Folk Festival among many others, touring the USA and Italy twice. She released its sister-album, ‘Cosmic Rosy Spine Kites’, in 2005.
In 2007, she released the darker, more electric ‘Fingers & Thumbs’, produced by Ken Nelson (Coldplay, Gomez, Badly Drawn Boy, Kings of Convenience) and recorded in Liverpool’s Parr Street studios.
She toured the UK extensively for this album and made the cult Youtube Guitar Shop Tour videos along the way. Its sister-album ‘Fights & Numbers’, was released shortly afterwards.
In 2011 she founded record label Wild Sound on which in 2012 she released ‘Leaves from the Family Tree’ and its sibling album ‘The Small Feat of My Reverie’. In the same year she played Cambridge Folk Festival, and toured the UK in her caravan Ella. This album featured collaborations with US singer-songwriter Erin McKeown, acclaimed violinist Anna Phoebe and the film and tv music composer Michael Price (Sherlock). She also scored and released a film soundtrack for the Canadian indie movie starrring Roddy Piper, ‘Clear Lake’.
Paulusma’s Wild Sound label subsequently released not just her own albums but those of notable acoustic folk artists including Maz O’Connor, Dan Wilde, Mortal Tides, Harry Harris, Stylusboy, Matthew The Oxx and others. The label became a folk imprint at newly named One Little Independent in 2017.
Paulusma got a first from Cambridge in English in 1997, and returned to postgraduate study 2014-20 to complete a PhD on literature and songfulness. In 2021 she released an album of traditional folk songs and spoken word readings, ‘Invisible Music: folk songs that influenced Angela Carter’, which was the product of her research into Angela Carter’s influence from folk singing in the 1960s.
Guardian/Observer **** a “vibrant, insightful tribute”
Folk Radio UK ‘“a terrific traditional folk album and a fascinating insight into Carter’s creative process”
Songlines *** “altogether a compelling immersion”
In 2022, Paulusma released ‘The Pivot On Which The World Turns’, which included songwriting collaborations with Kathryn Williams, David Ford, and the novelist Laura Barnett.
Folk Radio UK “Her own axis bold as love, in many ways a love letter to love itself […] this album is the work of a master songsmith.”
Folking.com “the blanketed starlit texture of Nick Drake’s warm ‘Northern Sky’ with a bit of John Martyn’s ‘Spencer The Rover’ in its melodic soul.”
Its sister-album ‘When Violent Hot Pitch Words Hurt’ came out in 2023.
A new album, to be produced by Ethan Johns, is slated for release in 2024.
Press for Autumn 2023 tour with Kathryn Williams
Paul Whitelaw review in The Scotsman, September 2023
Press for ‘When Violent Hot Pitch Words Hurt’ (2023)
Just a few months after the release of her stunning album The Pivot On Which The World Turns, singer, songwriter and multi-talented instrumentalist Polly Paulusma released a ‘sister’ album. And if the title, When Violent Hot Pitch Words Hurt, seems a little impenetrable, that’s because it’s an anagram of Pivot. But, fear not; the content is anything but. It’s moving, beguiling and often brutally honest about time, love, ageing and loss.
The two albums contain mostly the same songs in demo forms, live settings or as alternative versions. But which is better? There’s only one way to find out…
Of course, you don’t have to choose. The album draws back the curtain and lets you peer in on some of the secret places behind the studio release. For those wanting to learn the craft of songwriting, this is an essential album, demonstrating how songs move and shift from their earlier forms to the finished article.
Not that the content here doesn’t match the quality of the other, far from it. In fact, a raw emotional song like Snake Skin (about the death of Polly’s father) is given extra poignancy in the more direct, less adorned version on Hot Pitch. As stated, you don’t have to choose. Like portrait painting vs a polaroid, it’s the same image, but the perspective and intent is different. One contrasts and complements the other.
The most fascinating is Sullen Volcano. On Hot Pitch, it isn’t a song in the traditional sense (although it has an appropriate discordant musical accompaniment by the Elysian Collective), but rather a poem – originally titled 2 October 2020 (the date it was written). Polly says it ‘explores the sorrow of getting it all wrong’. The morphing of the earlier spoken-word lament into its piano-led final form is fascinating. But this isn’t an academic exercise; both are just as affecting in contrasting ways.
Like Snakeskin, Back of Your Hand, Brambles and Briars, and Bracklesham Bay, are present in their demo forms. This might suggest they are not to the same standard as the studio versions. Far from it, they are stunning and wholly deserve wider listening. They just feel more direct and spontaneous, as you would expect.
Other songs – The Big Sky (with Kathryn Williams), Dirty Circus and Robin – are presented as live performances, the latter two at Cambridge Folk Club. The Big Sky live piano-led duet is in marked contrast to the programmed electronica take on Pivot, where Kathryn takes the lead vocals. It’s a thrill to see how these early live outings reformed in the studio. But mostly, it showcases what a brilliant live performer Polly is.
Finally, there are stripped-back versions of Tired Old Eyes (piano version and almost unbearably poignant) and a less poppy, acoustic version of Luminary. Like seeing artists’ sketches before the final painting, they have a freshness and vitality compared to the completed picture. Take your pick; it’s all wonderful.
The Pivot On Which The World has an earthy, raw, emotional power that shines through and makes you appreciate the craft and care that led to the studio album. At turns heartbreaking, heartwarming and heartstopping, this collection of offcuts, side steps and live tracks may even eclipse the original.
Press for ‘The Pivot On Which The World Turns’ (2022)
The title of Polly Paulusma‘s album, The Pivot On Which The World Turns, takes its cue from a line in Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in which Stepan Arkadyitch remarks, “women, my boy, they’re the pivot everything turns upon”. In Polly’s words, “Stepan and Levin are discussing romantic relationships, but I saw wider interpretations of this epithet”.
Following just a year on from ‘Invisible Music’ and ranging across a variety of styles, each track on Paulusma’s sixth studio album examines a different aspect that women play in life and, as she explains, “charts a development for me through all the roles I pivot on in a day, a week, a year, a decade”.
It opens in the softly sung and strummed ‘Snakeskin’ with John Parker on double bass, a song, she explains, inspired by sitting with her father as he was dying, the image of the skin shed symbolising the inevitability of not wanting to but eventually having to let go (“you floated off, a silver space balloon up to the ether …and here’s my bent finger, holding on to the string”).
Featuring Annie Dressner on picked acoustic and herself on electric, organ and mandolin, opening with an evocation of wind chimes, the scurrying ‘Back Of Your Hand’ turns to the role of love interest as she sings of going out on the pull, so to speak (“casting my line back, forth”) with her roving eye down the bar and the “steady free pour, vodka and gin” and meeting a likely conquest with “a face like a story, and a smile I could steal”, she sings “I’m gonna write down my number on the back of your hand, and in the morning you’ll remember just how lovely I am!” because, extending the metaphor, “I’ve seen a lot of fishes jump here to know something good when it slithers on shore…The good ones get away so easy/The bad ones tug the line to tease me /So come on, make it hard for me to run”.
With Paulusma on piano accompanied by just double bass and drums, ‘Dirty Circus’ returns to the role of the mother busy juggling the different tasks (“On every stick on my stage, there’s a spinning plate”) in running the home (“The meals keep coming at me on conveyor-belt blues/I’ve barely cleared up the plates when the next one’s due”), feeling that “There are days when it seems everyone else is free and having fun/It’s been a week now since I looked in the mirror, to see what I’ve become”. But even so, “in this dirty circus, if I can think of you, I can feel a slow motion, a slow motion, that tells me I’m alive”.
Another busy, scampering number, the poppy ‘Luminary’ is just her on vocals and programming, a joyous celebration of making the most of life while you’re young (“let’s burn a bit brighter/we’ve got years of growing old to dwindle into twilight”) and not losing sight of yourself (“let’s sing a little louder — we’ve got everyone to lose, and everyone to play for!/Come on, ‘cause every time we take a detour we trip over the forgotten people we’re supposed to be”). That said, the image “the sky’s the colour of a sheet stretched out over a patient” casts a strange pall over things.
The first co-write (with novelist Laura Barnett) and the Elysian Quartet providing the instrumental bridge, with Paulusma on organs and melodyhorn, the stately five-minute Bracklesham Bay, the famous West Sussex fossil site, opens with waves, double-bass and a spoken passage about being on the beach with her child and finding a fossil, an imprint of time that sparks a song about memory and the touchstones that can spark it, the associated emotions and how “we all are carried out to sea, on the waves that carve the shape of you and me”.
Another basic piano, bass and drums number, returning to the mother and housewife clearing away the plates, Any Other Way is an upbeat, slightly jazz-tinged playful number about contentment (“There’s a thousand lives that I could now be leading, and a thousand different ways that I could find to feel the same…. But all these empty promises that dress up like solutions/From all these substitutions, I choose you and you again…That’s life, that’s life and I wouldn’t have it any other way”).
Featuring co-writer David Ford on vocals and guitars, Parker’s bass providing the foundation, the breathily sung waltzing Brambles and Briars turns its musical compass to traditional folk for a song about entwined relationships (“Where do you stop, where do I begin?… I am your fabric, and you are my thread”) enduring over time in the face of whatever comes (“Sown to weather sunshine and showers/We’re brambles and briars”).
Written with and featuring Kathryn Williams on vocals, mellotron, and organ, with the return of the Elysian Quartet, opening with puttering percussion and keyboard shimmers, The Big Sky is another buoyantly optimistic track that would seem to be about songwriting and capturing the fleeting sparkles of inspiration (“She says she writes to catch it before it runs all over town/Flickering wings of a butterfly; it’s hard to pin it down, coming to land on/Coming to land on a square piece of grass”).
It’s back then to loving maternal notes for the bedtime Tired Old Eyes (“Little curly head, sleepy head, curled in your bed/with your head slipping off of your pillow, changing face, what-you-will grown-up face peeps out of childhood’s slow-closing window/I could watch you sleep for hours, for hours if my tired old eyes would let me”), thinking back to “when the fires of surprise burned a mile high so everyone saw them” and being “given a message in a bottle of gold/That said love is the answer to boredom”. Again, there’s that note about not wasting time (“For years, I’ve been basting my fears in the juices of blame and recrimination, all the hours that I lost simply counting the cost of relentlessly smashing, rebuilding”) with the promise of childhood holding the future (“You are the beginning; the days flow before you; you’re the head and the source of the river/As you slip and you run, my sweet beautiful one, take this bottle of gold to deliver”).
Her classical-styled piano accompanied by the string quartet, the meditative Sullen Volcano charts a similar idea that “there’s not enough time to contain all this life, all this bursting star bloom”, referencing fairytale images of ogres and bad apples as it conjures those moments of outbursts in a relationship, the “slo-mo explosions” that flow “hot like a sullen volcano”, the regret of angry words (“can I heal what I hurt?/can I fix what I broke?”) and the unbridled molten lava of love.
Featuring birdsong, it ends with the second appearance from Williams and a final bow from the Elysian Quartet on the rippling fingerpicking notes of the softly sung, dreamy Robin, which, while a symbol of being “free to come and go” and follow your own rhythms, its song and nature itself “lets me know I should love like there’s no tomorrow”.
Her own axis bold as love, in many ways a love letter to love itself in its different forms and a reminder to not waste our time on unproductive anger and things that don’t ultimately matter; this album is the work of a master songsmith.
Press for ‘Invisible Music: folk songs that influenced Angela Carter’ (2021)
Invisible Music by Polly Paulusma review – a vibrant celebration of Angela Carter the folkie ****
The novelist’s early days on the folk scene are explored on this album of songs and readings
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.
— Neil Spencer
Folk Radio UK
Polly Paulusma – Invisible Music
Wild Sound / One Little Independent Records – 23 April 2021
Well, here’s something a bit different. Having made her critically acclaimed debut in 2004, Polly Paulusma has gone on to release a further six studio albums, play support to the likes of Bob Dylan, Marianne Faithful and Coldplay, found her own Wild Sound label and tour in partnership with Annie Dressner. She’s also just completed a PhD on Angela Carter’s folk singing, from whence derives this new album which carries the subtitle ‘folk songs that influenced Angela Carter’. The late novelist, who specialised in feminist, magical realism storytelling, is best known as the author of The Bloody Chamber, an anthology of ten stories that reworked traditional folk or fairytales, among them The Company of Wolves. Perhaps less well known is that she started her career as a folk singer in 60s Bristol, co-founding her own club, and published an essay titled Now Is The Time For Singing which explored the cultural importance of folk songs.
Paulusma’s album draws on that background to celebrate Carter’s musicality and the songs that influenced her writings, the album comprising nine songs, followed by readings of relevant extracts from Carter’s writings by variously Paulusma, Kirsty Logan and Kathryn Williams. It opens with one such, Paulusma reading about a man playing air violin (which inspired the album’s title) from the 1968 novel Several Perceptions before violin introduces and anchors The Maid And The Palmer, a tale of a young woman who has nine incestuous children by variously her father, uncle and brother, murdering them all and burying the bodies around the homestead. Incest – especially intergenerational – is a strong theme in Carter’s stories, which leads then to an extract from the short story The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter.
Cross-dressing is a familiar occurrence on folk songs, women often masquerading as sailors or soldiers, and the ballad Jack Munro was among several that fed into the figure of the mother in The Bloody Chamber (the extract read by Williams), to which end the jaunty version of the song here arms Jack with a pistol rather than a broadsword.
Returning to incest, this time between siblings, sung unaccompanied, the murder ballad Lucy Wan (sometimes Lizzie Wan), wherein the brother knocks up his sister then kills her before fleeing to sea, used to be a part of Carter’s folk club repertoire and the tale subsequently filtered into The Magic Toyshop, Penetrating To The Heart of the Forest and John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore’, an extract from which is read by Logan.
It’s back then to bold and ballsy women for the six-minute plus lively strum Lady Isabel & The Elf Knight, the airy delivery belying the narrative (a young woman who elopes with the knight who’s promised to marry her and kills him when he tries to rob and murder her), Carter noting how the ballad was adapted from her story The Erl King (extract read by Williams), from The Bloody Chamber, Paulusma paying homage by having the heroine strangle her demon lover with his own hair as opposed to stabbing him.
The same story, the extract this time by Paulusma, also drew on another murder ballad, The Banks Of Red Roses, again sung a capella, here the false lover luring the maiden to her doom by charming her with his flute playing, although in the story the victim, knowing how devious men are, escapes her intended fate.
Along with shapeshifters, sentient plants are another recurring folk tale them, perhaps the most famous being the rose and briar of Barbary Allen, a song Carter had explored in her unpublished dissertation on the connection between folk song and medieval poetry, the sweetly sung, sparse and musically melancholic fiddle, double bass (by John Parker) and mandolin toned interpretation here followed by Logan’s extract from The Lady Of The House Of Love with its theme of frustrated love.
A third unaccompanied number, this time involving magical castle, arrives with the flowingly lovely The Streams Of Lovely Nancy, a song Carter also wrote about in her undergraduate dissertation and which Paulusma proposes drove the imagery in The Bloody Chamber as illustrated in the extract read by Williams.
The first of the final two songs, the classic Reynardine, was a favourite of Carter, specifically as sung by A.L. Lloyd, to whom she dedicated her Virago Book Of Fairy Tales, the version of the vulpine villain here taken from Lloyd’s second recording of the song that changes shining eyes to shining teeth. Carter drew on the song for the character of Honeybuzzard in her debut novel Shadow Dance, the extract read here by Logan.
The second, The Flower Of Sweet Strabane, is actually an Irish song Carter herself performed, unaccompanied as on this version, in 1967 at the Cheltenham Folk Club, modelled on the style of Paddy Tunney, the album closing with Paulusma’s reading from Reflections, a celebration of the power of the singing voice to go beyond ordinary language, the short story itself inspired by the cover of Anne Briggs eponymous 1971 album. Released as a hardback booklet with pen and pencil sketch illustrations by Christine Molan, this is both a terrific traditional folk album and a fascinating insight into Carter’s creative process and her own pretty much unknown involvement in the folk scene, one which will surely further expand Paulusma’s reputation and bring Carter’s writings to a whole new audience.
— Mike Davies
Uncut Magazine, June 2021 issue
— Laura Barton
Songlines Magazine April 2021
UNCUT Magazine Dec 2004 01 November 2004
Never mind all the fuss about Joss Stone and Amy Winehouse. As far as Uncut is concerned, the finest young British female singer-songwriter to emerge over the last 12 months is the brainy Cambridge graduate Polly Paulusma, with a debut album of mature and literate songs brimful of emotional resonance, potent melodies and meltingly heartfelt vocals.
ROLLING STONE Magazine (USA) 10 October 2004
Polly Paulusma Scissors in My Pocket (One Little Indian) by Leslie Hermelin
From the charming opener Dark Side, Polly Paulusma declares herself in league with articulate folk-pop contemporaries such as Paula Cole and Shawn Colvin. And while these comparisons, as well as those to Joni Mitchell and Carole King, are well deserved, Paulusma’s talent is strong enough to stand on its own. Scissors in My Pocket is an enchanting debut of understated, intelligent folk pop from a promising newcomer. Holding true to the singer-songwriter ethos, Paulusma opts for authenticity over production wizardry. Many of the album cuts were recorded in only one take, and some, including Dark Side and the stunning One Day, are the original demo recordings. She Moves in Secret Ways is an intimate, softly spun bit of folk poetry as is the bittersweet Anywhere From Here. This Cambridge educated songstress proves once again that a well-penned ballad trumps an over-produced pop song any day.
PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER Online (USA) 26 September 2004
Polly Paulusma Scissors in My Pocket (One Little Indian) by A D Amorosi * * * *
Given her arcane sound, you could easily assume that Polly Paulusma is part of the dark British folk revival. But she is lighter. She’s also sexy and spare.
The quiet psychedelia and queer optimism of her gauziest vocal melodies are touched by faint curlicues of jazzy interplay. She weathers the impending storm of Dark Side with a whispery voice, promising “golden lips” for her lover’s final approach.
Through rushes of acoustic guitar, bubbling double bass, or cosmopolitan chamber-jazz arrangements (I Was Made to Love You), Paulusma’s smoky yet vivid voice is so alive that the sadness of Perfect 4/4 resounds through your head. She cries on your shoulder without playing to your sympathies.
PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER 26 September 2004
Polly Paulusma fits the bill as ideal singer-songwriter by Jonathan Takiff
I’ll gladly admit it. I’m a sucker for a smart, poetic, darkly melancholic and slightly unhinged female singer-songwriter. For an artist with a smokey, soulful sadness in her voice and a rejuvenating melody in her heart, with a vibrant vision for how she wants her life to soar and the will to make it so – at least within the context of a four-minute song.
Joni Mitchell set the mold for me with her classic album “Blue.” Young disciples like Dar Williams, Beth Orton and the late Kirsty MacColl have kept the fires burning. Now I bow in supplication to another English export by the name of Polly Paulusma (pronounced pallsma) who’ll be popping up Sunday at the Point to showcase material from her altogether compelling album “Scissors in My Pocket.”
One of my favorite debuts of the year, the disc is chock full of feather-light, but delicately filigreed songs that are at once literate and emotional, tender and tough-minded, like “She Moves in Secret Ways,” a song about not giving up her willful nature, personifying herself as a hoof-stomping horse.
At other extremes are spritely entreaties for gentlemen friends to explore her “Dark Side” and take her “Over the Hill,” blessed with super catchy choruses you can’t get out of your head.
And the set caps with haunting, bittersweet ruminations about life’s brief passages (this from a 28-year-old!) like the riveting hospital bedside refrain in “Perfect 4/4.”
Daughter of a noted portrait artist (who did all the highly evocative pen sketch illustrations for the album package) and a Cambridge University professor dad who specializes in crusading (ecclesiastical) history, Polly Paulusma has gleaned from both sides, she allowed in a recent chat.
She’s been making music since she was 10 – first “improving” on a classic Paul McCartney song with new lyrics, later singing in college in a soul cover band that was “a bit like the Commitments,” before discovering her own, more pensive voice while singing backing vocals for an album by her friends Ben & Jason.
And yet, Polly was also being her father’s daughter by majoring in English lit at Cambridge, pursuing a career in journalism with the BBC, writing a novel and then returning briefly to university for a Ph.D program, before giving it all up to pursue music full time.
“I spent a lot of time denying I should do this, but it wouldn’t let me run away. It kept coming back and biting me in the ass, so I eventually gave in,” she shared with a laugh.
When Paulusma started the writing and recordings that would turn into her album, “trashy pop” was still all the rage in Britain, while like-minded singer-songwriters such as the long-suffering David Gray were just starting to make a belated breakthrough.
“Now there’s a whole scene going, with lots of clubs to play and buzz artists like Tom Baxter and Adem. But four years ago, no one would fund my project, so (as Gray did)] I set up a recording studio in the shed at the end of my garden and started doing it all myself. I wasn’t trying to make it sound low-fi, just the music I could hear in my head with the equipment I had available – basically one good microphone feeding into a computer hard drive. I played almost all the the guitars, did all the vocals and also added funny litle things like shakers and tambourine, mandolin and the sound of tinkling wine glasses.”
Friends came in to dress up the works with brush-tapped drumming, jazzy acoustic double bass, a hammered dulcimer flourish, and chamber music styled strings and brass evoking the likes of Damien Rice (a major Polly fave) and vintage Beatles recordings.
The origin of the album’s title “Scissors in My Pocket” relates to an incident that happened when Polly was just 8, and “obsessed with sailing,” (a theme that’s still showing up in her lyrics). “I wanted a boat, so I decided to build a raft in our back garden on a piece of old, flat fencing. My parents could see it wouldn’t float, but I didn’t believe them. After decorating it with a cabin and putting on lights, I somehow persuaded my mom to take me to the river to launch it. She was great, I was adamant. I tied a piece of rope to the raft and gave her the other end to hold, ostensibly so she could pull me back when I got to the middle of the river, to calm her nerves. But I didn’t tell her I’d put scissors in my pocket. I was going to cut the rope and run away to London. But of course, the boat sank instantly as soon as I pushed it into the water.
“When I started making this record, I felt a similar kind of condescension,” Polly added. “A lot of people saying ‘That’s very nice dear, but you can’t really make your own record.’ You have to stick fingers up to people like that. ‘I know this will float, so up yours.’ And luckily, this time it worked.”
LA DAILY NEWS 21 September 2004
by Rob Lowman, Entertainment Editor
Polly Paulusma took a novel approach to becoming a heralded up-and-coming singer-songwriter.
OK, maybe that’s a bad joke.
After graduating from Cambridge University, the 28-year-old British singer-songwriter began a Ph.D program and turned her attention to writing fiction.
But that novel was packed up and put in the attic about a month ago. “I hadn’t touched it in four years, and I was quite curious to see what it was like … so I peeked at it. It was really bad,’ says Paulusma, being her own worse critic.
Luckily, music critics are raving about “Scissors in My Pocket,’ Paulusma’s self-produced album that was released early in the year in the U.K. and last week in the U.S. When talking about the album, with its winning acoustic sound and clever lyrics, heavy hitters like Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake are often evoked — and with good reason. There are many colors on Paulusma’s palette as she moves from the intensity of “One Day,’ with her voice nearly cracking with emotion, to the dreamy “She Moves in Secret Ways.”
Nic Harcourt of KCRW-FM (89.9) has been featuring songs from “Scissors’ on his show, “Morning Becomes Eclectic,’ for a while now, calling it “the best thing I’ve heard from a songwriter out of the U.K.’
A Brit himself, Harcourt says, “I hear a lot of music from everywhere, and most of it I don’t like, but once in a while a record like this comes along that grabs you. … (Paulusma’s) songs have depth to them, and she has a singing style that’s very engaging.’
(Paulusma will be at the Troubadour on Monday night as well as on Harcourt’s show that day during the 11 o’clock hour.)
Since “Scissors’ had “such humble beginnings,’ Paulusma, who has been into music since the age of 10, says she is amazed at its reception. “I have this little shed at the end of my garden, and that’s where I made most of the record. So it seems incredible, thinking there I was last summer, without a record deal, just really making it for myself. I knew I could sell it at shows. I was doing a lot of gigs and selling a lot of records to people who came around the stage. I could see I could make a little living out of it. That’s all I ever thought it would be.’
Now “Scissors,’ which is on Bjork’s record label, One Little Indian, is the hottest acoustic album in Britain since Damien Rice’s “O.’
“I think what happened was the music industry became so closed that there was a backlog,’ says Paulusma about why she and artists like Rice are gaining popularity. “It’s like there was a dam put up, and it’s suddenly bursting now. But in fact, that sound never went away — it was always there. It’s just because it was ignored for so long and unnurtured.’
That sound is the sound of people like music legends Mitchell and Drake.
“There was a real purity to what they were doing then. And you can see almost a family tree down to various people now like Wilco that I find inspiring. … I’ve always really loved recordings where the instruments are all acoustic. … I think there is something that doesn’t date about music like that.’
But it isn’t easy to pigeonhole Paulusma, and it’s clear she wants to keep it that way. She says she was looking forward to visiting the U.S., because a woman with a guitar in England is “often typecast as a folk artist, which is rubbish. They don’t do that to men like Van Morrison. It’s acoustic music; it’s pop music on the guitar. I get the feeling there is a deeper understanding over here.’
So here she is, guitar in hand, touring America, which she doesn’t mind at all. (“It helps your understanding of your own material.’) It’s also something she’s used to. The daughter of a college professor, Paulusma moved around a lot as a kid before going off to a boarding school at a convent.
“My closest friends are the ones from that school still. It’s amazing when you live with 500 people. It was all-girls school, so you have a lot of sisters.’
But she’s not writing more songs here (and certainly not a novel), saying she finds it hard to write when she’s away from her friends, who she calls her “motivation.’ In the meantime, “I know when I’m traveling I pick up lots of bits that end up coloring things in my songs. I’ll just let things sink in for now.”
BOSTON GLOBE 09 September 2004
Polly Paulusma’s acoustic appeal by Christopher Muther
You can’t blame Polly Paulusma for holing up in the garden shed.
After all, she performs in a style of acoustic pop that can’t be easily contained in a single category. It’s not exactly folk, and it’s not at all rock. As a result, record labels weren’t exactly queuing up to offer the 28-year-old fame and fortune after she dropped a journalism career in favor of music. So she did what any reasonable musician would do: set up a make-shift studio in the shed at the back of her garden and started recording an album herself.
Just as she finished the disc, “Scissors in My Pocket,” she landed a deal with Bjork’s record label, One Little Indian. Now, the album recorded in the garden shed is becoming one of the most buzzed-about acoustic discs in Britain since Damien Rice’s “O.” On Saturday, Paulusma brings her hard-to-categorize sound to T.T. the Bear’s in Cambridge, opening for the Divine Comedy.
Sound Bites: Because your music doesn’t fit neatly into a single category, has it been difficult for you to find an audience?
Paulusma: Not exactly. I’m very lucky that I can dip my toe in all these musical swimming pools. I can kind of jump around between them. In some ways it has been an advantage. People still put labels on my music, which I actually think can be useful. It can be useful for people to have comparisons, but some of the comparisons have been quite wide of the mark. I hear endless Norah Jones comparisons, which I find very odd. I think she’s got a beautiful voice. But as far as I can make out she’s doing jazz, which is something completely different from me. As long as people are saying something, even if the comparison is a bit weird, I’m happy.
Sound Bites: Does your audience tend to be a younger, Damien Rice-type of crowd, or more hippie holdouts trying to catch the next Joni Mitchell?
Paulusma: It’s a real cross section. I just did this gig in London on Wednesday, it was for about 200 people. Over the summer I had been gathering more and more people who are loyal and want to come along to hear my music. There are people in the front row who know all the words to my songs, which is quite terrifying. They almost know them better than I do. I was looking at the front row at this gig, and I was just really gobsmacked at the range. There were two young girls, one with dreadlocks and one with dyed bright red hair, very punk. There was an older guy, and there were some younger guys in their 20s.
Sound Bites: Careerwise, you did many things before you settled on music. Were you hesitant to make singing a full-time job?
Paulusma: Music has been not easy. Well, making [music] has been easy, but making it a full-time job was a really big hurdle for me to overcome. I think I was led to believe that acoustic-y pop music was not really a worthwhile calling. It just took me a bit of time to work out that it was really important to me. Because I had no formal training in it, I felt that I just wouldn’t be good enough. Now I feel like I have plenty of support.
NOW (Toronto) 09 September 2004
Gloss-free Polly – Cambridge grad Polly Paulusma takes a stand against superficial pop by Sarah Liss
There’s a sudden renaissance in the softer end of the pop spectrum happening across the pond of late.
From the tinkly piano stylings of Jamie Cullum to the soulful crooning of Katie Melua to the baroque acoustic ballads of Damien Rice, the UK’s cultivating a slew of singer-songwriters who, while not slick enough to give Sir Elton a run for his money, appeal to more, er, ‘mature’ crowds than to those with art-school haircuts and ironic t-shirts.
The interesting thing about this current crop of soft-rockers is that they’re barely into their 20s. Like me, they’re the kids of the 80s who spent their formative years listening to their parents’ Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez LPs.
The latest edition to the new acoustic generation is Polly Paulusma, a wickedly wordy guitar-toting belter whose debut disc, Scissors In My Pocket, recently dropped on One Little Indian (home to Bjork and Greg Dulli) and who’s already opened for Dylan (!). Similarly raised on passionate, intelligent strummers (Nick Drake is her hero), Paulusma claims she and her peers are reacting to Britain’s lamentable tradition of pre-fab pop.
“When I was making my record, the music industry, especially in the UK, was all about Pop Idol,” she says ruefully over her mobile, en route to check out the Edward Hopper exhibition at London’s Tate Modern. “It was so depressing – they just wanted glorified karaoke and had no interest in anyone who played their own music and wrote their own songs. All these talented people washing about in London, and nobody was signing them.
“What came out of it were loads of self-sufficient people. Katie Melua went through the same thing. Necessity has forced us back to basics, because the industry let us down. It gave us a chance to explore things by ourselves and find a whole different voice that we wouldn’t necessarily have found if we’d been scooped up by a label after the second gig.”
The result is a record that, like Paulusma herself, doesn’t pander to trends. Scissors In My Pocket is charmingly quaint, with none of the saccharine overproduction that makes folks like Jamie Cullum hard to stomach. Recorded in a shed in Paulusma’s backyard, the album homes in on gently strummed acoustic guitar and quiet piano, with periodic flourishes of Hammond and dulcimer alongside the singer’s terribly sweet girlish coo.
Several tracks are fleshed out by string and horn sections, but unlike the high-drama orchestration on, say, Damien Rice’s O, Paulusma … keeps them low-key, which works well with the disc’s intimate folkiness.
It may not be the most efficient way to work, but Paulusma insists on keeping a ‘wobbly’ homespun aesthetic.
“All of the songs are done in one take,” she crows proudly. “I worked with a producer recently and watched him clumping a track together – he’d do five takes and then take the best bits of each one and hack it all together like a patchwork quilt. I’d rather have a full performance, cuz even if there’s a little blemish in it, it’s real.”
Paulusma’s also mastered a subtly spiky wordplay – lead track Dark Side nods to Pink Floyd with a chorus about “the dark side of my moon” – which is no surprise, considering she graduated from Cambridge with a degree in English lit.
With the horror stories I’ve heard about the icily snotty profs peppering UK academia, I figure the experience must’ve been good preparation for dealing with cranky critics.
“Um, no,” she states matter-of-factly. “I think a lot of gigging in London did, actually. London crowds are so standoffish – they just fold their arms and stare at you with these blank looks on their faces.
“But you know, out of all my friends, I’m the only one who uses my degree every day,” she continues. “Alll these people studied these obscurely wonderful things, like medieval history, or some proper academic subject, and then they end up becoming accountants.”
AllMusic.com 11 August 2004
* * * *
Nearly 35 years on, and the folk and twining soft rock of the early ’70s is being birthed again in a stylized new version. Suddenly young women with unruly mops of dark hair and a flair for dusky vocal phrasing are handily making their way in pop music. They’re clad in comfy boat-neck sweaters, dainty scarves, and those boots Emmylou Harris wore on the cover of Elite Hotel; their antidote to plastic club/dance divadom is a holistic amalgam of Joni Mitchell, Carole King, James Taylor, and Tim Buckley. Englishwoman Polly Paulusma joins their ranks with Scissors in My Pocket, her charming debut for One Little Indian. It always starts with the voice, and Paulusma’s never disappoints. Mitchell is a significant influence in both vocal style and phrasing, but there’s a bit of Edie Brickell’s reedy grace in there, too. Accompanied principally by subtle acoustic guitars or piano, she doesn’t need to prove how strong her voice is, and doesn’t skip through styles on the whim of a marketing director. This means Scissors lacks the pretentiousness that tinges some of its contemporaries’ work. “Perfect 4/4” is a gorgeous piece that had to be recorded live — you can hear Paulusma’s voice echoing off the walls, almost see her hand resting on the piano’s lacquered finish. Opener “Dark Side” unfolds one of the album’s prettiest melodies, its bed of robust acoustic instruments supported with slight vocal overdubs and clever Pink Floyd lyrical references. Conversely, the powerful, string-tinged “One Day” moves toward some smoky cabaret. Rich acoustic bass and softly brushed percussion appear for “She Moves in Secret Ways,” and stick around for the quietly confessional “Carry Me Home.” Though it’s nearly flawless, that very trait can also make Scissors in My Pocket lack sharpness and threaten to become one long nap in the sunlight. Luckily, Paulusma inserts a track like the rousing “Give It Back” just in time, getting carried away in its horns and the keening organ of its overture; she sounds like Phoebe Snow covering the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” All in all, Scissors in My Pocket is a spectacular debut. It’s a child of past masters, no question. But Polly Paulusma knows what’s what, and how to make the sky come tumbling down again.
RIP IT UP (Australia) 04 July 2004
From the first moment I placed this debut release called Scissors In My Pocket from London-based singer-songwriter into my CD player, I was captivated. A sweet love song, Dark Side, boasting a moving Celtic feel, is the opening gambit and the album continued to impress me. Recorded independently before joining the ranks of Indian Records in the UK, 28-year-old Polly has created an impressive collection of hook-laden melodies wrapped around insightful lyrics and her own distinctive vocals. From Celtic to jazz through to pop and folk.
Scissors In My Pocket highlights Polly’s talent for blending word and music to create some very sweet listening.
Polly plays most of the instruments on the album, which include acoustic guitars, piano, mandolin and wine glasses, while Oli Hayhurst plays double bass with Rastko Rasic on drums.
Mea Culpa is delightful and you could almost hear Norah Jones singing her own rendition of it one day. Anywhere frmo Here is thought-provoking while Dark Side is my favourite. Polly possesses great imagination that has allowed her to create some enchanting songs. Musically she can be compared to Joni Mitchell, The Corrs and The Waifs and vocally she’s a blend of Ani Di Franco, Macy Gray, Norah Jones and even Bjork.
The pencilled artwork on the album booklet was drawn by Polly’s mother, an artist by trade, and has really helped to capture the naturalness and simplicity with which Scissors In My Pocket was recorded.
Lovers of the female voice are really going to enjoy this quirky, self-produced album.
Birmingham 101.com review 21 June 2004
The latest slightly skewed girl singer-songwriter to challenge for a place on the scene, Cambridge grad Paulusma’s made a strong start with her debut album, Scissors In My Pocket (One Little Indian).
Confessional stuff built around strong melodies, literate wordplay and breathy vocals, she draws on such influences as Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Sheryl Crow, Victoria Williams, and even Stephen Duffy while injecting the occasional jazz inflections into the arrangements. There’s brass and strings too, giving extra rich textures and emotional resonance to such breezy, sometimes dark tinted English pastoral songs as I Was Made To Love You, Over The Hill, She Moves In Secret Ways and Something To Remember Me By.
Poignant shivers can be felt on Perfect 4/4 as she details someone hooked up to drips and monitors in a hospital bed while fragile insecurity ripples through the bluesy Anywhere From Here but it’s the way she captures the giddy whirl of being caught up in love and life on the acoustic strummed Carry Me Home and gloriously folk pop waltzing debut single Dark Side (shades of Fairground Attraction here) that really shows you just how brightly her star is beginning to glow.
Amazon.co.uk review 25 May 2004
by Kevin Maidmen
Recorded in the floricultural intimacy of a Clapham garden shed and warmly etched with breezy acoustic guitar, fathomless double-bass, light string arrangements, recorders, brass ensembles and even wine glasses, Scissors In My Pocket is the lovely debut album from Cambridge University English literature graduate Nick Drake-afficionado and former Ben & Jason backing singer Polly Paulusma. Scholarly rock analysts, much taken with Paulusma’s vocal style and folk-jazz idiom, are already drawing flattering parallels with deities such as Joni Mitchell, while also suggesting that Alanis Morrisette and Norah Jones ought to be glancing over their chick-pop shoulders. While none of these comparisons are discreditable, Polly Paulusma is patently not hanging onto anyone else’s petticoat tails. Yes, there’s something about her kittenish voice, which recalls Rickie Lee Jones or a more effervescent Beth Orton, and at times her technique suggests that the world may have found Damien Rice’s lost spiritual sister. However, the songs – bustling pictorial narratives which unpeel with every listen to reveal an intuitive personal core – are fragrantly fresh pleasures. One Day finds our heroine jettisoning a bottle of negative thought processes from a hot air balloon in an act of pyschotherapeutic detoxification while Something to Remember Me By nods at Percy Bysshe Shelley and ponders the viability of artistic expression as a means of immortality.
BlueYonder.co.uk review 13 May 2004
They say that the UK’s music scene is currently in retrograde. That the new zeitgeist is in an easy listening mood, demurely reclining in a comfy armchair, quietly dozing off into middle of the road territory. Thankfully, it seems we’re slowly edging away from cheap, manufactured ‘music’ for the lowest common denominator – you’ve only to look at the album charts as it’s a veritable hotbed of precocious, seminal twenty somethings setting a different spin on the way records are made.
Enter Polly Paulusma, who looks set to follow Katie Melua and Norah Jones into modern easy listening legend when the world gets to hear ‘Scissors In My Pocket’. Like Melua and Jones, Paulusma’s music is delicately interwoven with warm, sensual vocals that suggest a talent that has been around for decades. Her first single ‘Dark Side’ opened proceedings with a rich melody that nags relentlessly at your pleasure zones and is joined by another ten tracks of equally affecting beauty. ‘I Was Made To Love You’, ‘She Moves In Secret Ways’ and ‘Give It Back’ also standout, but this isn’t an album about individual tunes, rather it is a fully complete work of true genius that will mark Paulusma out as one of the finest singer-songwriters of her generation.
Polly recently showcased her album at a packed out Bush Hall, London. With only a smattering of songs to perform, you’d be inclined to think she couldn’t carry the gig alone, but this lyrical impresario had other ideas.
Characterised by hook-laden melodies, insightful lyrics and distinctive vocals, Polly ploughed her way through her repertoire with consummate ease and style – leading many to draw comparison with Joni Mitchell or Norah Jones. Anybody would be flattered by the comparison. Yet Polly is also an unique voice.
Whilst belting out her new single, Give It Back, Paulusma grabbed hold of her acoustic guitar, tossed back her curly mane and threw herself into the music. Witnessed by a crowd of enthusiastic listeners, she seemed to be having the time of her life; giggling and chatting to the audience between songs.
As with any great artist, Polly is very much about the lyrics. A Cambridge graduate who got a first in English, it’s easy to understand her ability to craft sophisticated lyrics where every word has resonance. Combine this with hook-laden melodies and lush vocals, and you have the makings of a great singer who is already winning over music taste-lovers.
DAILY TELEGRAPH 12 May 2004
No clone of voice by Nick Cowen
A little more than half way through her performance at Bush Hall, Polly Paulusma tells her rapt audience a white lie.
As the lights dim on her backing band, the young London-based folk singer says, “this is the part where they abandon me,” and begins picking out the opening chords to the sombre Mea Culpa.
As anyone with a set of ears in the venue knows by now, Paulusma’s band isn’t so much abandoning her, as much as getting out of the way. This is to take nothing away from the talent of her ensemble of musicians, but the fact is that the finest instrument up on that stage is Paulusma’s voice.
Over the last year or so, thanks largely to Norah Jones’s sweep at the Grammies, any folk album released by a new female artist seems to creak under the weight of comparisons to the North American chanteuse. In the case of Polly Paulusma, this comparison is less deserved than most.
Unlike a great deal of what’s on offer from most folk-jazz crossover divas currently being shovelled onto mainstream radio, Paulusma has two outstanding qualities that set her apart.
The first is that her music contains enough varying moods and catchy hooks to keep you interested. The second is her aforementioned voice, which in a live setting stamps authority on every song far more thoroughly than was managed her debut album, Scissors In My Pocket.
The music in some numbers – most notably the haunting, jazzy She Moves In Secret Ways, and the breathy single Dark Side – seems to act like an anchor for Paulusma’s vocal acrobatics, turning her voice into an extra instrument. Other songs, including the searing One Day and the mournful Anywhere From Here, derive their power from her passionate delivery.
Whether Paulusma’s vocals on her debut album have been deliberately pressed into the mix to stop them overriding the musicianship on display, or whether they turned out that way because the album was recorded in the shed at the bottom of her garden is hard to say.
What is clear is that her talents would probably have been enough to gain her a sizable following even without the likes of Norah Jones hitting the jackpot.
THE TIMES 07 May 2004
A couple of years ago, Polly Paulusma might have been stuck to playing folk clubs and festivals. With female singer songwriters back in fashion, however, the 28-year-old South Londoner has a pretty good chance at the pop charts.
Her debut single, Dark Side, was a near miss recently, while her album Scissors In My Pocket, released a fortnight ago, has been picked up by Radio 2, received rave reviews and won the singer a prestigious slot supporting Bob Dylan in Belfast next month.
There have been other tour supports alreadynotably with Jamie Cullum and Gary Julesand its live that Paulusma’s songs really come to life. Rather than appealing to the cosy, middle-aged masses like Katie Melua’s, her songs, at a well-attended Bush Hall, were raw, sparsely accompanied and surprisingly sassy.
During the shows opener and forthcoming single, Give it Back, Paulusma attacked her acoustic guitar, shook her dark curly hair and jumped about on the spot. Wearing an odd combo of trousers and shiny, knee-length dress, she was certainly no wallflower, chatting to the audience between songs, giggling at what a good time she was having, constantly switching guitars and taking a turn on the electric piano and introducing a band who, to be honest, didnt get much of a look-in otherwise.
Part of Paulusma’s strength is her lyrics. Admittedly it was hard to know what the Cambridge graduate and one-time novelist was on about a lot of the time, but there was clearly some clever thinking behind what were never traditionally love songs, On the sweet, slightly jazzy She Moves in Secret Ways Paulusma sang of girls who move with grace and guys in choirboys attire: on the striking, stripped down, country-tinged One Day she crammed on lines about sailing boats and whiskey bottles: and on the stand out song Mea Culpa, skirted around a friends suicide.
Although she has been compared to Norah Jones, Paulusma’s poetic lyricsand, at times, her vocalshad mush more in common with Joni Mitchell. Then again, a couple of her numbers recalled Aimee Mann, you could hear Sophie B Hawkins in her ballads and you wouldn’t go far wrong calling her a female David Gray. Presumably, she just wants to be Polly, and its fair to say that she could certainly have carried the gig alone.
As it was, she had a bass and double-bass player and a drummer crammed in a corner, and a trio of songs brought out a string quartet. She should have used the strings players more, but no doubt there will be other opportunities. Paulusma has the potential to be a huge word-of-mouth success.
Rockfeedback.com 06 May 2004
Bush Hall, 5th May 2004
The ground beneath your feet is shaking, your pint visibly disturbed on the table. And youre a little confused, given that your line of sight encompasses only audience members sat, similarly, at their tables, and a rather pretty girl on the stage with an acoustic guitar. For a moment you wonder if, as Carole King so famously sang, youre feeling the earth move under your feet but in fact this curly-haired songstress is merely stamping with such forceful enjoyment in her simple chords, you can feel it three rows back.
The smile on her face, the rhythmic strumming and her exemplary stomping already have most tapping their feet, but its now that it kicks in: her voice has been slowly turning attention from the bar with its palpable honesty and melody, but it suddenly breaks into full flight, along with the drums and double-bass you hadnt noticed before and its indefinably breathtaking.
What it might be is the contrast. Polly Paulusmas been blessed with many talents superb songsmithery and lyrics, the looks and locks of a Greek goddess, and angelic tone. But she also laughs as abrasively as a cockney cab-driver, screws her face up like a leprechaun when shes enjoying herself, and describes having her own guitar technician as like wiping your ass with silk. Her outfit is a shimmering display of flawless wardrobe, until rockfeedback catch a glimpse of her trainers as she walks to the piano.
These attractive contradictions are not in such evidence in her songs, however. Every number Polly sings is simultaneously heart-rendingly and heart-warmingly sincere. In Mea Culpa, a song of rail-track suicide, shes practically in tears, emotion welling in her voice. Its a mood she revisits later, but elsewhere shes vibrant and grinning, singing of love for old loves with infectious happiness.
It is, in fact, a string-quartet, hired in for the nights performance, which provides the most captivating moment. Abandoning both guitar and piano for the encore, were left with an exquisite rendering of Perfect 4/4, with but the quartet and Pollys tortured vocals echoing the agonies of the songs hospitalised subject. But, best of all, even with such an unfathomable well of empathy and a beneficent muse, she still cant help but introduce the song by exclaiming, Ah bollocks, its the last one.
The gig ends as it should: Pollys debut album, Scissors In My Pocket sells out, and those who already own it are left with the pang of desire for more material, despite it only having been released last month. The girl is certainly on the train to acclaim. But theres that feeling in your stomach, as if something internally has been challenged and changed during the course of the night, that leaves you confident that Polly Paulusma could soon move on to become groundbreaking, not long to be content with merely moving the earth beneath our feet.
UNCUT Magazine (UK) 01 May 2004
Astonishingly mature debut from Britain’s brainiest new singer-songwriter by Nigel Williamson * * * *
Frighteningly clever with her first in English from Cambridge, Polly Paulusma might have become and academic or a novelist. Fortunately, she turned instead to music. Scissors In My Pocket is an album for connoisseurs of grown-up songwriting, littered with arresting references, both literary and musical.
Something To Remember Me By is inspired by Shelley’s Ozymandias. The lovely string arrangement on One Day subtly acknowledges Eleanor Rigby. Yet Paulusma’s songs are also strikingly original, and full to the brim with potent melodies, unusual chords, meltingly heartfelt vocals and sharp emotional resonance.
Joni Mitchell gave up songwriting after 1994’s Turbulent Indigo. A decade on, we may finally have found a worthy successor.
MOJO Magazine (UK) 01 May 2004
Ben & Jason/Beth Orton associate steps out alone by Martin Aston * * * *
With chart-topping Katie Melua reaping all that Radio 2 support, by rights, Polly Paulusma should join her. Parkie’s a fan, and you’d imagine R2’s DJs should concur, given that she belongs more to the John Martyn-Nick Drake school of folk-jazz intimacy than Melua’s Mike Batt-created MOR. Polly’s extra arranging, producing and engineering skills explain why this debut feels complete, pure and personal. Give It Back swings while Over The Hill is as carefree as larks, but the girl’s a born troubadour. Buoyed by elastic bass and the lightest of strings, the album’s four key ballads One Day, Mea Culpa, Perfect 4/4 and Anywhere From Here are irresistible. Lyrically an unashamed romantic but rarely too florid (“wires fan before you, they draw you/In deep troughs and sharp peaks of green” is a gorgeous image) and vocally a smokier, breathier Melanie, she’s got the tools for scaling giddy chart heights.
INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY 30 April 2004
Shes just finished touring with Jamie Cullum (He’s so brilliant at what he doesa real fire cracker!) and Michael Parkinson loves her (these days, a sure sign of success), but it was a while before singer songwriter Polly Paulusma realised her future lay in music. For ages I was convinced Id be a journalist, she admits. Then I started an MPhil, hated it and started writing a novel in between playing gigs at a pub, I got an agent and was on draft seven when I realised that I hated that too and had to do music. So the 28-year-old Cambridge graduate swapped dusty libraries for her garden shed, where she wrote and recorded the folk-pop album Scissors In My Pocket. Paulusma (pronounced Pole-sma) is hoping it will be well received: My parents have always been a bit funny about me doing music, she says. I had to upset a lot of people to do it. Still, at least if it goes horribly wrong, at least she has a career plan C to fall back on. Although, she whispers, I had a look at the novel the other day and it was awful. The same, luckily, cannot be said for her debut album, out this month.
Logo-magazine.com 26 April 2004
There’s something disconcertingly familiar about Polly Paulusma, and its immediately obvious. Though her voice is unique, it bears the hallmarks of every female singer-songwriter of note to have emerged in the last thirty years: Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Suzanne Vega, even Alanis Morissette. It’s disconcerting because she’s adept at summoning the spirits of all of them, yet never quite descends into homage, pastiche or parody. Far from it, her poetic lyrics are the result of a good education (a first in English at Cambridge), her presence the result of an apprenticeship served as backing singer for Ben & Jason, and her impact the result of that charismatic, chameleonic voice. Jason and The Argonauts were warned about the Sirens whose irresistible songs would lure them onto the rocks; it seems one of them has been reborn.
MSN.co.uk 26 April 2004
The singer-songwriter is something of a resurrected breed for the 21st Century. Particularly the laid-back female variety. Polly Paulusma is the UK’s latest and fits firmly into the old school bracket with cryptically poetic lyrics (she has a first in English from Cambridge and knows how to use it!) and gently lilting melodies.
Her voice is decidedly distinctive. Inevitable Norah Jones comparisons aside, this is a girl with a south London accent, giving her songs such as Dark Side and One Day an endearing naivety with an underlying sense of experience and passion. Musically she’s closer to many a female vocalists icon, the young Joni Mitchell rather than the jazz and country greats often referenced by other singers. She’s adventurous enough to incorporate elements of Latin (Mea Culpa) and rock (Perfect 4/4).
An enchanting debut from a very bright British talent.
UNCUT Magazine (UK) 01 February 2004
Also, listen out for the forthcoming debut album on One Little Indian from an extraordinary new British singer-songwriter called Polly Paulusma. And remember you read the name here first.
Polly Paulusma: The Making of Scissors In My Pocket 01 January 2004
Polly’s first album, released on One Little Indian in April 2004, was recorded largely in Polly’s garden shed during the glorious summer of 2003.
Polly had sung backing vocals on Ben & Jasons 2001 album Ten Songs About You. It was meant to be one last hurrah in my musical career before I got a proper job, she recalls. Instead, after singing with them it became blindingly obvious to me that I had to do music. Everything else felt wrong. I realised I wasnt facing up to the truth. It wasn’t long before she was making her first album by herself.
As chance would have it, while she was making the record, One Little Indian heard an earlier demo and approached her. It was ironic, really, she says. It was only once Id decided to make the album on my own that a record label came along. By the time the deal was done, the recording had already been finished, entirely on Pollys own terms.
Oli Hayhurst on double bass and Rastko Rasic on drums came in to colour in all the black and white parts. And thanks to some tolerant neighbours, organ, dulcimer, trumpet and a variety of other textures were added in the garden shed during the summer of 2003.
There are 11 songs on the album, and all are characterised by hook-laden melodies, insightful lyrics and Pollys distinctive vocals. Scissors In My Pocket is a record that has led many to describe her as a modern-day Joni Mitchell.
On some of the tracks Polly, who produced most of the album herself, went back to her original demos. Dark Side, the albums captivating opener, is the original recording from her first demo three years ago, produced by Ben Parker (Ben & Jason). One Day and Over The Hill are also the original demos. There was such a vibe to them that it seemed ridiculous to try and redo them, she explains.
Together with newer songs such as the lyrical She Moves In Secret Ways, Mea Culpa and the intoxicating Anywhere From Here, the result is a debut album of extraordinary craft and imagination from a naturally gifted storyteller.
Where do these enchanting, insightful, beautiful songs come from? She really isnt sure. Im mystified by it. Ive no idea how it works. You have to make a window of time every day and hope something comes in. And you can’t allow life to get in the way. But mystery or not, you surely wont hear a better new singer-songwriter in the whole of 2004.
Polly Paulusma: Biography 2004
When I was eight, I built a raft at the bottom of the garden from a bit of old fence, Polly recalls. I nagged my mum to take it down to the river. She eventually gave in but she insisted it had to be attached to a rope and she would hold on to it. So I hid a pair of scissors in my pocket. I was planning to cut the rope and sail off to London. I didnt get very far. But I had the same feeling towards making this record. It was about defiance and taking your life in your own hands. I was a real handful, I can tell you.
Which perhaps explains why soon after the raft incident, Polly was packed off to an all-girl’s convent school. But if the sisters entertained hopes of taming her maverick spirit, their ministrations had a different effect. “They taught me how to be self-contained, how to stand on my own two feet. I also had a pretty wild time,” she recalls.
She also began to find her musical voice. Polly rebelled against formal piano lessons at an early age and wrote her first song at ten (actually a re-write of a Paul McCartney track – I liked the tune but I decided hed written the wrong words, so I wrote my own. Something about swans. Much better than his).
The onset of her teens coincided with the rise of ‘baggy’the musical scene that grew out of the clubs in Manchester, England. She loved everything about it, learned guitar and was soon “entertaining everyone at school and showing off,” as she puts it. Baggy didn’t last long. But it was the starting point of a musical journey. “I began to work my way back through the annals and I came upon people like Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake. That moment of discovery is amazing. It’s something you can never recapture,” she recalls.
It inspired her own songwriting, although when she left school and went up to Cambridge she joined a ten-piece soul-funk covers band, a bit like the Commitments, and suffered regular bouts of laryngitis shouting herself hoarse doing Janis Joplin impressions.
After graduating, she moved to London and formed a new band doing original material. But music was still only a hobby. I convinced myself I had to have a proper grown-up respectable career, she remembers. She considered becoming an academic and began a PhD, only to abandon it after a term. She could have been a journalist, and briefly took a job at the BBC World Service as a researcher. She also considered a career as a novelist, and even got as far as placing her manuscript with a literary agent.
By the time she was asked to sing backing vocals on Ben & Jasons 2001 album Ten Songs About You, she had quit the band. It was meant to be one last hurrah in my musical career before I got a proper job, she recalls. Instead singing with them it became blindingly obvious I had to do music, she recalls. Everything else felt wrong. I realized I wasnt facing up to the truth. I was like a moth going round a flame and I had to plunge in.
The novel was cast aside and she began playing solo gigs at acoustic venues such as the late-lamented Kashmir Klub. Two years of gigging and selling hand-made recordings from the stage meant that when she came to record her first album, she had 40 songs to draw upon.
Oli Hayhurst on double bass and Rastko Rasic on drums came in to color in all the black and white parts. And thanks to some tolerant neighbours, organ, dulcimer, trumpet and a variety of other textures were added in the garden shed during the summer of 2003. The basic philosophy was no click tracks, as few edits as possible and as much playing live as was feasible. On several tracks, Polly, who produced the album herself, went back to her original demos. Dark Side, the albums captivating opener, is the original recording of the song from her first demo three years ago, produced by Ben Parker (Ben & Jason). One Day and Over The Hill are also the original demos. There was such a vibe to them that it seemed ridiculous to try and redo them, she explains.
Where do these enchanting, insightful, beautiful songs come from? She really isnt sure. Im mystified by it. Ive no idea how it works. You have to make a window of time every day and hope something comes and not allow life to get in the way.
Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/5MtEhepub9ltryoNniab4a Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/pollypaulusma