Maddie Morris on Ani DiFranco: Why I Love

Maddie Morris won the BBC Radio Two Young Folk Award back in 2019. In 2023, she remains the proud holder, having been ‘in post’ as it were, in the absence of any Award ceremonies since.

The Leeds Conservatoire graduate whose Upstream EP was released earlier this year has made waves on the scene, not least at Cropredy in 2022, with her songs that use personal storytelling to embody political ideas, and their music tackles issues ranging from LGBTQIA identities to poverty and sexual violence.

In the first of a series of Why I Love contributions from the group of young and exciting musical prospects of the 2022/23 English Folk Expo mentoring programme, Maddie joins us to tell of the inspirational American-Canadian singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco.

I first found Ani DiFranco as a 14-year-old after googling ‘gay singers’ and seeing her name crop up. I remember there was a YouTube playlist called something like ’50 queer musicians you haven’t heard of’ and I listened through songs from various different artists with no strong feelings, and then a live version of 32 Flavours came up.  I’d never heard music like it before. I remember sitting in my bedroom and just feeling so moved and excited because up until that point, I was still listening to loads of acoustic-y type pop music, but I’d never heard anything like the beautiful opening tunings and raw authenticity of Ani.

I then went on a bit of an Ani DiFranco rampage, ordering all the CDs second hand from eBay and playing them at top volume on the stereo my dad brought me at a cash converters in Luton.  

It’s a bit weird that my need for queer representation as a young teen ended up introducing me to an artist that has probably shaped my career in ways I can’t really explain. Ani’s music became like a soundtrack to my teenage years, I had so much anger and felt so not understood except for when I was listening to her music. When I was walking around school, surrounded by people who felt so different from me, or getting a bus in my leafy rural community, Ani felt like an older sibling or a friend who understood what it felt like to feel angry.

I remember writing the lyrics from the track Not A Pretty Girl up my arms as a teenager, I felt like finally, someone got it!! I didn’t have to be pretty or nice or polite. I didn’t have to be defined by expectations of what it meant to be a woman. 

I remember creating a word document on my mum’s computer writing down all my most important lyrics, and printing them putting them in an envelope I brought to school to remind me that I wasn’t alone and that it was okay to feel angry and want to make change. I remember blaring her music in my headphones after I got into fights with my friends, and writing lyrics out on my notebook when I was in Science lessons.

When I was 16, I got tickets to go see her live. I got a train into London on my own, meeting my dad at Union Chapel and sitting in the 3rd row. I remember crying, and also being so shocked by seeing her right there. I remember being amazed by all the different tunings she used, and how animated she was on stage.

I actually owe my whole career to Ani in a lot of ways. In an interview she defined the music that she created as folk. I had always written songs, but I’d been calling myself a singer/songwriter (which, I suppose to this day, I could still call myself) but when DiFranco said she was folk I was like, ‘Oh, that’s what I want to be!’ These songs about life, and experience and joy and anger – that’s folk music? It was because of that I went to study folk at uni, learned more about the tradition and fell in love with traditional music.

I think the quote I always come back to of Ani’s is from Puddle Dive, which was released in 1993 (5 years before I was born) – “I fight with love and I laugh with rage.” I think that is a real definition of what I hope to do with my own music. We fight to change the world, because we love the world and we want it to be better. We laugh with rage, because joy under capitalism is rebellious, and because we deserve to experience it.

Our thanks to Maddie for an impassioned insight into a musician who has clearly helped shape the person Maddie has become.

Here’s Philomela from her Upstream EP:

Maddie Morris: Website  / Facebook  / X (formerly Twitter) / Instagram  / YouTube

You can read more from our extensive archive of Why I Love pieces from a wide array of artists on an even wider array of subjects, here.

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