American duo heading out West for first UK tour
Mandy Fer (pronounced "fair") is travelling a long way to the Westcountry to share her music. Mandy and her partner Dave McGraw live on a small island off the north west coast of the United States called San Juan.
It is a good place for two singer- songwriters to live, an hour and a half ferry ride from the mainland.
"You get on the ferry and your shoulders relax," says Mandy, who spends her summers watching the orca whales swimming offshore.
Right now, though, the couple are packing their bags to head for the UK on tour.
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"This is our first time coming to the UK, so we are thrilled and very excited to have this opportunity," says Mandy. "We have done a bunch of touring in the US, but this is the first time coming to Europe."
She and Dave were both making their way as solo artists before they met, drawing on their travels – Dave as a wildlife biologist in South America and Mandy studying Spanish and music at university in Seville in southern Spain – for inspiration.
"I started playing piano when I was really young, and that is how I fell in love with music, then I switched to guitar at high school," says Mandy.
She started out playing covers in a high school rock band, Led Zeppelin and the like. But, during her sojourn in Spain as a student, she started to explore her singer-songwriter side.
"While I was there, I started playing guitar on my own rather than in a band," she says.
" It was just me and my guitar and the Flamenco style came through definitely in my music, and I put out my first solo album after being over there. It was influenced by the people and the music, definitely."
Dave, meanwhile, was absorbing influences on his travels as a biologist, working everywhere from Mexico to the Grand Canyon. And he was also carving out a career as a singer-songwriter.
The couple met on the folk music circuit and started performing together just over three years ago, when Dave asked Mandy if she would step into the shoes of his guitar player, on a tour across the States, from Arizona to New York City.
"He said, is there any way you can hit the road with us? They taught me all the songs in just a few days, and I did. It was a dream come true for me, my first tour. Our first show together was in a small town in Arizona, near the Grand Canyon.
"We definitely have the same musical interests – our favourite singer is Greg Brown, and the Swell Season is one of our favourite groups, these are things that have come into the veins of our music."
And their voices also complement each other, she said, blending in the harmonies which are central to their music. "Our ranges work pretty nicely together."
Mandy and Dave's music has being particularly influenced by their friendship with Allison Russell, of Canadian folk girl duo Po' Girl and JT, the frontman of Chicago-based JT Nero, who now tour together, and guested on their latest album, Seed of a Pine.
"Our first time singing together was opening for Po' Girl. We met JT and Allison and that changed our musical direction. They are such a cool band."
Mandy has not left her electric guitar days behind her entirely.
"I play acoustic and electric guitar, while Dave plays acoustic guitar and djembe drum, a West African drum. He'll play djembe drum when I play acoustic guitar."
All their instruments are coming with them, as they pack their bags to fly to Europe, via Seattle and San Francisco.
"It is a little circus, but it is fun getting all our bags packed. We have all our instruments over the floor at the moment, and we are seeing if we can physically carry everything."
Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer play the B-Bar in Plymouth on Wednesday, March 20; the Studio Lounge in Totnes on Thursday, March 21; and Cafe No 8 in Launceston on Friday, March 22.