Biography All Music Guide
All Music Guide:
An outstanding -- if slightly idiosyncratic -- singer and an inventive accordion player, Tim van Eyken is one of several young spearheads who raised the profile of a specifically English style of folk music long overshadowed by its Celtic neighbors and the fashionableness of other world musics. The surname reflects a Belgian ancestry -- his great-grandparents were First World War refugees who made their home in Wells, England's smallest cathedral city. Born and raised in the rural West Country of Somerset, van Eyken's vibrant playing and singing reflect a deep empathy with English traditional music. He studied classical music at Wells Cathedral School but inherited a love of folk music from his mother, a dancer from Sheffield, and started playing accordion at 14 after being attracted to the instrument because he thought it was "sexy." After a brief spell playing electric guitar in a local rock band, his accordion technique developed strongly after concentrated playing at a Folkworks Summer Camp, where he was particularly inspired by one of his tutors, the innovative accordionist Andy Cutting. He was also strongly influenced by Swedish fiddle music after a visit to the Ethno festival in Sweden in 1997.
He made his first album, New Boots, at the age of 20 in 1998 -- a faintly dour but still pleasing mix of dance tunes and songs, including a rare foray into songwriting with "The Keys of Sorrow." In the same year he came to national attention by winning the prestigious BBC Young Folk Award, which in turn led to British Council tours of Macedonia, the Gulf region, and Mozambique, a country where his grandfather had been a missionary and his father was raised. His growing reputation was further enhanced in a partnership with concertina player Robert Harbron, which produced one album, One Sunday Afternoon, and in turn led to the duo linking up with two other young musicians, Paul Sartin and Benji Kirkpatrick, in the band Dr. Faustus. Instrumentally superb, the clash of their musical influences and styles proved both a strength and a weakness as they struggled to maintain a cohesive focus on two albums. But van Eyken's playing continued to blossom and in 2002 he was invited to join Waterson:Carthy as a replacement for Saul Rose. He subsequently toured extensively and made three albums with them, making an emotional farewell performance with them at London's Royal Albert Hall in May 2007.
By then he'd already formed his own band, Van Eyken, on the back of his startlingly fresh 2006 album, Stiffs Lovers Holymen Thieves, on which primarily traditional songs were given some daring interpretations, inventive arrangements, and plenty of humor, thanks in no small part to fiddler Nancy Kerr and another member of the Waterson family dynasty, electric guitarist Oliver Knight (Lal Waterson's son). The reaction to the album and subsequent band gigs gave van Eyken the courage to serve notice on Waterson:Carthy and concentrate on his own band. Nancy Kerr left the band in 2007 to resume her partnership with James Fagan, but she was replaced by Jackie Oates to continue van Eyken's vision of a band rooted in the tradition yet ebulliently pushing the boundaries to help usher in a proud new era of British folk music.