Through a curtain of strings she sits and sings you into another place. No one who hears Tara Minton perform walks away untouched. She has that strikingly rare entwinement of harp and voice, but in Tara’s case there’s something more at work: a talent made to plumb depths and scale heights. To see her live is to witness an overflowing of musicality and truth, spilling forth from strings and lips, a siren song that speaks directly to the human soul.
When she first arrived in London, in 2011, Tara had already performed many seasons as harpist for Melbourne Opera, released a solo EP and had returned to her old University as a visiting guest Musical Director. Not bad for an artist so young in her career. Oh, and she carried with her an endorsement from the legendary French harp makers “Les Harpes Camac”, bestowed upon her by their director, Jakez François. Tara now plays the Camac “Big Blue” resulted from their singular lunch meeting in Lygon St, Melbourne, during which Jakez prophesised: “Your success is the harp’s success.”
How right he was. Sold-out concerts followed throughout the UK and Europe and back home in Melbourne, often concluded by snaking backstage queues of the star struck. It isn’t just Tara’s “blessing of a voice” (Mancunian Matters), nor is it the way that she plucks tunes for the songbooks of the world and sets them swinging again as though they have been written afresh. No, as Jakez himself so eloquently puts it: “Tara’s musical expression is equalled only by her warmth and integrity.”
Released in 2016 with a sell out launch at the Elgar Room in the Royal Albert Hall, Tara’s first album The Tides of Love is a flood, a tumbling, yearning, swooping collection of songs, which reveal a broad gamut of influences. ‘The Tides of Love’, ‘February Forever’, ‘Tower of London’ – these songs combine the grandeur of balladry with deft arrangement, superb musicianship and, perhaps most wrenchingly of all, truth. Tara’s performance is stunning. There is not a lyric that does not carry with it a depth of meaning, as with the undulating melodies and swelling harmony. The two inhabit one another and Tara inhabits them both. But how did this young jazz harpist come to craft such exquisite songs?
Says Tara: “all art tells a story. Whatever the medium, the story is the most important thing… I try to compose music that supports my narrative, my feeling in the moment. Every time I play one of my songs, I get to revisit the place I was in when I wrote it and a little of that feeling is released.”
The great thing about The Tides of Love is that it captures Tara in first flood, propelled by the momentum of relentless composing, crafting and performing all over the place.
For, quite clearly, a great deal of perspiration overlays the inspiration. Beyond the ballrooms and the dressing rooms, Tara is at heart a gigging musician, willing to put in the time – and the miles – across the venue spectrum, from the dullest of metropolitan hotel lounges to the tiniest of ancient rural churches. Says she: “I have driven countless miles with my harp – Lithuania, the Côte D’Azur, Paris, right across Italy twice, the Netherlands and Ireland” – necessary, for only in her Ford Galaxy can she be sure of the instrument’s safe conveyance. She’s crisscrossed Europe and the Antipodes, playing to audiences old and young, large and small. And her repertoire on these jaunts is similarly eclectic: jazz, Gypsy jazz, classical, soaring pop, even, on occasion, dance music.
Tara hails from Melbourne, Australia. Her parents ran a bookmakers’ and were not musicians themselves, but they urged her on in her musical quest. Piano was the first discovery, when she was four years old, stumbling across one in the spare room of a mother’s friend. Piano lessons started when she was seven, augmented by voice coaching and a brief jaunt learning flute. Then, at ten, came the harp: “my burden, my prison, my wings!”
She held such promise at this young age: A clean sweep of school talent competitions. A music scholarship won to a fine school. Everyone was fascinated by her harp playing, but Tara was by this point a formidable pianist. At fifteen, a few years ahead of her contemporaries, she performed Rachmaninov’s fiendish ‘Prelude in C Sharp Minor’ at the school music gala. Then beckoned The Ballarat Academy of Performing Arts for an undergrad in Musical Theatre. As Tara says: “I learned to sing. Really sing. I also learned to be comfortable just ‘being’ in front of an audience’.
Presumably this stood her in good stead when twelve years later, in May 2018, Tara accompanied Björk on Later… with Jools Holland and toured with her to headline Primavera Sounds in Barcelona. Of this she remarks, drolly, “it turns out playing to a crowd of 40,000 is much less terrifying than playing to a jazz audience at the 606!” But her Björk collaboration is a reminder of Tara’s uniqueness as an artist, her ability to span genres and musical worlds with her harp. Fittingly, Tara feels it her mission to “unleash the harp and its potential from the confines of the ‘harp bubble’ and release it into the wider world of music.” And, in this, the roll-call of artists with which she has worked speaks for itself: Björk, Miranda Mulholland, Kitty, Daisy & Lewis, Tom Walker, SuRie, Tony Kofi, Paul Lee. There are many more.
A harpist must be seated to play, but Tara never sits still for long. In 2019 she completed her academic journey with a Masters’ degree in jazz performance from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In February 2020, she toured with Miranda Mulholland to Mexico, then mere days later succeeded in reaching the finals of the World Harp Competition in Utrecht (sadly postponed at the time of writing due to COVID-19). Oh, and composed and recorded a brand new album.
Please Do Not Ignore The Mermaid addresses sea-themes, environmental spoilage, and feminine mer-myth. A jazz record with a fluid ECM sound, it’s a work which illustrates just how far Tara has travelled from those formative years in Melbourne, those mercurial early days in London, from the towering balladry of her first album. Her second record is a louche, sprawling, charismatic affair. It’s quite unlike anything you will have heard before, and it’s singularly apt that it should deal with the sea. For Tara’s harp has something of the otherness of the sea, while her voice captures its untrammelled power and depth. Please, for love, do not ignore this mermaid.