Why I Joined The MU: Holly Carter
Pedal Steel Guitarist Holly Carter discusses the feeling of community she gets from being a member of the Musicians’ Union, the sense of coming together and supporting each other.
It’s a rare sight indeed to see a female pedal steel guitar player in the UK, so multi-instrumentalist Holly Carter carved out a pretty unique niche for herself when she jumped from the electric guitar to drums to pedal steel, inspired by the Talking Heads track People Like Us (played by Tommy Morrell).
“I’ve never met or seen another female pedal steel player live,” she confesses when The Musician sat down with the Bristol-based artist. “It’d be great to do more stuff that gets women seeing a female pedal steel player. I feel quite proud to be one of the only few pedal steel players around, and I’d love to not be the only one that I know.”
With a helping hand from a combination of YouTube tutorials and support from pedal steel artists Chris Hillman, Jo Harvey-White, Henry Senior and Bob Dixon, she quickly felt a strong affinity with what she describes as an “inaccessible, complicated and quite daunting” instrument. “Bob taught me how to play an E major scale and said, ‘Here’s your guitar, here’s your picks, off you go…’” she laughs.
Holly has just finished a 13-date UK tour with fellow Bristolian singer-songwriter Lady Nade, and before that a stint with renowned blues and roots artist Martin Harley, an experience she says she’s “very grateful” for. “You want to be playing with people who are pushing you,” she considers. “That nice in-between place where you don’t think, ‘I’m really letting the team down here’ and ‘I’ve just really pushed myself to keep up’.”
When I think of a union, I think of people power Aside from supporting other bands and artists, Holly is a singer-songwriter too, releasing her debut EP, All Of You… And Me, last December, and more recently a cover of an old union song, Casey Jones The Union Scab.
The track is part of what she describes as an “obsession” with turn of the 20th century union activist and songwriter Joe Hill, and it is accompanied by a live show and talk she has put together about Joe Hill’s life and music. All proceeds from Casey Jones The Union Scab will be donated to the RMT (National Union of Rail,
Maritime and Transport Workers).
“It’s the sense of community,” says Holly when asked why she feels it’s important to be part of a union. “When I think of a union, I think of people power, it’s about coming together and supporting each other, and especially with the Musicians’ Union.
“Music is an odd career,” she continues, “because people go into it because they love music and are passionate about it, and they don’t necessarily think about the business or legal side of things… speaking for myself, of course!”
Holly has been a member of the MU since 2019 and says that the support it’s provided her has been crucial in her development as a musician. “Knowing that there’s a community out there that we can call on is so reassuring. Unions are safety and they give power back to the people doing the work. It legitimises what we’re doing.”
Keeping the connection with union history alive Holly is making plans to take the Joe Hill talk and performance around the country, playing community spaces to keep the connection with union history alive. “Having people sing along and dance to an old union song from 1911 just feels so bonkers and lovely,” she says. Holly has also been shortlisted as a nominee for the Instrumentalist of the Year Award.
For more information on Holly and her work, please visit hollycartermusic.com
Written by Katie Nicholls
Katie is a freelance journalist and editor whose features and reviews have
appeared in titles such as Mojo, The Guardian and Kerrang!