Mary telling war veterans’ stories

Songwriter and performer Mary Gauthier
Songwriter and performer Mary Gauthier

For songwriting partners for her latest album, Mary Gauthier turned to a group with plenty of experience.

They were American war veterans and their spouses who had stories to tell about the hidden pressures and traumas of army life – an insight into how such burdens prompt an average of 30 suicides a day.

Gauthier became one of a series of artists who have teamed up with the Texas-based Songwriting With Soldiers project, created by fellow American singer-songwriter Darden Smith.

The initiative, in which vets and their spouses gather at retreats to share anecdotes and stories and the songwriters turn them into lyrics and set them to music, has yielded hundreds of songs.

Ideally, the collaborations can offer a chance to help mend broken lives, even to save them.

For Gauthier, the result of a four-and-a-year involvement was Rifles & Rosary Beads, her tenth album and a collection of material that reinforces her reputation as a fine songwriter with an instinctive ability to shine empathetic light into dark and frightening corners.

Much of the intuition is no doubt rooted in her own background – orphaned as a baby in New Orleans, becoming a teenage runaway and having overcome drug and alcohol addiction.

Her first reaction was that she didn’t know anything about the military and was terrified of messing things up.

“Turns out, I was able to sit with the veterans with a sense of calmness and help them articulate their suffering without fear. I was shocked by that. And I took to it.”

Mary comes to the Sheffield Hallam Students’ Union HUBS in Paternoster Row on Saturday, when she will be accompanied by Michele Gazich on violin. Tickets: www.hallamstudentsunion.com