poppy mchugh on music, motherhood and life in llanvetherine

With a well deserved glass of wine in hand, Poppy seems cosy and content, enjoying her newfound rural life. Her bubbly personality radiates through as she tries to process yet another mad week on the farm.

For three and a half years Poppy lead the Bristol life, partying a lot, waking up early for work everyday and not sleeping enough but having the best time doing it all. She joined Hotsteppas as their vocalist in June 2016 and I was lucky enough to catch them on the main stage at Harbourfest in 2017 where I first remember seeing Poppy, bringing a memorable warmth to the stage that got people up onto their feet dancing. Since then they’ve performed at sold out shows across Bristol’s favourite venues and brought in huge crowds at festival stages across the UK including Boomtown, Wonderfields and Glastonbury. But despite having a good job, a nice car and a lovely home, Poppy knew it was time for a big change. 

Determined not to tie herself to Bristol for another year, she couldn’t bring herself to sign a new housing contract. As if the universe understood her needs, she made a new friend who offered her a place to stay on a farm in Wales, to get some perspective and write some music – not knowing it would become her forever home. It’s here she started perhaps the most exciting and life changing chapter so far. She met partner Huw, who owns the farm, fell in love and a few months later found out she was pregnant. 

She said goodbye to her beloved Bristol to start a new chapter of life, living permanently on a sustainable permaculture farm in the village of Llanvetherine near Abergavenny. I won’t pretend I can pronounce it. Having grown up in the small fishing village of Kingsand, Cornwall, Poppy had never even considered living in Wales, let alone on a farm “but that’s probably why I got it” Poppy jested looking slightly smug. And quite rightly so – it’s an idyllic life so many strive for but for someone so driven by people and the planet, Poppy is well suited and deserving. 

“It was such a big decision, but now I’ve got it, I don’t want to let it go. I definitely feel good about it. I don’t feel shaken, I feel cool.It’s bloody amazing living on a farm and because we run events here, we get that perfect mix of meeting new people and having fun then on Monday it’s all back to normal.”

With 10 chickens, 90 sheep, 9 cows, 3 dogs and 141 acres to look after life is never boring and living sustainably is now very important to Poppy. They grow their own produce, (which is expanding every year) , try to eat seasonally,  use their meat to feed guests at events and hope to be selling a lot more in house products as the business progresses. Now with a little one to look after, self sufficiency and providing food with the best nutrients has never been so important and Poppy has spent time reading and researching how she can live better.

“I’ve always been concerned about what I’m putting into my body but the moment I found out I was pregnant the baby’s nutrition was the most important thing in my head. You don’t care about what the baby’s going to act like or look like, your one aim is that that baby is healthy.”

Whilst it does take more effort to drive to a farm to get your eggs, a butchers to get your meat and greengrocers to get your veg, the amount of nutrition you get from those foods is amazing compared to what you get in the supermarket. Poppy recalled a fact that I ogled at in disbelief; that cherry tomatoes now are 10x less nutritious and recent studies have proven that some supermarket oranges have zero vitamin C in them. 

Between putting on events, stage managing the main stage for HighRise, and looking after her family, Poppy was still rehearsing and performing with Hotsteppas. Balancing life on the farm with life in a band meant late nights, long days, lots of driving and not much sleep. 

“Some weekends I had gigs every night and I’d have to drive back in between to look after the baby. One night I got back at 5am, just got to sleep then bam, 6.30am I’m up again back into mum mode. It was exhausting!” But as life changes so did Poppy’s priorities and she made the toughest decision; to leave the band to focus on herself and those closest to her.

“So I actually quit Hotsteppas today, I had the best time ever performing with them but it felt like the right time you know. I’m going to miss them dearly and miss being on stage but as they say, one door closes… I’ve had that feeling you get when you break up with a boyfriend, in the pit of your stomach, questioning your decision, I know I’m going to be feeling like that for months but deep down I know in my heart it’s the right time.”

Poppy’s love for music is ingrained in her and leaving Hotsteppas hasn’t meant stopping music altogether.  With no deadlines, no pressure and no scrutiny, Poppy uses her new found free time to write music for herself. She chooses to share little snippets with friends and family but ultimately uses it as a way to express herself and what’s she’s thinking even if no one will hear it. 

“I had this friend staying for a while who’s a producer and  one night we literally had a jam that lasted for 10 hours and created this tune and I can’t remember the last time I did that just for fun. It’s not like we’re ever gonna release the tune. There’s no deadline, no reason for doing it at all and I’m looking forward to having time to do more music for me.”

As a creative, she explains how it’s impossible not to feel the pressure of having to support yourself in your chosen path. Whether you’re a painter, writer, producer, DJ or singer like Poppy sometimes your once passion can become more of a pain when you’re financially dependent on it. 

“I feel like one of the main things you find when you chat to other musicians all the time is that it goes past that state of love. Like any creative outlet, you start as an artist in your bedroom and then suddenly you’re like right i’m going to do this as a job. You start feeling like you’ve got to force creativity just to keep up with your finances. When Hotsteppas first started we would jam often and come up with new music but there’s 8 of us in the band and we’ve all got our own lives so that unheard of these days.”

As if poppy didn’t have enough to juggle (even without Hotsteppas) from now until June she is going to be consumed in the planning and preparation for the farms first community festival; Poppies Garden Party. In the spirit of bringing together local families and friends, Poppy wants to give back to the community that has welcomed and supported her family. 

“It’s such an important thing to integrate into the community the second you get here, we have dinners with people and we’ve got good friends but there’s that feeling like we should be delivering something to bring the community together. We’ve got the space, we’ve got the need, you know and I really feel like that was something that was missing out of our calendar. 

This old farmer boy sent us an email about four months ago, we were chatting to him a lot about noise you know just not wanting to piss him off basically he was like, ‘you know I don’t mind the parties and stuff, it would just be nice to be included. So yeah Poppies Garden Party 2020”

Poppy aims to put equally big emphasis on music as she does the day time activities. She want’s them “left, right and fucking centre”, so we could expect anything from drum circles to rock painting, sculpture making to yoga or dance but for now it’s all being kept under wraps. The Undercover Hippy, Snazzback, Freshly Squeezed, The ASBO Disco & Dutchie are just a few of the musical delights already announced and with still more to come it’s shaping up to be a quaint weekend packed with good music and moments of madness. 

“It’s kind of a selfish projection of what I want a festival to be like but I think it’ll be fun for everyone. I like getting waved occasionally so on Saturday night when i’ve put the hard work in it’ll be able to let loose and interact with people.”

Getting back into the swing of partying didn’t come quite as naturally to Poppy as she thought it would, coining the first 3 times “absolute disasters”. Sometimes it’s just that one sip or one ciggy that can make everything start to spin…

“Honest to God, all three times were in Bristol and every single time I ended up on the curb with a sick in my hair, I obviously thought I can’t do this anymore” she says as she bursts out laughing and tells me that’s why she chopped it all off. “Slowly I am building my tolerance back up to be able to drink a bottle of wine and not just pass out at 9 o’clock but it’s a slow one. It’s the longest break you’ll ever have from anything, including caffeine! I remember my first cup of tea, it was like BANG and that feeling was back”

I can’t imagine 9 months of no drinking, let alone whilst having a human growing inside you, making it increasingly harder to get from A to B.  Some mum’s gush about how beautiful their pregnancy was; how much it made them glow, but for Poppy pregnancy limited her get up and go lifestyle. 

“The pregnancy sucked. I hated it. I think that was just because you can’t do 100% you. Normally I’d I wake up in the morning and be like right, what am I doing today. I’d go,100 miles an hour until I sit down for dinner. I’m one of those nut jobs that forgets to eat meals. But you can’t do what you want when you want because you’re growing something. I never chose to sit down, I’d go for a 15 minute walk and have to sit for 45 minutes”.

Since her waters broke and she gave birth to Skye, Poppy has loved every moment. Life hasn’t gotten any less busy for Poppy since moving to the farm but it has become more focussed; on being healthy, taking up hobbies again, learning about permaculture and the big one, being a mum. She’s also been working on music with some well known Bristol names and has recently made a return to mic duties in a new solo venture.

Whether Poppy’s planning a festival, preparing a home grown meal or performing she’s doing something brings people together. She creates little escapes from the mundane where people can let go, have a drink, have a dance and forget every day worries. She starts the new decade turning a new chapter, having said a loving goodbye to Hotsteppas she continues on her biggest (and longest) adventure yet… Parenthood.

Be sure to check out Poppies Garden Party, you can buy tickets here

 

 

 

 

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