on March 13, 2014
This time last week I was driving to Wales to record my new album – a collection of songs exploring themes from the Mabinogion. It seemed appropriate to record these songs in Wales, and I was looking forward to visiting my good friends Delyth and Dafydd Morris-Jones, who’d offered up the use of their barn for the project.
After weeks of rain, the clouds lifted and spring arrived in a whirl of blue skies and daffodils. The birds sang (some making cameo appearances on the recordings) and the sun shone.
Photo by Nancy Wallace.
Christophe Albertijn was in charge of recording and he travelled over from Antwerp to work on the project. We’d recorded The Woody Nightshade in a similar way, in a different barn in Oxfordshire, and it was great that Christophe was available to work on this one.
Nancy Wallace joined us for the weekend to add vocals. It’s always a joy to sing with Nancy, and she made a new friend – Begw the dog!
On the day we were recording a song about Branwen, a Welsh princess who marries the King of Ireland, then trains a starling to speak and sends it to tell her brother that she’s being mistreated, we were visited by a huge, loud murmuration of starlings. They started flocking to the trees next to the house, then flew in formation over our heads, like a squadron of mini fighter-jets, to the opposite hills. It’s quite unusual for them to come this far inland – they usually roost on the pier in Aberystwyth – so there must’ve been some Mabinogi magic at work!
Photo by Nancy Wallace.
Our last day of recording was with Harriet Earis, adding harp to the songs. Harriet has lived in Mid Wales for years and loves the stories of the Mabinogion as much as I do. She played on Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails and I was keen to involve her in this project.
Now we’ve recorded the basics, and will add some extra instruments over the next few weeks. Then I’ll head to Antwerp in April to mix the album with Christophe and it should be out later this year..
Photo by Nancy Wallace.
on February 17, 2014
Helen and I met at Sheffield University as students and since then, she’s been writing poetry and I’ve been making music. Helen’s first collection of poems, Missel-Child, has just been published by Carcanet, and she’ll be reading from it. As well as doing solo sets, we’ll be collaborating on a set that will incorporate music and poetry – Helen will read and I’ll respond musically.
The gig takes place at Bishops House, which is worth a visit: it’s a museum housed in a 15th century timber framed house.
on December 18, 2013
I’m covering a spooky song called ‘When Father Hanged the Children’ about a real life hangman who was given the task of hanging two children for stealing on ‘Yesterday, Perhaps: Songs of the Kitchen Cynics’ alongside other Kitchen Cynics covers by Alasdair Roberts, Josephine Foster, PG Six and Adrian Crowley, among others.
Kitchen Cynics’ Alan Davidson is a fine and prodigious songwriter, and it’s great to hear his songs reinterpreted in diverse ways.
Copies can be ordered direct from Alan: email@example.com
on December 5, 2013
A cd of winter songs, carols and tunes recorded with Harriet Earis at St. John’s Church at Ysbyty Cynfyn is now available on Bandcamp.
on November 18, 2013
Whilst I was living in Wales, in an old vicarage beside a church built within a stone circle, I was asked to play a concert as part of the local community’s Christmas tree festival together with Harriet Earis. We played a selection of mostly English and Welsh carols, folksongs and tunes in the church and everyone enjoyed it so much we got asked to do the same the following year, and now it’s turned into an annual event. The community around Ysbyty Cynfyn is closeknit but more welcoming than any other rural community I’ve experienced and it’s lovely to have a reason to go back and visit.
The church at Ysbyty Cynfyn in winter.
This year, Harriet and I decided to look for some more similar venues to play together, and are playing a handful of castles, churches and Christmas markets in the run up to Christmas. We’ve also recorded a cd, and I’ll have some of them to sell soon..
Photo by Bruce Cardwell.
on October 23, 2013
I’m off to Scotland for a couple of shows at the beginning of November and am very excited to be playing one of them at Sharmanka, which is one of Glasgow’s hidden treasures. It’s a gallery /theatre exhibiting the works of Russian artist Eduard Bersudsky, who moved to Glasgow in the 90′s. Bersudsky’s kinetic art is made from old machine parts, carved wooden figures, animal skulls and other found items and each piece seems alive: when the machines are turned on and a Sharmanka performance begins, you enter a fairytale sci-fi landscape and meet strange creatures. I hope they like my songs!
on September 16, 2013
I’ve been thinking about the connections between place and sound a lot recently – Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails is an attempt to capture a sense of place in music, and in working on the pieces that make up that album, I found myself doing something halfway between listening and imagining – listening to things that weren’t sounds and translating them into music, or – what it felt like I was doing – allowing the music that’s latent within the place to come bubbling up.
The process felt surprisingly natural, and it was easy to imagine that the sounds I was creating really were connected with the place. I’m interested in how that can be true in any sense – can there be something about some places that we can tap into in this kind of way? When my friend Allegra Hawksmoor asked if I’d write a piece on this for a magazine she’s putting together called ‘Dreampunk!‘ I said “yes”, and have been enjoying thinking about the magic of place, places that inspire us or seem like ‘portals’, and what it is that’s special about those kinds of places.
The ideas I’m developing are nothing like the way-out theory explored in the cult 70′s TV drama The Stone Tape, that some places act like cosmic tape recorders, recording events or emotions in some way, and then playing them back if something happens to trigger playback. So if you’re in a spooky old house and see a ghostly figure walking past, so this theory goes, it’s a ‘recording’ of something that happened there.
The Stone Tape is going to be shown at I Thought I Heard A Sound - an exciting programme of music, art, film and discussion happening as part of this year’s Sensoria Festival. I’m looking forward to participating in the panel discussion on ‘the strange, psychedelic and visionary elements of folklore and traditional music’ together with Jeanette Leach, Alex Neilson and artist Arianne Churchman. There’ll be music by Trembling Bells, C Joynes and myself, a performance by Arianne, whose work looks intriguing, and DJ sets too. It’s going to be fun!
on September 8, 2013
Out now on Second Language: the third and final instalment in the Music & Migration series. Music & Migration III celebrates BirdLife International‘s 20th Anniversary and includes tracks by eminent field recordist Chris Watson, Mark Fry, Colleen, Morr Music label mates ISAN and Pascal Pinon, Lisa Knapp, Memory Drawings, Frances Castle, Oliver Cherer (Dollboy), Gareth Dickson, acid-folk doyenne Sharron Kraus, Directorsound and Glen Johnson (Piano Magic).
on September 1, 2013
End of my travels, and back home to an old friend
Whilst I was away, some nice reviews of ‘Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails’ started coming in:
Folkradio uk: “… an eerie and wonderful world, somewhere between eisteddfod and witches’ sabbat”
DOA: “… a collection that is as beautifully comforting and as it is bravely uncompromising”
Music won’t save you (Raffaello Russo’s Italian blog)
on August 12, 2013
My new album of soundscapes inspired by the landscapes of Mid Wales is now out on Second Language.
The album is no. 5 in Second Language’s Library Series: a highly collectable catalogue of hardback CD albums designed to be stored in your bookcase. An accompanying bonus disc, ‘Night Mare,’ is available free with this release to Second Language subscribers. Both the main album and the bonus disc were beautifully designed by Martin Masai Andersen/Andersen M Studio.
An accompanying bonus cd, ‘Night Mare‘, which is a chilling, dark sister-album to ‘Pilgrim Chants’, is also available.