The paper I presented at last year’s Psychoanalysis, Art & the Occult conference – ‘Art as Alchemy’ is published in the new edition of The Fenris Wolf, along with the other papers presented at that conference.
I’ve recorded the song I wrote for DRY Project‘s ‘The Reasons in the Fens’, with the help of James Street and Dean Honer. I made a video to go with it using footage I filmed when I was in the Fens for the project and photos people connected with the project sent me.
Rusalnaia’s ‘Time Takes Away’ will get a vinyl release this year courtesy of Feeding Tube Records. The test pressing of the album arrived last week and is sounding good.
The album made it onto Thomas Blake’s Top 10 Albums of 2016 list at Folk Radio UK:
‘Trans-Atlantic duo Sharron Kraus and Gillian Chadwick created the years witchiest, headiest brew of incantatory psych-folk, often switching during the space of a single song from pretty pastoralia to full-on space-rock freak-out mode. It makes for an exhilarating listen, and a great introduction to the impressive careers of both of its creators.’
The postman recently brought my contributor copies of a new compilation album and book. The album is ‘Gathered Leaves’, a compilation of tracks from the CD’s included with Ptolemaic Terrascope magazine, released by Sugarbush Records. It features an old banjo track of mine that was recorded by Jeffrey Alexander along with tracks by The Bevis Frond, Six Organs of Admittance and Damon & Naomi with Kurihara. It was a really nice surprise, as I hadn’t realised it was being compiled. A blast from the past!
The book is Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music: America Changed Through Music, a collection of essays published by Routledge that I was invited to contribute to. My essay is entitled ‘How Weird is Folk?’ and it looks at differences between the way folk music is perceived in the US and the UK. It’s very exciting to be included in an academic publication like this, as I left academia for music about 15 years ago and have recently been reconnecting with the academic world, writing papers for conferences that explore ideas that relate to the music I make.
There’s a lot of news to catch up on, as I’ve been neglecting this blog recently.
Some nice reviews of If You Put Out Your Hand:
Caught by the River: ‘The weave between word and melody is largely unnoticeable, and as organic as the places many of the poems explore.’
Norman Records: ‘frightening and lovely, measure for measure’.
The Active Listener: ‘This is hypnotic, essential, occasionally (and pleasingly) disquieting and ultimately affirming work; these pieces are filled with breath and with life.’
Also, reviews of Time Takes Away:
Folk Radio UK: ‘This is music that celebrates and is born out of friendship, and as such is a testament to the aesthetic and moral benefits of collaborative creativity. Its very originality makes it difficult to categorise, so I will just say that it is one of the most stunning albums I have heard all year, and one whose power remains long after the songs have faded.’
The Active Listener: ‘In short, ‘Time Takes Away’ is a triumph. It is no leap of the imagination to picture this album being played and revered in twenty year’s time in the same manner that we do with our copies of ‘Basket Of Light’, ‘Swaddling Songs’ or ‘Commoners Crown’. This is a hugely accomplished and truly special recording; trust me, you need this album.’
The Terrascope: ‘Dealing with break ups, communities, time passing and new beginnings the second album from folk duo Rusalnaia contains the same breathtaking harmonies and sweet melodies as their first offering, this time, however, the mood is heavier and perhaps darker’
fRoots (398/399 – Aug/Sept 2016): ‘a bewitchingly powerful album’
Bliss Aquamarine: ‘A superb album, very highly recommended!’
FATEA: ‘Time Takes Away is every bit as bewitching as its predecessor, yet it may not yield up its riches quite as readily, for its musical climate is moodier and more opaque for much of the time. The largely exotic-acoustic-based settings of Rusalnaia’s debut album have yielded to an altogether heavier primary backing involving frequent use of drumkit (courtesy of guest Mark Wilden) and replete with electric guitar texturings, whose slight air of fuzziness may often require the listener to be more attentive in order to penetrate the fog and reveal the wild, primordial poetic power of the lyrics.’
Oxford Nightshift: ‘There are moments of dappled sunlight here, and `Lullaby For a Future Generation’ is a gorgeous, sleepy-eyed reverie, but it’s those bleaker, more oppressive moments where the pair’s witchy magic works best, conjuring a form of timeless folk music a world away from cosy snug bar sessions or the cheery bonhomie of Cropredy, headed instead into shadowy places – hollow hills and dead forests – where fairytales come with a hefty dose of horror. It’s another miniature work of wonder from Sharron, a musician we’ll always be proud to call one of our own, and whose extensive catalogue you should investigate immediately. Though perhaps not alone.’
Rusalnaia were also featured in the October issue of fRoots:
I started recording my next album just over a week ago, and so far we’ve laid down guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. The vocals and other instruments will be added over the next few weeks, and I’m hoping we’ll be mixing before the end of the year.
We finished a good run of Rusalnaia shows last week and today the album’s officially released.
‘Cast A Spell’ from the forthcoming Rusalnaia album Time Takes Away was premiered at Folk Radio UK yesterday.
Gillian flew in yesterday and we’ll be setting off on tour to showcase the new album as well as revisiting some tracks from the old. We’ll mostly be performing as a 4-piece with Nick Jonah Davis on electric guitar and Guy Whittaker on drums.
I was commissioned to write a song for ‘There’s Something in the Water’; The Reasons: Community Stories & the Fens – a digital storytelling event organised by DRY. The event took place last week at Ramsey Rural Museum and brought together farmers, conservationists, anglers, water regulators and local historians to tell stories of their experiences with water in the area. My job was to write a song that brought together themes from the different perspectives offered by these storytellers.
I’d been sent recordings of some of the stories in advance, and Antonia Liguori, one of the project organisers, had talked me through the project, but my task seemed daunting. I didn’t know anything about the geography or history of the Fens and felt that I’d have to do a lot of research if I were to write something that really engaged with the concerns of the storytellers. I pored over maps of the area, finding the network of water channels strange and baffling. What was going on? The River Nene seemed to split into two, one part becoming a long straight canal, the other twisting, disappearing then reappearing. There were straight manmade water channels crisscrossing the land, each one named – ‘Bevill’s Leam’, ‘Pigwater Drain’, ‘Monks’ Lode’, ‘King’s Dyke’. I found out about how the area had originally been underwater and had been drained extensively in the 17th century, creating fertile agricultural land, but depriving fishermen, wildfowlers, eelers and thatchers of their livelihoods. I discovered that the land had sunk further and further below sea level over the years and now relied on a complicated set of locks, sluices and pumps to drain the water and take it to the sea.
Inspiration came from the contrast between the snaking curves of the river and the straight manmade channels, the freedom and flow of a river and the control and artifice of these dykes and drains. I had a chorus and a song title, then worked on building verses that gave voice to each of the different storytellers. I started to get a feel for the place, and though I’m not naturally drawn to flat, treeless landscapes, I found myself starting to be fall a little in love with the idea of the Fens. What I experienced was a little like the way a fictional place can come to seem appealing as you read about it.
I was attending a planning meeting in Ramsey the evening before the event, and as I drove towards Cambridgeshire, bypassed Peterborough and stated to see road signs for places that had become familiar to me – Holme, Whittlesey, Yaxley, Ramsey – I started to feel excited. The roads I drove along were just as straight as the water channels, and seeing the water channels and the dark, peaty soil in the fields, just as I’d imagined them, was like stepping into a story.
I spent the night in Peterborough and had all day to explore, before the evening’s event. I drove to Pondersbridge and walked along Bevills Leam, noticing that though the Leam was as straight and artificial-looking as I’d imagined it, it had yellow waterlilies growing in it, and the reeds and rushes grew as plentifully on its banks as on the banks of any river. As well as the contrast between the river and the dyke, there was a sense of water being water, as far as nature is concerned.
I walked through birch woods that bordered a lake in Holme Fen, a nature reserve that’s part of a large area being restored to wetlands as part of the Great Fen Project. I found the silent white birches and the lush undergrowth around them beautiful and mysterious, and love the idea of animals like otters, beavers, water voles and eels returning and thriving here. I heard the hoot of an owl as I walked. I wondered how much conflict there was between the conservationists involved in the Great Fen Project and the farmers who, I guessed would want to keep the land for agricultural usage.
The evening event was attended by members of the local community, who were friendly and welcoming. The storytellers were all gently passionate about the things they spoke about, and they seemed to be open to dialogue with each other. At the end of the evening I sang my song – ‘A River is a Snake’ – and invited people to sing along on the chorus. To my surprise and delight, they did so, without reticence. It was a wonderful end to my time in the Fens.
Reviews have started coming in, including a nice one from Folk Radio UK: ‘ the overall result is akin to the eerie, time-bending stories of Alan Garner or Susan Cooper and the proto-psychedelia of Lewis Carroll… it becomes clear that they are at the very top of their game, and that ‘Oh’ is perhaps their finest album to date.’
Here’s the nice video Annie Watson made for ‘Pendulum’: