Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Murphy's Law

An old friend of ours and long time fan recently commended us for our improvements in the last year, noting that we'd become a well-oiled machine playing really good music, as opposed to the "passionately ramshackle" quintet that get things horribly wrong but have fun along the way. It seems that ever since our debut film, How NOT to be in a Band, was released we've turned a corner and almost distanced ourselves from a reputation that was starting to stick. It's true that ever since we changed the venue hours before the Cornish film premiere - the latest in a year of madcap decisions - we've run a far smoother course. Since then, gigs have been plentiful and we've played pretty well. We've been punctual and adaptable and almost professional. We toured in Europe, filling every venue and came home with a profit! We then ran a successful fundraising campaign to make our second album, again crucially coming in above budget. We then went and secured the services of one of the folk world's top producers and all this without a wrong turn, puncture, venue change or forgotten instrument! Long gone are the days of leaving chainsaws on the train and fashioning branches into mic stands. "You should be called The Good Folk" suggested our friend as he sipped a cup of of Labrador tea. Though a second name change in three years would definitely be a return to the old days and the old ways, losing fans and falling off the ladder and sliding back down the snakes.

There is still room for misadventure, we're not adversed to it, we won't temp fate by saying we've turned a corner indefinitely. Things can still go terribly wrong; Murphy's Law could yet strike! Belan Hall, where we are recording the album could be under 5 feet of snow, it being high in the mountains of mid-Wales after all. We could well lose a day getting snow chains on our tyres and finally pull into the old shooting lodge to discover the pipes have frozen and there's no water. Back down the mountain and we'll stock up on a hundred bottles of Volvic and finally we're ready for creative lockdown but progress is slow; the drummer has a sinking cold, the piano player's forgotten his piano and we're still unsure of the structures of these brand new songs we've written! After Day 3 we're starting to smell because washing with freezing cold mineral water isn't appealing and we're behind schedule because it takes us till midday to summon up the courage to get out of bed because temperatures have dropped to below zero and this old building doesn't have heating! By 2pm we've lit both fires and the place is finally warm enough to begin work but we're struggling with all these new songs, it's becoming apparent that by writing a brand new album we've lost our style and our stamp is yet to find it's way onto these shiny new tunes. We start arguing whether we should have stuck to the songs we knew, there being 10 that we play that aren't on The Sweet Release, surely it would have been easier doing them? But then they are very dated and we need new material! But the material is perhaps too new! We should have met in the middle! Jazz Louis, an old song of ours, and often our best performer and match winner at many gigs, and who was very unlucky not to make The Sweet Release, is now furious at being overlooked for this album too! He's getting violent and throwing his trumpet around the room, and threatening to walk out on the band!
Day 4 and the drummer's feeling better but I've lost my voice and the bass players not managed to get out of bed and it's almost dinner time! Not that it matters because the producer and the piano player have gone off in search of a piano anyway! Day 5; and after fresh snowfall we take some time out from recording and go tobogganing, but the guitar players gets stuck in a tree after being thrown from his sleigh and it's nightfall by the time we get him down! Day 6 and we've somehow managed to get most of the album down, all except the solos, and then Cat breezes in with her cello ready to record her parts but the smell of 6 unwashed men is enough to make her faint! Day 7, the last day, and we're running out of time for solos and there's pandaemonium as egos clash left, right and centre. As night draws in we're ready to have a listen back over the weeks work. We all pretend to like it, smile, pat ourselves on the back and slide back down the mountainside. "It sounds rubbish!" says Jazz Louis as we leave.

A few weeks later the producer calls us and explains that he wants to take his name off the recordings in order to protect his reputation!

We release the album to a half empty school hall, failing to sell a single copy.

We split up. Each of us vowing to go solo!

After a year's absence, with not one solo show announced (apart from the guitar player strumming some flamenco at a friend's art exhibition in Clapton-in-Gordano) we do a comeback tour, this time remembering the piano but forgetting the player! We release a new film, How NOT to make an Album!, documenting our experiences up at Belan Hall and once again we're hailed as a quirky, slapdash quintet 'whose reputation for disorganisation precedes them!'

"Do you miss those days?" says my friend, still nursing his Labrador tea.
"In a way I do" I reply. "But we needed to change, we needed a few right turns, we'd never have achieved what we did last year if we'd have carried on the route we were taking..." 

He smiled. "The Good Folk, think about it!"



Friday, 2 January 2015

Oh what a wonderful year! (2014)

The year began, like so many, at the end of the land; down by the stones and the sea, in our little world, our little corner of Britain. But unlike so many, I woke early, and sober, having for the first time in four years not played at New Year's Eve. It was a strange day, I had my son, hence the early rise, and walking down to the park in the crisp sunlight, I realised it was the first New Year's Day I can remember having. Or at least being outside in daylight!

My bandmates, all spread across the country, in various states of disrepair, were as far from me as then as the roots from the leaves. You could close your eyes and imagine a year without The Odd Folk. I could have walked away from the stresses and strains of music and become a wandering poet, a painter, a something else, an anything else. As the sun hit my face on that brand new year, with my son's small hand in mine as we walked along the stones of Newlyn beach, the optimism (which had been nullified by years of hangovers) was transcendent!

And then the phone rang.

"That London gig has confirmed for the 9th!" it was the guitar player in a gruff voice. He hung up. And that was that. The Odd Folk was back! 

JANUARY was therefore transformed from an empty month of fearful hibernation into a mad dash to the capital to play at The Underbelly, a classy music bar in Hoxton Square. I remember little about this. An old Geordie friend of mine showed up and a clutch of our loyal London followers but it was sparse and London was surprisingly quiet. Or maybe not surprisingly, it was a thursday night in the first week of the year! We fled quickly. Back to Bristol; to the desperate cold. We returned to type, or at least tried to, but hibernation didn't come easy, administration reared it ugly head, festival bookings trickled in and we couldn't keep afloat. It was unchartered territory. We were unprepared for the progress we'd made and without a diary we were double booking ourselves left, right and centre. As the waves subsided and the admin storm calmed we finally found some solace in log fires, yogi teas and early nights. Rock stars! But it didn't come easy and the early scramble to London had left us unhinged. "Why did we do that gig anyway?" I asked the guitar player as we sat knitting by the fire. "Cause that manager bloke was going to come!" he said. "Oh... and did he?" I'd forgotten all about this. "No." he smiled. Standard. 

FEBRUARY started with a bang! We had a blinder at The Golden Lion, Bristol, and garnered the largest collection pot they'd ever had! The month then became everything January wasn't. We retreated into the land of Long-John's and watched frost-flakes on the windows. We set up an Odd Folk online calendar in a desperate attempt to minimise the endless round-robin emails trying to work out who is free for what and when. People quickly blocked out the the rest of the month and withdrew further into their wooly jumpers. We didn't see each other again until March. But behind the scenes the wheels kept rolling. Plans were afoot for two premieres of our debut film How NOT to be in a Band, and festival bookings kept trickling in. In other news the piano player shot to the top of the paintball seller list and the guitar player had an offer accepted on a house.

Early MARCH was frantic. The upcoming premiere's were booked but the film was still going and back and forth through a succession of edits and the bass player was working overtime on an audio sound mix while organising the 
grading of the film and keeping his normal work hours, not to mention boxing practice! We finally walked the red carpet at The Cube in Bristol to a packed crowd of well wishers. It was a beautiful event and very
Poster by Mae Voogd
moving watching our stories unfold on the big scene. We took the film down to Cornwall a week later and in true Odd Folk style changed the venue the night before the premiere! We eventually opened at
The Space Gallery to a very generous crowd and played on a ramshackle stage made of pallets and church pews. The month ended with a nice little Cornish Wedding at our second home The Gurnard's Head followed by a freezing photo-shoot with our photographer Samye Hatfield, high on the moors of Mulfra. At the time we were so chilled we couldn't see how there were any positives in this; he had us running through the white grasses in an icy wind, but the results were surprisingly effective!

APRIL, "The cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain" TS Eliot certainly didn't rate April, and neither did The Odd Folk. We pitted our wits against fellow Bristol stompers, Poor Old Dogs at their home turf, The Stag and Hounds, and then promptly retired from music for the remaining 25 days. It was a strategic abstinence, however, as May was shaping up to be as actioned packed as a band of our limitations can handle. With 9 gigs in 3 weeks, including 5 on one weekend, we sanctioned them with their very own title, The May Day Tour!, hoped for the best, expected the worst, and prepared to take what we were given!

We were given a real mixed bag! MAY began in Wales at The Oak in Welshpool, and let's just say, to summarise in football terms, it was a score draw. Next on the tour saw us pull into Brighton for a gig at the much hyped but terribly run, Latest Music Bar. We took a heavy defeat and fled the next morning to London. That night at The Gladstone we notched up an impressive victory in a welcome return to form. With confidence high we travelled to Prima Arts Centre and

recorded another triumph. Next up was the Cornish leg of out little tour, we drew a warm-up practice match at The Knut before storming Don't Wake The Fish at the Gurnards Head Spring Ale Festival. Over confident, we slipped up (quite literally) in a flooded Pirates World Record Attempt and were easily beaten. Sven's Wedding was another score draw and we ended the month pretty solidly at Dartington Hall, though the honours were even. 

JUNE was very quiet. After the busy months of March and May, we'd afforded ourselves fallow time in April and June. This happened quite by chance and isn't a result of careful planning, though it is a better system than accepting random gigs all over the place all the time, and one we will look to preserve. I turned 30 again, and after struggling with the extra year, I decided to abandon it and freeze my age! Where did that year go!? The guitar player was still trying to complete the deal to buy his house but kept running into problems, most notably a wall holding the house up was going to fall down and result in a landslide. He was still optimistic, however, that the deal could and would go through! As the month came to a head, a very special opportunity was presented to us and from the most unlikely source. It turns out The Big Stomp Off hadn't been quite as uneventful as we had thought. It just so happens that very night landed us a live slot on BBC1 in front of an estimated audience of 13 million. Gay and giddy we drove to a secret location for the grand final of The Great British Bake Off and tried to play our hearts out but the stop/start nature of TV made it incredibly staged and very difficult to play. Still, confident that we'd get at least a song on air we networked our way around the show, giving our CD to Mel and Sue, and swaggered back to Bristol blowing our own trumpets, or rather blowing them in private as we were sworn to secrecy until the show aired.

"Hot JULY brings cooling showers, Apricots and Gillyflowers". Well it certainly was hot, especially towards the end of the month as we arrived at Port Eliot Festival under the fiercest sun I can remember in this green island of ours. Thousands of festival goers plunged into the river Tiddy to cool off before cramming in to watch us play a handsome little set with our bass dep, Lucas
the piano player poses with the £1000!
Drinkwater! The start of July saw us take our first £1000 gig, an eccentric American Wedding in Mevagissey where we were requested to play the Jungle book as the bride and groom walked out into the Cornish sunshine. The month's middle saw us at The Wild Tribe Festival in Plymouth which was anything but wild. Wildly unattended if anything! Even the drummer didn't attend. He broke down on the motorway. Still we ploughed on as a four-piece and even got a few kids dancing. We didn't stay around, as soon as we wrapped we got a wriggle on and hit the road. Like Jack.

AUGUST, although only seeing two gigs, felt as busy as May. Two festivals, on weekend's 2 and 4, near killed us. It was our first foray onto the mainstream UK circuit and boy you'd need stamina if you played at all 40 of the major ones! Boomtown Fair, a pop up city for the weird and wonderful, we played Uptown at the Floating Lotus stage and wrapped to a healthy crowd, even if we opened to a near empty Chai Tent. We stayed on for the weekend, listening to an array of folk greats; Bellowhead, Eliza Carthy and Johnny Flynn, and steering well clear of the twisted hedonistic Downtown part of the site where seasoned 'munters' roamed around the smog and grime and techno blasted from every tent. We returned home to HQ physically and mentally exhausted; a combination of mild revelry and the reality of an unknown folk band playing at a major festival; all the lugging of your heavy gear across numerous fields and storing it in the back of friend's trucks. And sometimes when the piano player has gone awol and the guitar player's arriving on a different day, you have to make multiple trips carrying bass amps and floor toms, with mandolins strapped around your neck and violins wedged under your arm! And it's 30 degrees without a breeze in sight and last night's mud has turned to glue. And all you're getting is £60 expenses and some warm Carlsberg. Oh the joys! Shambala was a different kettle of fish. Smaller, better run, cleaner. We drove in and set up camp. Our gear was taken in a buggy and stored at the Compass Stage and we were left to roam the spacious green fields.

SEPTEMBER was easier. We opened the month with a wedding at The Old Sawmills and closed the month in London at Merge Festival and very little else happened, apart from all the boring admin that eventually becomes all the fun stuff. It would be great if all we did was fun stuff but sometimes you've got to write a blog for all you people! ;-)

OCTOBER was the best month of my time in The Odd Folk, and considering this band has been rolling on for almost 4 years, that's 48 months it's bettered. Travelling around Holland and Belgium with my boys and playing our songs to such fantastic support has been the highlight of my time. Better than supporting Johnny Flynn at The Guildhall or holding a copy of the Sweet Release in my hands, The Cheese and Tulip Tour was top of the pile for me. Seeing and speaking to our lovely fans in the low countries and feeling so welcomed by all the venues we played at was a very humbling experience. And all captured in our new film, due out later this year! It was a blind leap that paid off. From our farewell at the The Greenbank to playing at the smart Swamp Studios. Our gorgeous gig in Amsterdam's Cafe Langeries and the biggest crowd Antwerp's Cafe Den Hopsack had ever had, and it was on a monday night! Back in a darkening England suffering from the shortest autumn I can remember, we played a final giggle down at Hope's Place in the windy wilds of the Lizzard Peninsula.

NOVEMBER was the biggest month we've ever had and we did nothing.
No gigs. No rehearsals. We didn't even meet up. Hmmm...? How does that work you may ask? Well, what we did do was launch a campaign to raise funds for our second album to be recorded this February by prestigious folk producer, Andy Bell. And it worked! You guys, our friends and fans, pledged in excess of £5K! That was crucial to our survival and progress and we're immensely grateful :-)

DECEMBER was largely quiet with a huge peak of activity at the month's end. We returned to Penzance for our annual festive party, Merry Folking Christmas, which was another complete sell-out and which saw tickets selling on the black market to desperate fans who'd missed the boat. We had touts selling for more than retail value. In some cases double the price! What a way to end the year, a year that's seen us play 29 gigs in 4 different Countries. A year of firsts; Arts Centre's, Mainland Europe, the BBC, Major Festivals, Fundraising! And a year of the usual familiarity; mad-cap dashing across the country, good old Cornish knees up's, last minute venue changes, awol piano players. The long way round. But we get there in the end, just ask the guitar player who finally completed on his house after 11 months of haggling!

Roll on 2015...