Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Oh what a wonderful year! (2015)

The clock struck midnight and myself and the piano player were driving south on the M5 an hour shy of Bristol. All around fireworks rose from the distant towns and illuminated the sky. It was a new year; full of opportunity and resolution. "It's gonna be a good year!" said the piano player as he swigged Leffe. "We're making a new album! I think we should aim to get to America this year!" he slurped again, "There's no reason why we cant! It can be our resolution!" I sucked another travel sweet and pushed harder on the gas. I didn't want to burst his bubble. Later on, in a cosy bar in Bristol, we met up with the guitar player and made merry; dancing and larking long into the shoulder of the night. Warm with drunkenness, it was quite possible by then I too believed we'd get to The States; buy an old van and drive from town to town. The optimism was infectious, even the guitar player, usually so pragmatic, was starting to consider it as we wobbled along the curbs at dawn. The next day was spent under the claw of a hangover, with the optimism of the 'Eve' all gone. Our 'resolution' hadn't even made it to February, the American dream was shelved on New Year's Day.

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JANUARY was unusually busy for us; normally we'd huddle into knitted jumpers and hardly talk to one another, but this year we had to be on the ball. We'd successfully raised a pot of gold to make a new album, secured the services of a famed producer and written a clutch of new material. We spent two weekends in succession crammed into a rehearsal room learning our new songs. We were taking 3 old classics with us and had written 8 brand new ones, it was a lot to learn, too much too soon. In hindsight we should have began writing new material 6 months previous, not the night before the final rehearsal, when spurred on by chateauneuf du pape, I'd helped the guitar player craft his song, Haul Away.
We were behind schedule it was obvious, half the material hadn't yet got lyrics and many songs were too cluttered. Still, on the final day of January, eager to showcase some of the new additions we took to the stage at The Golden Lion, Bristol, to a healthy audience, we played 4 new ones with varying degrees of success but it was the old classics that stole the show. The Lion was not the best venue for showcasing our more acoustic side, it's a rowdy venue and our Bristol fans wanted to celebrate the completion of their January detox by stomping their feet through the floorboards, they were Whisky Drunk, they wanted to find Kayleigh Jane and string her up!

And so it was that on the 6th of FEBUARY we drove up into the mountains of mid Wales, to an old shooting lodge with no hot water and a ghost in the attic. We filled up on food and ale, lit the fire and kept it burning for 10 days solidIt was our lifeline, our only heat, its crackle became our comfort, and it fragranced our recordings. In the mornings; usually the drummer, first up, would lay some twigs on the dulling embers of the night before and wait till they flickered alight, add a couple of logs and we were away, burning for another day. This is not the right medium to fully do justice to that fortnight up at Belan Hall. I could and should write a book, to delve into the highs and lows of that cuddle of days. Outside a blanket of snow, the eager spread of the pine forests and the ridge of mountains like a fringe above us. Inside, our songs clipped and changed and re-arranged, the weight of 14 hour days, ego eruptions, phones balancing on the top window sill in the hope of a shaft of signal, and on the rare occasion that they buzzed they dislodged and fell to the floorboards below. The largest bath in the world that needed 10 hours of a kitchen fire to heat it, and then 10 kettles to top it up. The clink of ale bottles, the buzz of electric blankets, the oasis of a girl arriving to play the cello after 9 days of male fug. The atmosphere of those late night sessions, with the fire purring, the aroma of a palo santo* and the darting flicks of candlelight. It was an incredible week, one none of us will forget, nor the producer I believe! In many ways, it was How NOT to record an Album and I don't mean that as a witty punchline, nor as a failing, but more as an eye-opener, an enormous opportunity that we just weren't quite ready for. We made a really good record, I strongly believe that, but we could have made a great one! We were a little shy and unschooled, a little under-cooked. But it's all part of the process

'MARCH brings breezes loud and shrill and stirs the dancing daffodil'. I remember little about the weather though, since the album had finished we had retreated back into our own little world's, it was tuck, tail and run time, like hermit crabs into their shellsThe end of February and the beginning of March was a time for solitude and reflection. In many ways it was the January we never had. As the month matured, we took a gig at The Fleece, Bristol's most famous music venue. It will forever be known as the £12 gig on this medium, and has it's very own blog entry! The gig very much spurred us into life again and we began the rather arduous task of recording overdubs with a producer who was as busy as a centipede in a toe counting contest! That said myself and the drummer did manage to pin him down and drove to Birmingham for percussion and trumpet overdubs. The bass player laid down additional mandolin and kora parts in London and the piano player slept through his piano overdub session in Cornwall.

APRIL and MAY were largely fallow months. I took a theatre job in Norfolk and the rest of the band were left to their own devices, with the guitar player's shift from insurance to gardening the biggest career move!
Contact was minimal, we chased the producer for mixes but received none, confirmed a few gigs for the summer but plans for a launch were impossible with no end product in sightAs May drew to a close, the theatre job finished and I drove 10 hours from the wrap party to a gig at Don't Wake The Fish with very little sleep. We took to the stage at this gorgeous Cornish ale festival and delivered a barn-storming set to some 500 fans. It was a welcome return to the fold, on home soil and very refreshing to see the boys again after a two month absence. The following weekend we drove to London for gigs at The Underbelly and The Gladstone, a chalk and cheese affair, a tale of two venues, with the latter a far superior establishment and one we will always look to return to, and the former, though it has served us well in the past, we have out-grown it now and the chances of a return are slim.

"If a JUNE
night could talk it would probably boast it invented romance!".
It was a quiet month (romance aside!) with the album completion continuing to
delay. The artwork did begin, but that too hit a snag as we didn't know which songs were going to be included and couldn't all agree on an album name. 
The guitar player launched his gardening company, employing the piano player as a skivvy, the bass player went litter picking at Glastonbury Festival and the drummer turned 40!

JULY was a much busier affair that saw performances at Trehake Mill and Shilstone House
before we completed the second of our pledge gigs at the Sea, Salts and Ale Festival in Mousehole. All three were achieved without the drummer. Now whether this was due to work commitments (a particularly big flour order!) or the fact he was smarting at turning 40 remains to be seen ;-)
We used the guitar player's cousin, an eccentric live wire replacement who learnt 14 songs in a day!

"The AUGUST clouds suddenly melt into streams of rain". After dry and lean months of no progress on the album, suddenly it began raining; the producer starting sending in mixes, the artwork starting coming together, track listings, duplication costs, it was all go and we were drowning! We still had time for two gigs; Dan Gill's Wedding and our much anticipated return to the wonderful Shambala Festival both rather lovely affairs and both casualties of streams of rain!
SEPTEMBER was fraught and pinched. Months of idle waiting were replaced with days of stress, the dread of the deadline, all the loose ends finally being tied up, but it had been so long we'd forgotten what knots to tie! Again it felt rushed, just like the recording, it felt unprepared and out of our hands despite our best efforts. Suddenly we had to make huge decisions on songs we hadn't yet heard mixed, overdubs we hadn't imagined included were all layered in, but did they work? How about a little more of this or that? But time was angry and because we'd been waiting for Godot all summer, we were behind schedule and it was crunch time! The artwork and illustrations by the beautiful Mae Voogd was ticked off, the duplication all ready and waiting but the mixes themselves were going back and forth and with the producer about to disappear into the busy oblivion again, we had to act fast. The bass player took on the last few mixes himself and after a madcap dash to his London studio we made the print deadline by the skin of our teeth. But why was there a deadline at all, why was there this pressure you may ask? Good question. It was a combination of having kept our funders waiting for almost a year and the fact we only had a limited window of launch opportunity ourselves; jobs, pre-booked holidays, cousin's aunt's weddings, paint-ball conventions, the usual! If we hadn't made this window we'd be forced to launch in the new year (i.e NOW! 15 months after securing your money!) That was just too long to wait, and a notoriously bad time in the music industry. As September reached it's end, myself and the drummer donned our postman caps and drove around Cornwall hand-delivering the new record. And then spent over £200 posting the remainder to the mainlanders and oversea's fans! We took a benefit gig at The Long Road to raise money for the Calais refugees and then took a well earned rest!

"Chicago is an OCTOBER sort of city, even in spring!" Quite the most bizarre quote i've come across but it'll do for us. We've never been to Chicago so we can't possibly comment on whether this is accurate either. England however was a mixture of sun and rain and hailstones and wind, all in the same day. It was a similar month to January if truth be told, both in its weather and the fact that we had to re-learn all of our new songs in preparation for the upcoming launches; in Bristol and Penzance. With the album cut from 11 to 10 we had 7 brand new songs to practice, songs that hadn't been played since recording had finished in February. We'd strategically left them out all year so that when we released them they'd retain that brand new quality, that never-been-heard-before magic. But that meant we couldn't remember how to play them, they were very rusty, they were still foreign bodies to us, plus we couldn't physically play all the instruments we used in their creation. So we drafted in an extra pair of hands, Louis Gulliver King, a multi-instrumentalist and one of nicest people I know; he came in and added banjo, wurlitzer, electric tremelo and mandolin. Two heady days cooped up rehearsing in the studio and then we took to the stage at The Fiddlers, in Bristol and The Acorn in our hometown of Penzance. Haul Away was finally launched!

NOVEMBER and DECEMBER were rather anti climactical months if truth be told. We never had any plans for November, but its older cousin was very much in our forethought. We had long talked about a 3rd helping of our very popular Merry Folking Christmas show but the venue doubled booked itself with a Christmas panto, and despite the panto company agreeing to share the space with us on the proposed date, the venue manager refused to allow this and we had to walk away leaving many of you disappointed. And so, we ended the year, our 5th as a band, with 14 giggles, bringing our total rather neatly to 100! 

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It's been a big, big year; the recording of the dreaded second album was eye opening, but it was post production that really pushed us to the edge. We've seen career changes, redundancy, a £12 gig, a 500 strong chorus of Whisky Drunk, we've welcomed 4 new performers under the odd folk umbrella, received royalty cheques from prime-time radio airplay and can name Noel Edmunds as a fan! And yes, we haven't clocked up as many miles this year and reached those dizzy heights of 2014, but we've kept this ship afloat through some stormy weather! It's like when Arsenal pumped millions into a new stadium and had to go through a period of austerity while remaining at the top of the league, so we've ploughed time and money, blood and tears into a new album while retaining a live presence. It's been a year of pulling together and I must take my hat off to the drummer here, for despite going awol in July he really rallied us together in the closing months and kept this ship from sinking. Being the newest member of a close-knit foursome and being the only one from 'up country' has had its hardships, but he's got a good steady hand on the tiller and he can set a good course for the year ahead!