Preparing to record GentleFolk

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GentleFolk have been going for 10 months or so now & it’s been really good fun. We are starting to get very comfortable with our repertoire & we have a good run of shows coming up over the next few months. So recording beckons. One of my jobs in music is producing so I have been mulling how to approach recording a GentleFolk record for almost as long as the band has been playing together. Being a folk outfit, it’s always been the plan to record the record live, it’s been more about what aspect of the performance I want to feel the most.

One of things I really like about GentleFolk is the warmth of the chemistry of the performance: we are a friendly bunch & I want that to come across. I want there to an intimacy, a sense of closeness, which to an extent is the ambience of the room which we record in. I also want there to be a real sense of relaxed free confidence in the performance, so I need a place where I have recorded before & am really familiar with. As I am singing & playing & well as producing I need an engineer to do the recording & work the desk.

I have booked a place called Sugar Cane Studios in Wandsworth. It used to be called Raezor. I’ve used it a lot so I am very relaxed there. It has a great desk. It’s an SSL E series, made by Solid State Logic in the 80s. SSL started off as a company making components for church organs before moving into recording equipment. This particular desk is very friendly & warm. Because we won’t be using tape, I would like to find ways of injecting character onto the signal & this desk & the UREI compressors should help considerably. The recording room is carpet-lined so is nice & dead, it’s also really relaxing. The microphone collection is fit for purpose; I’m pretty conservative in my mic preferences so U87s & 414s will cover the bases supplemented by my KM184s. I don’t want acoustic separation between performers so we need to look at how we position ourselves & the microphones to get the balance. Balance in the room will be key. To a large extent that comes from planning in advance, having a really good bead on the instrumentations of each tune so we can adjust where we sit accordingly. The engineer is called Even & he is really steady & nice.

The piece we are recording is called “Into The Greenwood” & is performed as a continuous 30 minute song & story cycle (spot the fan of prog.) It may not be possible to record this in the studio as there are instrument changes which need different balances; so we may need to record the songs out of sequence & then join them up afterwards at mastering.

The key thing to the session is that everybody feels great going into it. That involves putting the focus on the fun & the challenge of going into a studio to record music you love. Being well rehearsed is key: in my opinion studios are there to capture the best of you not to effect a rescue! We are going in in March & we are already at the right level so it’s a matter of continuing to enjoy the pieces & honing the little corners until you feel happy.

Good food in the studio is key. Fruit bowl, salad, lovely breads, hummus & stew are on the agenda. There is an excellent pub around the corner.

I think I got it covered.

Now all I have to do is not accidentally write a whole raft of new material before March.

Like the song I wrote last week about the Chime Child.

Oh…..

Silent Running: what a movie.

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One of my favourite lesser known locations in London is the conservatory in the Barbican centre. I love greenhouses; Kew & Wisley both are well worth a visit, however the surprise of coming across one amongst the fantastic brutalist surroundings of the Barbican centre makes for a great experience. It has a real science fiction feel to it. When I first encountered the conservatory I was inspired to revisit one of my favourite films, Silent Running.

Silent Running is a 1970s movie set on a giant spaceship carrying greenhouses on an orbit around the Sun. The Earth no longer sustains vegetation so the greenhouses are the last habitats of their kind. The main character, Freeman Lowell is a gardener on the spaceship called Valley Forge. When his crew are ordered to jettison & blow up the greenhouses, Lowell loses it, kills the crew & takes the spaceship out into deeper space with only a few robots, Huey & Louey & Dewey for company. It comes from a pre Star-Wars era & is certainly not space opera.

The soundtrack is absolutely superb with beautiful songs by Joan Baez & great instrumentation. I revisited the movie a few weeks ago & found it beautiful, if somewhat harrowing. It could be read as an ecological parable.

I felt inspired to write a song about it.

Looking forward to playing Islington Folk Club & Caroline Gardens Chapel

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The Horseshoe. Home to Islington Folk Club. I am very much looking forward to playing here with my merrie band, GentleFolk on Thursday 29th. Folk songs of London & tales of the Greenwood will be performed, tweed & Arran knitwear will be worn.

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This is Bernard. He runs the night & is wonderful.

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This is Tom Paley. He is a regular & it is quite likely that some Swedish Polka will be performed on fiddle if he is in the vicinity.

If you are in the neighbourhood on Thursday 29th I thoroughly recommend this gig.

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On the 31st GentleFolk are playing on a bill at the wonderful Caroline Gardens Chapel off Asylum Road in South East London. We are on about 12.30pm & this promises to be  a great day of music in a great room.

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Look at that. Not many tickets left. Follow the link if you want any…

Hellraiser Videos on the top of the bus stop on the Old Kent Road.

There is a bus stop on the Old Kent Road just before it becomes the New Kent Road, close to Lidl. This bus stop is subject to a peculiar phenomenon. Over the past few years folk on the top deck of the bus have noticed that there is a VHS copy of the 1980s horror classic, Hellraiser, on top of it.

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It gets removed from time to time only to be replaced

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sometimes multiple times

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This is the most crowded I have seen the bus stop. While at least 2 of the 10 VHS cases are not of Hellraiser. I like to think that the cassettes inside are of Hellraiser.

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As you can see from this image, the videos are most likely being thrown from the walkway adjacent to the bus stop. But why?

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Hellraiser is a horror movie about a puzzle box which transports the person who meddles with it to a nightmare dimension of pain and delight. I was inspired to rewatch it after taking a trip on the 53 into town & going past the bus stop. It stands up very well as a truly nasty & unsettling film. I wrote a song about it which you can listen to from the player at the top of this blog. Maybe I should sing it at the bus stop dressed as pinhead….

Video time

From time to time I am asked by those lovely cabaret folk at Pull The Other One to do a turn. On one occasion last year they filmed me perfroming at the Old Nun’s Head in Nunhead. So here is a video of my performance. You may be interested to know that I am performing tomorrow at the Old Nun’s Head with my merrie band, Gentlefolk, courtesy of the wonderful Goose Is Out folk club. Follow the link for more details….

Cunning Folk At Atlantis

We had another fantastic Cunning Folk event on Friday, this time at the Atlantis bookshop on Museum Street. It was one of my favourite gigs of the year. Plenty of mulled wine, esoteric poems, stories & songs. Myself & my merrie band, Gentlefolk, sang some adaptations of Crowley & Graves poems & a few originals too. You can see us performing a song about Badbury Rings hill fort in the little video above.

The wonderful Tim Cumming gave a reading from one his published collections. If you are unaware of his work you will have a chance to see him at future Cunning Folk events. Here is a flavour for you…

Vanessa from London Dreamtime gave a great seasonal tell which was appropriately magical.

Vanessa is going to be giving another magical tell this coming Sunday with some accompaniment from my good self. Follow the link for more details…

Many thanks to Geraldine & Bali at Atlantis for looking after us so well!

More Cunning Folk music & spoken word events are being sorted for the new year, starting with one on the 17th January on the Minesweeper in Deptford creek.

 

At The Garden Museum

 

I was at the Garden Museum in Lambeth this morning. At the moment they have an amazing exhibition on war gardens: there are very moving photographs of gardens in modern day war-zones & a great exhibition on gardening and the Great War. One photo particularly inspired me which is the one you see above of the soldier tending his garden in the trench. Soldiers on both sides of the divide made gardens. I wrote this song about it.

IN THE MORNING I’M A GARDENER

There are shells in the garden by my place
The earth is fertile here on Flanders fields
My herbs & vegetables are growing in my gaze
& for a moment I am far from here

Dirt on my uniform is preferable to me
Than the alternatives I rather would forget
& I’ve seen a lot of things I wish I could unsee
But this garden sets me free from all of that

In the morning I tend the earth
In the morning I’m a gardener

Some men make poetry while I am planting seeds
Gentle souls like me in savage times
Back home they’re harvesting I should be in the fields
So I’ve bought a little bit of home with me

In the morning I tend the earth
In the morning I’m a gardener

All my friends & I responded to the call
Now we’re falling in the rain
Maybe on the other side there is someone like me
Tilling his little plot of home

In the morning I tend the earth
In the morning I’m a gardener

 

 

I was at the Garden Museum to help a group of 5 year olds write a song. It was a particularly fun session, we had the kids up & making actions for the words they came up with.

Here is a recording of the workshop.

 

 

& here is a recording of the song we cooked up! Great work kids!

 

Sun & moon shine on our garden

Rain & sunshine & thunder & lightning

Puddles & flowers & plants in the garden

Day & night they keep on growing

Water the plants, make things grow

Digging, jumping & trampolining

Bumblebee, dragonfly, ladybirds, caterpillars

Butterflies, moths, snails, slugs, centipede

Snakes & spiders & worms

Frogs, lizards & fish in the pond

In the garden…

There’s a rainbow over the garden

The garden’s a happy place with some gold!

Recording GentleFolk: Robin Hood & The Pedlar

Performed by GentleFolk 18/10/2014

ROBIN HOOD & THE PEDLAR

It’s of a pedlar, pedlar bold
A pedlar bold there chanced to be.
He took his pack all on his back,
& Merrily trudged o’er the lea.

By chance he met two troublesome men,
Two troublesome men they chanced to be;
Then one of them was bold Robin Hood
& The other was Little John so free.

‘Oh pedlar, pedlar, what’s in thy pack?
Come speedily & tell to me.’
‘I’ve several suits of the gay green cloth,
& Silken bowstrings by two or three.’

‘If you’ve several suits of then gay green cloth,
& Silken bowstrings two or three,
Then by my body’ cries Little John,
‘One half your pack shall belong to me.’

‘Oh no, oh no,’ says the pedlar bold,
‘Oh no,oh no, that never can be,
For there’s never a man in fair Nottingham
Can take one half my pack from me.’

Then the pedlar he pulled off his pack,
& put it a little below his knee,
Saying: ‘If you do move me one perch from this,
My pack & all shall go with thee.’

Then Little John he drew his sword,
The pedlar by his pack did stand,
They fought until they both did sweat,
& John cried: ‘Pedlar, pray hold your hand.’

Then Robin Hood he was standing by,
& He did laugh most heartily,
‘I could find a man of shorter scale,
Could thrash the pedlar & also thee.’

‘Go you try master,’ says Little John,
‘& Go you try most speedily,
For by my body,’ says Little John,
‘I’m sure this night you will know me.’

Then Robin Hood he drew his sword,
& The pedlar by his pack did stand;
They fought until the blood in streams did flow,
Till he cried: ‘Pedlar, pray hold your hand.’

‘Oh pedlar, pedlar, what is thy name?
Come speedily & tell to me.’
‘Well now, my name I never will tell
Till both your names you have told me.’

‘The one of us is bold Robin Hood
& The other one is Little John so free.’
‘Now,’ says the pedlar, ‘it lays to my good will
Whether my name I choose to tell thee.

‘I’m Gamble Gold of the gay green woods,
& Travelled far beyond the sea.
For killing a man in my father’s land,
Far from my country I was forced to flee.’

‘If you’re Gamble Gold of the gay green woods,
& Travelled far beyond the sea,
You are my mother’s own sister’s son,
What nearer cousins can we be?’

They sheathed their swords with friendly words,
So merrily they did agree.
They went to a tavern & there they dined,
& Crackèd bottles most merrily.
This ballad can be found in the A.L.Lloyd/Ralph Vaughan Williams Penguin book of English folk songs.
Collected by Lucy Broadwood in 1906 from Mr Verrall, Horsham, Sussex. Broadsides of this ballad were printed in the 19th century. In earlier forms the pedlar is a gentleman in silks by the name of Gamwell. Gamwell & Gamble Gold may be corruptions of Gamelyn.

The ballad may be a fragment from the Tale Of Gamelyn, one of the outlaw legends of medieval times, one of the tales of the greenwood (which probably only survived because of it’s inclusion into one of the versions of the Canterbury Tales).

In The Tale Of Gamelyn the youngest of three brothers is deprived of his inheritance by his greedy elder brother. Once of age, Gamelyn realizes that he has been wronged and begins to exert himself, deploying his immense strength and the loyalty of his father’s steward, Adam. Gamelyn’s evil brother gets him outlawed and he goes into the forest. Here he battles with the mysterious king of the outlaws and wins his welcome. (There is speculation that this king of the outlaws is Robin; The Tale Of Gamelyn is thought to predate the Robin Hood legend so who knows)

Gamelyn’s second brother tries to help through court channels, but evil brother wants to destroy them both. In a typical medieval happy ending, Gamelyn bursts into the court, seizes the judge’s place and has the judge, evil brother and the jury who outlawed him executed, before being pardoned by the king and living happily ever after.

 

We recorded this track last night in the upstairs “studio”. Note the cunning use of mattress as sound absorber. We recorded the instrumental track live as a band, and then recorded the four voices together over that. We used 2 Neumann km 184 on guitar and whistle, Neumann tlm 103 on violin and an AKG 414 on shruti. Then used the tlm 103 to record Elizabeth and I singing and the AKG 414 to record Sarah and Ian.

Naturally Smudge the cat was present for recording duties. The recording process was helped along by home made ginger beer, and a wonderful cheese, ham and vegetable pie with egg pastry. More recordings coming soon

Recording GentleFolk: Into The Greenwood

This weekend I am going to start recording  a new work called “Into The Greenwood” It is a story & song piece in which I travel through the south of England in search of Herne the Hunter, encountering folktales of the woods along the way.

There are songs about Blean Woods, the Forest of Anderida, the Elms of Brighton, Badbury Rings, the New Forest & Wistman’s Wood in there, with accompanying tales of faeries, foresters, wild hunts and the spilling of royal blood.

I will be recording this piece over the next month or so with my band, GentleFolk. Elzabeth, Sarah, Ian, myself & Smudge will be retiring to the shed in the back garden with plenty of provisions this Sunday to make a start.

The musical arrangements are pretty much there, it’s more a question of how to capture the performances. Live or overdub? I have been thinking about the best way to do this for a month or two. I am coming to the conclusion that tracking the guitar and violin and other instruments live, then adding the vocals as overdubs is the way ahead. But we shall see. The most important thing is to preserve the feel of the performances. We have been playing for a fair few months now and I really like the chemistry between us; I need to balance the fidelity of multi-tracking against the feel of live performance. Much mulling will be done….

Cunning Folk at Sutton House

A few months ago I got the notion of starting a folk club called Cunning Folk & the first one is on Saturday at Sutton House. Sutton House is a Tudor house in Homerton, around the corner from Hackney Central. It’s a find; beautiful rooms, a fascinating history &, importantly, a bar.

I have two acts performing on the night. Stick In The Wheel are a very interesting London folk band. I first saw them at Tooting Folk in January to a packed house & have made the effort to see them whenever I can since. I was impressed to see a folk singer wearing a Spacemen 3 t-shirt,  and was taken out when they started playing. Basically, I’m a fan. They are going great guns this year with 6music/XFM radio play & live sessions, excellent reviews and ever stronger live performances.

John Crow A.K.A. John Constable is a great poet. I first encountered him performing excerpts from his Southwark Mysteries in a disused carpet showroom on Borough High Street 5 or 6 years ago & our paths have crossed, intersected even, at regular intervals since. He is a poet, playwright, songwriter, expert on Southwark history & champion of the Cross Bones burial ground. I find him very inspirational, so I am really glad to have the opportunity to get him to perform new and older works.

I performed at Sutton House in the spring & am delighted to have the first Cunning Folk night here. So delighted, in fact, that I wrote a song biography of the place to be performed on the night which you can hear a recording of above.

I am putting together line-ups for the 2015 Cunning Folk evenings; 2014 is taken care of, with events in esoteric bookshops & minesweepers pending…

If you are interested in coming on Saturday follow this link.