When chamber folk hits the road things get messy. There were bassoons hurled through McDonalds windows, a tour bus crammed with groupies, hard drugs, cheap liquor, timpani and trumpets. Thom got in a scuffle landing himself in Norwich jail after losing it with an arrogant arts student named Christophe. He kept making snide remarks about his ‘tuba’…
“IT’S A FLIPPING EUPHONIUM…YEAH?!”
I’m exaggerating slightly. Thom wasn’t arrested. He spent his days off in between gigs diligently chipping away at his PhD on American ecological poetry. Here he is in my brother’s bedroom, the morning after a gig, watched over by Jessica Alba.
The closest I got to a tour bus of groupies was being bundled by my older brother’s ex-girlfriend into her housemate’s mini and her latin dance instructor friend and being whisked through the Georgian streets of Bath to a grimy student R’n’B dance night called ‘Bump and Grind’. Top night out.
The gigs were a highly mixed affair. Some of them were truly amazing. Norwich was awesome. I’d never been there before; my only reference point was Alan Partridge. We played in a converted old bike repair shop which is now a café/bar serving amazing food with a venue downstairs. The performance space is small but it was packed out, with no space to separate us from the audience. We played almost completely unamplified with listeners sat within touching distance.
Smugglers Festival was great as usual. We played in the magical Sondryfolk woodland clearing alongside the Orchestra That Fell To Earth (original Penguin Café Orchestra alumni), to a raucous crowd of inebriated Saturday night festival goers. Thom tamed the mob with a winning joke formula he came up with on the Friday:
“I’m in business…”
“what’s your business?”
“I make catalytic converters.”
Etc etc. Like many things, it gets better with repetition, I promise you. By the end of our set people were dancing, this has never happened before! It was flipping brilliant. Here’s an atmospheric shot of a quick rehearsal earlier that day from the wonderful Edwin Quast, an ace Aussie photographer.
The Canterbury show with Folk in the Barn was another highlight. The best turnout, maybe 150-200 people, sold loads of CDs and we had Annie Whitehead and Nick Walters beefing out the brass in fine style, trading outrageous solos and severely boosting the jazz vibes. Arlet Big Band? Could be a fun project for the future. Here’s an ensemble shot from Dan Fryer:
Bath Folk Club was a cracker. A small but extremely appreciative audience, and pretty much the perfect acoustic for us. Wooden floor, high ceiling, not a massive room, small amount of amplification. Everyone was on fire that evening despite arriving only 5 minutes before we were supposed to play. Maybe that’s the way to do it…doesn’t give the nerves a chance you just crack on with it.
It wasn’t all wooden floors and high ceilings though sadly; sometimes the venue staff didn’t know we were coming. The gig at the Cock Inn in Lewes sticks in the memory. The ‘gig’ itself was a glorified rehearsal in the corner of the pub performing to an audience of approximately 4 people, whose quiet Thursday evening drinks had been sabotaged by pretentious arty folk music from Canterbury. They gradually retreated to the opposite end of the building in an attempt to escape the noise. The saving grace of the evening was a drunken oud player named Colin propping up the bar. He approached us in the half time break and asked us if we liked Steve Reich. He staggered out, rosy-cheeked at the end, declaring we had “given him hope”. We can’t complain too much really. Despite not knowing we were coming, the bar staff fed us delicious steaks free of charge with complimentary ales. Who cares if no one’s really listening? (Besides Colin, of course).
Having 12 successive gigs gave us a huge performance boost. We’ve never done that many shows before, and by the end our ensemble playing was stronger than it’s ever been. Aidan’s also produced some awesome new tunes. We’ve worked out a cover of Eno’s ‘Big Ship’ from Another Green World which seems to go down extremely well at the moment. Nice words are appearing about our album now which is always nice. Everything has been basically positive but to varying degrees. Probably the pick of the bunch so far, and our best press to date, is from Folk Radio UK which you can read here. On the final leg of our tour we played a nice gig in Bristol at the Leftbank, hosted and supported by Leonie Evans who does the bookings there. It was extremely encouraging to meet Alex Vann, the mandolin player from Bristol quartet Spiro (who we’re all obsessed with). We had no idea he was there until we finished playing and he just came up and introduced himself. He’s into it, so something must be going right.
And in other news, two young ace film makers have made some great live videos of us in action at Wilton’s Music Hall supporting the Cocos Lovers ‘Gold or Dust’ album launch. Huge thanks to Joseph Russell and Ollie Kemp for shooting and editing these (see below). Check out Joe’s online portfolio here. A documentary film made by Dan Fryer about our woodland residency back in June should also surface soon, and there are some nice gigs coming up at the end of the month.
Thanks for your support,