Hello folks! Welcome to our guest editorship of Spiral Earth. Our new album State and Ancientry is released next week and to celebrate, we have a week full of articles, videos and interviews to entertain and inform you all...
Day One – An introduction to the week and a free song.
Day Two – All about the new album. The material, the composing and arranging, the recording process and some stories behind the whole thing.
Day Three– Hannah's Kelham Island Discs video.
Day Four – Hannah talks about the joys of house concerts.
Day Five – Sam's Kelham Island Discs video.
If you're not familiar with us, we are an English accordion and fiddle duo and 2012 marks our tenth year of gigging together! In 2001, at the ages of twelve and thirteen, we formed Kerfuffle, a four piece group who made five albums and disbanded in 2010. In 2008, we released our debut duo album Catches & Glees, and in 2010, we were nominated for the Horizon Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. More recently, Hannah has sung, played or danced with Lady Maisery, The Demon Barber Roadshow and Maddy Prior. Sam plays in Bellowhead, The Fay Hield Trio, Fay Hield and The Hurricane Party and Jon Boden & The Remnant Kings.
As a special gift to Spiral Earth readers, would like to give away track 1 from the CD. Here is a tune by Henry Purcell called Hole In The Wall and it's yours to have if you sign up to our mailing list. We will mail you our tour dates a couple of times a year.
Free track giveaway – HOLE IN THE WALL
To download 'Hole in the Wall' Simply click this link to E-mail usand you will receive an email with a link to get the track. You will also be entered into the Sam & Hannah and Spiral Earth mailing lists.
Anyway, time for a video. Last Autumn, we went to visit Songs From The Shed. Here is track 4 (How Do You Do? / Gallons Of Cognac) from the new album played live in the shed. We had just started playing the tunes a couple of days before this was filmed, and we do them quite a bit steadier now... Enjoy!
For hear me, Hero: wooing, wedding, and repenting, is as a Scotch jig, a measure, and a cinquepace; the first suit is hot and hasty, like a Scotch jig, and full as fantastical; the wedding, mannerly-modest, as a measure, full of state and ancientry; and then comes repentance, and with his bad legs falls into the cinquepace faster and faster, till he sink into his grave.
Much Ado About Nothing
Act II Scene 1
I instantly fell for the words “full as fantastical” and “state and ancientry” but after some lengthy discussions, and a bit of research, we both felt that the latter was a much better title.
The word state (as in stateliness) seemed to be particularly apt to track 1, The Hole In The Wall. It's a 3/2 hornpipe that I discovered last summer, and when reading up on the material I found this tune came from the great mind of Henry Purcell. It also turns out that the Purcells were well acquainted with the Playfords, hence the reason you find a number of unaccredited Purcell tunes in the Dancing Master manuscript. At the time of its composition, this tune would probably have been played at about a third of the tempo of our version, and indeed the tune features in the 2007 film Becoming Jane.
So ancientry implies antiquity and obviously it is applicable to the music that we play. Three of the tunes for the album come from Playford, meaning that they date from the 17th or 18th centuries. The Bonny Miller and Strike A Bellare from The Great Northern Tune Book, the manuscript of William Vickers. The book was compiled in 1770 and published in 2008 by the EFDSS. It's a great book of tunes from the north of England, Scotland and even a few from France. It's a fascinating book because as well as finding great new and undiscovered tunes, you also stumble across different versions of classic, well-known folk tunes. Well worth buying for all instrumentalists!
There are some brand new tunes on the CD too. Hannah wrote both tunes in track 9 of the album. The first tune is called Wallaby. We had to be very succinct and to the point in the album sleeve notes, so here is a fuller version of the story;
Hannah's mum, Julie, has had dreadful eyesight for the majority of her life, until very recently when she had an operation for her cataracts. She used to work on a business park near Chesterfield, and on arriving home one day, said to Hannah... “You know I was driving home from Tapton Park today when I saw this wallaby... so I thought to myself what's a wallaby doing there?! Then I looked again and it was a greyhound having a poo.” So Hannah composed a melody to commemorate this hilarious moment, and the tune only resolves in one places, signifying Julie's realisation of what she was actually seeing!
The second tune in this set is Harry's Flowers, written in memory of Hannah's Granddad. He was a seventy year member of Chesterfield Football Club, and was a prize winning Chrysanthemum grower.
Stylistically, I suppose the biggest departure from our normal sound is track 3, William Taylor. Hannah found and arranged the track for EDS magazine's Singer Song and Source feature a couple of years ago. We tried to arrange it with instruments, but never found anything we were happy with, so it remained an a capella song in our gigs for at least eighteen months. Then one day we ended up playing a French waltz in Hannah's living room, thought we would put the song with it, and the arrangement was done in a little over ten minutes.
Another departure from our standard method of arranging came when we scored out a harmony to Strike A Bell (track 10). On Catches & Glees, we recorded Dog Leap Stairs, which is a 3/2 hornpipe by Alistair Anderson, composed with a number of accompanying counterpoint harmonies.This became the inspiration for this track. It was the first time we had actually thought about a harmony and written it down, as opposed to just jamming one until it fitted.
We have been playing some of the new album material out for a while, but a couple of the tracks had their first public outing at our London launch gig at Cecil Sharp House. It was a fantastic evening with special guests Hazel Askew and Rowan Rheingans, Rob Harbron, Tom Moore, Maz O'Connor and Nicola Lyons. The album doesn't have any guests on it, so it was a great opportunity to augment the sound of the album with some of our friends. We played the album from start to finish, interspersed with solo spots from the guests.
The gig got a 4* review from Clive Davis in The Times, which gives a great account of the evening.
“Though still ridiculously young, they already qualify as veterans. While his face may be familiar as a member of that all-conquering group, Bellowhead, the fiddler Sam Sweeney has long enjoyed a quietly fruitful partnership with Hannah James, a petite accordionist and singer who works with Maddy Prior, among many others, and has also been known to unleash some vivacious clog-dancing. She and Sweeney were back in harness in Camden as they worked their way, methodically but joyously, through their latest album, State and Ancientry, a polished and beautifully recorded collection of songs and instrumentals. Part of the series sponsored by Songlines magazine, the concert also made room for cameo appearances by long-time collaborators including Rowan Rheingans, James’ partner in the traditional music group Lady Maisery. With guests coming and going, it was less a sleek media launch, more a gathering of old friends. Not that there is anything lackadaisical about the duo’s playing. The album opens with a hornpipe by Purcell, and the best of the tunes in the set, such as Wallaby and the tart counterpoint of Strike a Bell, proved a winning match of earthiness and rigour, all laced with James’s unassuming sense of humour. Introducing the jig, Hunting the Hare, she let slip that hunting songs do not come easily to a musician who is also a vegan. Sweeny’s tone was beautiful throughout.
The barefoot James switched to a different role midway through the evening when she put her instrument aside and joined in a display of Lady Maisery's vocal roots repertoire, ranging as far afield as Estonia. The unassuming Tom Moore, fiddler with the youthful trio Moore, Moss, Rutter, joined in the proceedings later. At the end, after James and Sweeney had signed off with The Golden Glove, there was one more surprise as Nicola Lyons made a late arrival and joined James for a high-spirited display of clog dancing – thunderous and precise, and a lot more fun than any drum solo.”
The launch tour dates coming up in the next few months are:
20th April - Nailsea Folk Club
**21st April - *IN STORE APPEARANCE 3PM* David's Music, Letchworth**
21st April - The Weston Auditorium, Hatfield (supporting Mawkin)
22nd April - Hitchin Folk Club (supporting Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman)
27th April - Guildford Folk Club
28th April - Whitchurch Leisure Centre, Shropshire
30th April - Colchester Arts Centre
1st May - Great Knight Folk Club, Northampton
7th May - Bristol Folk Festival
10th May - The Musician, Leicester
11th May - Bridgwater Arts Centre
12th May - Wiveliscombe Congregational Church
13th May - Square Chapel, Halifax
16th May - Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
17th May - Bury Met
18th May - Culterham Hall, Mawbray, Cumbria
19th May - Santon Bridge Village Hall, Cumbria
20th May - The Kirkgate Centre, Cockermouth, Cumbria
23rd May - The Old Ship Inn, Lowdham, Notts
HANNAH: Here are the albums I have chosen to take to my island.
The Ale Moller Band - Bodjal
Maria Kaleniemi - Iho
Pulp – Different Class
Gubbdrag (Tuulikki Bartosik and Emma Reid) – Truculent Ladies
Ethno in Transit - Live
Hannah writes about house concerts
HANNAH: If you have been checking out our gig list over the past few months you may have noticed a few dates listed as private house concerts and wondered what that's all about. Well, they are my new favourite thing!
Sam and I played our first house gig about a year ago in Doncaster and didn't really know what to expect. It was actually a gig for someone's birthday so we were slightly suspicious that we might end up playing wallpaper music in a corner somewhere. When we arrived, however, it turned out to be a proper little gig with a paying, invited audience, the only difference was that we got a lovely home-cooked meal first, the audience were already friends so there was a very informal and relaxed atmosphere and we were staying in the same place where we played, so no long drive after the gig. Brilliant! It turned out to be a very special evening and we both agreed that we would definitely like to do more and that it would be great to have a little network of house gig hosts around the country.
A Great Evening At Ted & Anita's
We started to advertise this and got a few excited responses from people who loved the idea of having musicians they usually only see on stage playing in their house. A couple of months later we met a lady who has since become a good friend of ours, Karin Horowitz, who was one step ahead of us and had already set up a network in her area and organised a tour for Ray Cooper of the Oyster band. We have since played at a number of houses on Karin's network and they have all been fantastic, here's what she has to say:
"Being a host is not without its stresses - getting people to commit to attend and doing all the preparations. But it's so worth it on the night! There is such a wonderful feeling of connection and energy that arises from home concerts - connection between all the host's friends sharing the experience, connection with the music at a much deeper and more immediate level than can happen in a large venue, connection between audience and musicians, and a visibly developing connection between the musicians and their music."
I have to agree with Karin. There's something very special about playing music in a home and I even think it makes us play a bit differently - without the pressure of PA systems and lights and being on a stage, we play more like we would if we were just playing tunes together at home with no one listening; we feel free to try new things and improvise. I also like the idea that we are reaching our audience directly. This way, the people who like our music get to book us directly and welcome us into their homes, there's something beautifully simple and honest about it.
It's also a chance to see some fantastic places that are off the beaten track and this is something that fellow musicians have mentioned too. My colleague, Rowan Rheingans, has just organised a solo house concert tour for herself and is visiting some surprising places. "The tour takes me from an eco village in Manchester to a Jewish community house in North London", says Rowan. "It's going to be a great opportunity to visit some very diverse and interesting places".
Karin originally based her network on a much bigger one in Canada called Home Routes which is very well established. Their website, www.homeroutes.ca gives lots of information about running house gigs too. House concerts in the UK are definitely not a new thing either and there are a number of other networks here but the interest in them definitely seems to be on the rise amongst the young folk scene.
So, if you're thinking you might be able to squeeze a gig into your living room, here's a rough description of how they work:
Firstly, you need to agree a date with the artist and make sure they know how many people you are expecting to invite and what the entry price will be. You then invite your friends just like you would with a party but make sure they are aware that there is a suggested donation (usually around £10), this may feel awkward but remember that this is a unique opportunity for people to see the performers in a small, intimate setting and they will be performing a full length gig. The concerts should not be run as ticketed events as this requires a license, it's a party with a donation for the music. On the night, it's up to you whether you provide food and drink or ask people to bring their own. Then you just sit back and enjoy the music!
One of the main reasons why I'm so keen spread the word about house concerts is that I really think they will help to support small folk acts through financially difficult times. For a start there are none of the overheads that most gigs incur so immediately you can make it financially viable with quite a small audience. You can also run them closer together than other gigs because the hosts invite their circle of friends so there isn't usually too much audience overlap. You can also slot them in gaps between tours and similarly, they can be run closer to venues that you have played than other gigs without having to worry too much about diluting the audience, this helps keep fuel costs down too.
Above all else, at these gigs we have met some wonderful, warm and interesting people who I'm sure we will stay friends with for years to come. I'll leave you with a recipe that we picked up from Karin - another perk of staying at people's houses. Enjoy!
Julian’s Baked Black Beans
Soak the beans overnight in plenty of cold water. Drain. In a large, preferably ovenproof, saucepan combine all ingredients. Add enough water to just cover, bring to a boil and simmer gently until beans are tender, about an hour. (If you use tinned beans, drain and reduce cooking time to 15 mins.)
Combine well in an ovenproof saucepan or casserole
Put in preheated oven to 180 Centigrade (350 F). In a bowl, combine all ingredients and add salt to taste. Place in a casserole dish in the oven. Bake approx 45 minutes to one hour until top is crusty.
Serve on rice, with grated cheese or sour cream, and, unless you are Sam Sweeney, chopped tomatoes and avocado.
SAM: Today is my turn to choose four albums to take away with me.
Dave Swarbrick – Smiddyburn
This is the first fiddle playing that really inspired me. It's an amazing album, featuring most of the 1981 Fairport line up, and some of Swarb's incredibly inventive ornamentation. All fiddle players need to hear this album!
J S Bach – Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin (BWV 1004-1006)
This is the most perfect solo fiddle music ever written. I have played a few of the easier bits of this body of work, but if I ever manage to get through the E major Partita, I will feel I can die happy. The way that Bach implies such amazing chord sequences just through a single line of melody is awesome.
Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
I nearly chose Funeral, their first album, but then decided that as a whole, The Suburbs is a consistently brilliant piece of work. The key change in the middle of the song I have chosen is brilliantly random, and the synth line from verse 2 onwards is inspired. All the Arcade Fire albums are great escapism music. They take you to another place for 45 minutes, which is something that most of my favourite albums have in common...
Spiro – Lightbox
As many of my friends (and Twitter followers) are aware, this has been my favourite album since its release in 2009. It's very difficult to explain why I love this album so much. Their music is often based on a mesh of repetitive figures, and there is something about repetition that can be very overwhelming. The music is perfect in its construction and execution, The Darkling Plains is such a powerful opening to an album. The best thing about this CD is that it gets better every time you listen to it!
Thank you all for following us this week. We hope you have enjoyed it!
RootBeat records – www.rootbeatrecords.com
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