Water Wheel set

Yesterday, accompanied by the sound of the water wheel and visited by herons(!) we played at Shepherd Wheel in Whiteley Woods.

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We themed the set to nature/landscape-inspired songs…

1 – The Pie Bird – from I’m Across, I’m Ashore. Set on a farm backdrop, among ‘the drama of hens and of foxes’.

2 – Talkin’ Like You – one of our Connie Converse covers, full of natural imagery. We didn’t have Oliver with us yesterday, who normally represents the tall trees in this song on the musical saw, so I sent Katherine off to find something else she could use to fill in for him. She came back with two broad beans, given to her by Hangingwater Allotments. Unsurprisingly, they proved to be somewhat unmelodic. You can download our version here.

3 – DOG – about walking and presence. This was dedicated to Amy the dog who had come to watch us. She wagged her tail in approval. Download it here.

4 – Formicarium – a new song about the challenges of switching from ‘doing’ to ‘being’, including references to my own experiences of trying to learn meditation, a splash of existential crisis, that kind of thing, all set to a background of local scenery including the Porter Valley, Rivelin Valley and Chatsworth Gardens. (Will get this recorded eventually!)

5 – The Magpie’s Campaign – inspired by the behaviour of the birds in my garden, this one is about inequality and demonisation of certain groups in our society by our sick government – written ahead of the last general election, it is still exactly as relevant. It was during this song that a couple of herons flew about above us, obviously in approval of the sentiment. Read more and download it for free here.

6 – Condor – sticking with birds, the lighter side of this song is about a sort of natural reincarnation. You can download it here

Thanks to Steve Vickers for the pic, to Scott and the Folk Forest for having us, and to everyone who came to listen!

 

Neighbour/Dog Combo Power Up

“You don’t need a dog to run in the woods, to talk to the trees and the birds” – My neighbour, Mike

I’ve gone on a fair bit about both dogs and neighbours over the last year, but get ready for this…it’s all come together:

I arrived home yesterday to find that one of my neighbours, Mike, had posted a card through my door. Not only was the card full of kind words about Dog, it also contained a CD. Mike had written a sort of response song to mine. I went to thank him earlier today (and of course I gave him a Neighbour of the Year sticker) and to ask if he would mind if I shared the song with you. Here’s Mike’s song, ‘Beware of the Dog’:

 

Thank you Mike (and Gillian too!)

Let’s look at that picture of my friends’ dog Ace wearing my hat again shall we?

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Festivals, Fans and Dog Awards

Well that was a pretty good weekend.

Saturday: Indietracks

The Church (photo) at Indietracks is a beautiful 100 degree deathtrap of loveliness. Being the total professionals we are (shhh), we powered through despite the heat, but yes, black was a bad choice on what was possibly the hottest day of the year.

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We met some lovely people (and owls) as well as catching up with old friends, and spent some time hanging out with our fans, see?

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Dean Wareham’s set later on was really great (and I got to meet him too!), and we saw some of Gruff Rhys before we had to head off.

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There are a few more pics over here

Sunday: The Folk Forest at Tramlines

I was so glad we were playing on an outdoor stage this year, especially given my fondness for Endcliffe Park. It was BUSY. View from the stage:

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On stage photos by Simon Butler, more here:

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There were many dogs in the park. Here are the Folk Forest Dog Awards:

Best Dog – Winner

The Best Dog Award goes to my friend’s greyhound, Ace, who wears my hat extremely well:

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Best Dog – Runner Up

The barking dog who responded from afar when I dedicated ‘Dog’ to the dogs in the park.

Congratulations to all the contenders. There was a lot of competition and in my eyes, all the dogs in the park were winners.

Here’s our set list from the weekend:

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So that’s that, the weekend’s over. But wait a minute – there’s more! It’s Cardiff this Friday, and then we’ll be focusing on getting ready for Roving Women at Cutlers’ Hall, followed by another festival in Manchester in October. And of course, I’ll be busy getting the album ready for release…

In other news, T-shirts are selling pretty quickly (thanks!) and some of the men’s sizes are starting to run out already. Get yours here.

Making Noises

Following on from yesterday’s post about the inspiration behind Dog, here’s some info about how we put the song together in the studio.

Dog was recorded at 2Fly Studios in Sheffield, (where I have recorded the vast majority of my output over the years) and produced by all round super bloke Dave Sanderson. It was mastered by Nick Watson at Fluid Mastering in London.

When I was recording Dog, I wanted it to be an aural adventure. I wanted to take you, the listener, on a walk in Rivelin Valley Park with me. I wanted to make you feel happy and to gently surprise you as we went. I wanted to make you want to go outside and play.

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Whilst recording another song for the album*, I’d asked Dave to help me make it sound “like a Tim Burton film”. The idea of a film director as musical director got stuck in my mind and I promptly assigned film directors to each of the songs. For Dog, we pretended to hire Wes Anderson, a director I love for his playful and colourful style and characters, and particularly his attention to detail.

It was with those special details in mind that I spent a fun afternoon in Rivelin Valley recording lots of different sounds – different birds, the river, a bumblebee’s hum, dogs barking, ice cream vans, goose honks – and took these into one of the recording sessions. At one point, Dog was quite full of these noises, but I changed my mind about using them (especially as I’d just seen a talk by Chris Watson and my recordings really didn’t stand up!).

I decided to stick to creating these details using instruments in the studio, inspired by the sounds I’d gathered, and Dave and I rifled through the tons of instruments and percussive items in the studio, trying loads of stuff out and really just having a good play. My favourite is the birdlike ‘too-wit’ sound you can hear around the chorus – I did that with the humble recorder. We rubbed sandpaper blocks together for an extra bit of rhythm that sounds like a dog snuffling around. There’s a triangle that could be a glint of sunshine on the water. I kept in a couple of found samples that were originally kind of place markers that I grew attached to – the bird in the middle was perfect to me and I also kept in the dog that arrives at the end. Here’s Dave tuning my old thumb piano (we didn’t use this either):

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As for the main instrumentation, I played Dave’s old nylon-string Spanish guitar for the main parts and my Gretsch with a tremolo effect for the solo. I added a melodica on the chorus for extra warmth. The omnichord (the fairytale piano-like noise you can hear in the middle of the song) was played by Dave, who picked it up and started playing to see how it might sound on the song – it sounded good so we hit record.

Dave did his magic and then we sent it off with the rest of the album to Nick to do his. And here we have the finished song:

When we play it live, Katherine plays the bass part on guitar and Hannah plays accordion and adds harmonies. There’s also the loop pedal version in this video I made for Couch by Couchwest shortly after I’d written it. (If you haven’t seen the official video yet, that’s here.)

*“I Can’t See You”, for future reference

It’s important to walk

I’ve written a little something about walking for Storying Sheffield, a great project based at the University of Sheffield about narrative, storytelling, history and the environment.

You can read my story here.

I didn’t realise until the other day that May is national walking month, which ties in so nicely with Dog! I hope you all take some purposeless and wonderful walks this month (and beyond).

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