Washing away bridges

a0331914498_16Opting not to search for meaning through the choreographic medium of aggressive guitar and drum or indeed the synthetic doldrums of pop music can be a hazardous route to follow given the abundance of wannabe singer/songwriters desperate to discover the elusive steps to the stage at Wembley Arena. As with any musical explorer if you are prepared to look hard enough then the real stuff will always float to the top, which brings me onto Lowpines.

Lowpines build songs on fragile foundations where tilting structures are exposed to the elements of a desolated environment, which allows the lyrical intimacy of each song to resonate. Scrambling through the Bandcamp jungle one evening in 2015 this musical explorer stumbled across Lowpines self-titled  full-length album. The album’s opening track ‘October’ is a self-assured opener that would not go a miss on a Lambchop, Nixon era album. The quality of songcraft is carried throughout the album and has become a regular headphone destination when seeking to escape the stress of everyday life.

A new EP emerged this February entitled, ‘That Bridge Washed Away in the Storm’ and with the prospect of new material this year suggests the trajectory created by Oli Deakin, the creative force behind Lowpines will be maintained. I recently caught up with Oli for a chat about his influences, back catalogue, and tracks from ‘That Bridge Washed Away in the Storm.’

Who are your musical influences and why? I think my musical influences are always changing. I’m forever finding new things to listen to, and hearing new things in records I’ve listened to for years. It’s rarely a particular artist or song that’s inspiring, so many bits of things I hear in different songs. I start wanting to listen to how the different pieces stuck together and make new songs out them. I’ve been obsessing over drum sounds recently, how they can completely change the tone of the whole song just with the kind of reverb or distortion or whatever. The sound of recordings has always been something I’ve been fascinated by, and certain patterns in the records jump out to me. Eels, Sparklehorse, Bonnie Prince Billy, Elliott Smith, Shins, Smog. Records that sound like they’re recorded close-up, so you hear the details, the mistakes, and breaths, the things that make it real.

What music was playing around the home when you were growing up? Classical music, all the time. I couldn’t say what exactly, but that’s what my parents played and taught. So it was a constant feed of music heard from the next room, that I never got to know by name. I never actually engaged with it, not in the way I’d get hooked on the Beatles or Nirvana or pretty much anything with guitars and drums when I eventually discovered it. I tried learning instruments and learning to play classical pieces, but I found it way too stressful having to play what was written on a page note for note. I wanted to make up my own tunes and make records. So I borrowed a guitar and got a tape 4-track and set about trying to figure out how to play, sing, write songs, make a record. Still figuring that out…

What is your view on the current state of the music industry? It’s interesting, seems to be changing all the time. I think for a lot of smaller indie labels and DIY artists, those who never planned on selling a lot of records anyway, it’s never been easier to keep being creative and reach new people with your music. Huge profits were never part of the plan so they don’t miss them in the way big record labels must do. Sure, it’s hard to make any money, but we just have to try and be inventive with how we do that, I don’t see any sense looking backwards. There was a time when sheet music was big business, songwriters at the time must have thought recordings were the death-knell of their trade when they first started being manufactured on a mass scale.

How old were you when you first performed live, where and what song did you perform/sing? The first time I got up on stage with a band, I was about 14. Along with my school friends had formed a band and played our debut show during lunch break in the school coffee bar, to about 40 other students. I sang Basket Case by Green Day. Almost certainly ruined it for a lot of my peers but I that didn’t cross my mind at the time.

Tell me about a song (by another artist) that has remained with you throughout the years – why does it matter? One song I consistently come back to is Dylan’s ‘Farewell Angelina’. I never tire of it. It goes on and on, verse after verse, getting stronger all the while. I think one of the things I like most about Bob is he sets a mood for a song and then just seems to have fun with the lyrics. I don’t think you can ever take him too seriously, which makes records a good companion. It’s up to the listener to do the work and figure out what they hell it may or may not be about.

What other career choices did you consider and what made you chose to be a musician? About 8 years old I thought I’d be a writer so I sat down to write my first book. Half a page later I was exhausted, my hand hurt from writing, and I was all out of ideas. So I scrapped that idea and decided to focus on songwriting. Fewer words needed. I don’t think I ever made a decision to be a musician but just knew that’s what I was doing and had no interest in doing anything else. I guess I just assumed it was a given that it’d be a viable way to spend my life. Fingers crossed.

Tell me about the creative steps between writing material and then performing it for the first time. It varies greatly… Some songs arrive fully formed like they just fell out of the guitar or something. So those ones I tend to take out and introduce to some people, see how they get along. But more often than not I spend some time creating a lot of the song within the recording, layering up and adding parts as I go. So once its done I have to start over figuring out how I’m going to play it live, with or without a band. I don’t see the shows as a reproduction of the record, more a response to wherever I’m playing and who I’m playing with.

I love the track ‘Loose Canon’ from the 2015 album. Tell me about the song. Thanks. That was one that fell out of the guitar… I was a bit suspicious of it for a while, I couldn’t see much of myself in it. I was reading a lot at the time, mainly short stories and some of the people and places I was reading about were actually lodged in my mind. I think the song belongs to them. But after trying out live a few times, it seemed to settle in, and now we get along just fine. In a way, it’s about exactly that, finding something of yourself somewhere you didn’t expect it, and not being totally sure how you feel about it.

The ‘October’ track from the same album makes me very melancholy and yet strangely uplifting. Tell me about it. October was written in January the previous year. I guess it’s about having a marker point in the year where you take stock of things, looking forward and backward and deciding if you’re on a right trajectory. October is that month for me, summer is over, and we’re often back out on the road playing shows. The leaves are turning, the end of the year is in sight, so it’s a good moment to consider if you’ve done the things you set out to do while there’s still time to do something about it. I wanted the song to have a good balance of reflection, regret and resolve, and also humour. I think any kind of self-reflection needs fun, or you just get too bummed out to do anything.

That Bridge Washed away in the storm (2016 release) in many ways (to me) seems increasingly reflective – what were the influences driving this new material especially on tracks like ‘No Hercules.’ This song on this record started out as entirely fictional, based on stories borrowed from books and films. I wrote all the songs over a week, from notes and little scraps of recordings I’d done through the previous year. I soon started to recognise a lot of things that actually applied to me, reflecting my own experiences. So I started digging into those memories and seeing how I might be able to weave it all together. By the time I’d finished it, I couldn’t remember what I’d made up and what actually happened. ‘No Hercules’ started from an idea of someone finding strength in pretending to be strong and accepting that they may have bitten off more than they can chew. I’m sure most people find themselves doing that to some degree at one time or another. I think I also wanted the song to have a definitive end point, to draw some conclusions. The minute I finished mixing it I started writing new songs, and it felt lighter like I’d drawn a line under something. I’m not sure what, but I think the next songs will form a new chapter somehow.

What does the rest of 2016 look like for Lowpines? So far, I’ve spent most of this year writing and recording, and there’ll be lots more of that. I try to move around as much as possible when I’m writing, so I’ll be travelling quite a bit. I think the songs benefit from a change of scene while they’re being written. It’s easy to get a bit short-sighted if everything is written and recorded in one place. I like to hear the songs in different lights, different climates. They can sound so different. Other than that, I have some shows dotted throughout the year. I’ll be playing in Norway in the summer for Indiefjord Festival, which I’m excited to be playing at. I grew up surrounded by mountains, so the Fjords sound like somewhere I should take my songs.

Lowpines will be supporting Benjamin Francis Leftwich on Wednesday 11th May 2016 @ The Forum, Royal Tunbridge Wells. Click here for Tickets and keep an eye open for new releases and further live dates here Lowpines

Isabel Scarcliff

Sirius Scarcliff’s disfigured existence brought terror and trepidation to those facing his judgement. Those gathered to witness his deathly endeavours prayed in fear of avoiding a similar predicament. A short reading from his black leather Bible and a slight nod of his cloaked head, the hangman pulled the rope, the final whimpered cry as the struggling torso swung from the water bank and then slowly stillness. Silence. The wretched soul of his latest victim departed from their mortal existence. Upon the execution of his deadly deed, Sirius would turn to those gathered, warning them of the dangers of witchcraft in the village. To be vigilant of their friends, neighbours and family. The witchfinder for Brislington, Bristol 1694-1696. Sirius had been appointed by the Puritans of the village who wanted to purify their church and community. Sirius was tasked with undertaking the exorcisms of demonic possession. He had come to prominence during the Salem witch trials of 1692–1693. During his ruthless charge, he showed no mercy in applying his judgement regardless of age or circumstances. His youngest known victim was a seven-month baby boy, whose parents had reported the child for demonic possession. A 70-year old village elder fell foul of his judgement for speaking in the tongue to other witches, when alone, although the most notorious case that set off a sequence of events, which ultimately led to his demise, is the case of the Morgan Family.

The head of the Morgan Family was Oswyn 38 years old. His wife Katherine was 33 years old. Their two sons were Daniel (12 years old) and Samuel (8 years old). Following accusations of witchcraft Sirius consulted his book of Daemonologia (published in 1567) and the whole family were subject to persecution. Katherine Morgan was thrown into the nearby river Avon with her thumbs tied to her opposite big toes. If she were to float, she would be guilty of witchcraft, but if Katherine sank then she was innocent. Kathrine Morgan was to die from her experience. After initially submerging below the current her body surfaced and floated on the river. Her body was brought back for judgement, alongside the rest of the Morgan family. The sentence of death for witchcraft was given. Oswyn, Daniel and Samuel were simultaneously executed from the village hanging tree, which to this day can be found on the Brislington Brook trail. Katherines lifeless body was burnt nearby. The persecution and subsequent execution of the Morgan family had caused both anger and revulsion, which also came at a time of growing unrest at Sirius’s murderous reign of terror.

On the evening of 13th September 1696, the villagers gathered around Sirius’s house and summarily dragged him, his wife, Martha and their young daughter Isabel down to the hanging tree. Each member of the family was branded with a crucifix on their foreheads, but instead of being hanged they were entombed alive in the hollow of the hanging tree. As the days went by their cries because more and more faint, until silent.

To this date, this incident has divided ancestors of the Puritans. On the anniversary of the entombment of the Scarcliff family, a small gathering of Puritans leave offerings of fresh fruit, burn candles and prays are given. It is said by locals that on dark winter evenings when the wind is blowing through the trees a murmured cry can be heard from the direction of the hanging tree.  During the winter months of 1976, Sidney Thompson, a local resident, claimed to have caught a black and white grainy image of Sirius and Martha Scarcliff walking and searching the woods. To his dying day, Mr Thompson claimed to have heard them repeatedly call the name, “Isabel.”

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Additional photographs can be found at the lost woods

Pause for thought (Unknown): San Marino’s Cafe Brixton

The hustle of the cafe and smells of coffee and food being prepared, the noise of street life penetrates through the open windows. searching for seats and amongst this background, people find time to contemplate and pause for thought.
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Derek Dodd: 5 Vinyl Records

Derek Dodd is the Area Coordinator for the West Holts Stage, Glastonbury Festival. I’ve Known Derek for almost 20 years. Over these year’s we have been to many concerts and festivals, so armed with my camera, notebook, a recorder and an electric hammer drill (don’t ask) we sat on his attic floor chatting and I asked him to select five vinyl records from this collection.

The Beatles, White Album (1968) was the second or third album I bought from Lesley Browns, Stockton, which was the place to go as a teenager when you wanted to buy records in the 1960s and 1970s. The shop had personal listening booths where you could listen to the records before you purchased them. I remember my Mam lacerating her hand on the sliding door of the booth when we went to listen to Twist and Shout EP – there was blood everywhere!! Each copy of the White Album is numbered and my copy is No. 0094165. It’s an amazing album because it is just so musically vast and a pivotal point, not only for the 1960s but the 20th century. It has all the influences the first track (Back in the USSR) is an homage to Chuck Berry. Bob Dylan influenced singer/songwriter tracks, The harmonies of the Beach Boys, blues numbers, psychedelia, children’s songs and even Karlheinz Stockhausen is there in the most surreal tracks. The guitar-led songs arguably set the blueprint for the heavy rock phenomena that was to emerge. It’s difficult to see what musical influences it did not draw from and at the same time in its aftermath what musical genres it did not affect. It’ got everything.  I heard the White Album when it came out in 1968; I bought it a year afterwards because I did not have enough pocket money. Sgt. Peppers was the first album I bought and I purchased Abbey Road the day after its release. I remember people taking copies of Abbey Road back to the shop because they thought the hissing on the last track on side 1 was a fault, but it was, of course, static that was supposed to be on the record. It’s always dangerous to listen to music in your youth because it sticks with you for the rest of your life. My first 4 albums were Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road, The White Album and  Revolver, not a bad start I guess.

Brinsley Schwarz, Silver Pistol (1972) are also pivotal. They were a bit before their time. I suppose they were a neo-punk band. It’s just a beautiful album combining a low-key pub rock sound, mixed with folk, country, psychedelia and pop influences.  Nick Lowe plays bass, guitar and provides vocals on the album. Shortly after the band’s demise in 1974, Brinsley Schwarz briefly joined Ducks Deluxe before forming The Rumour and going on to achieve success with Graham Parker and the Rumour.

Fleetwood Mac, Kiln House (1970) Its the most obscure of Fleetwood Mac albums. It is weird. Officially there is only four of them credited in the band  Jeremy Spencer (guitar, vocals, piano), Danny Kirwan (guitar, vocals), John McVie (bass guitar) and Mick Fleetwood (drums, percussion). Although Christine (Perfect) McVie provided backing vocals and keyboards, is uncredited. Christine Perfect, who was married to bassist John McVie, made her first appearance with the band as Christine McVie at Bristol University in May 1969 just as she was leaving Chicken Shack. She had success with the Etta James classic, “I’d Rather Go Blind.”  Kiln House is an homage to rock n roll but done very softly with tracks like Buddy’s Song, a tribute to Buddy Holly, written in his style. Kirwan and Spencer were left with the task of filling Peter Green’s boots in live shows and recordings. Kirwan’s songs on the album moved the band in the direction of rock, while Spencer’s contributions focused on re-creating the country-tinged “Sun Sound” of the late 1950s. I like it because hardly anybody knows of the album outside of Fleetwood Mac diehards. It was recorded during the period following Peter Green’s departure, but before Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined.

Then there is this thing, which is incredible it’s called King Kong, All African Jazz (1961). I love this album. It’s the original recording from an all black cast touring show, which came over from South Africa to the UK. After being a hit in South Africa in 1959, the musical played at the Prince’s Theatre in the West End of London in 1961. It’s an amazing mix of township jazz and African beats. A brilliant and iconic album.  The liner notes for the London cast recording state: “No theatrical venture in South Africa has had his sensational success of King Kong. This musical, capturing the life, colour, and effervescence as well as the poignancy and sadness of township life, has come as a revelation to many South Africans that art does not recognise racial barriers. King Kong has played to capacity houses in every major city in the Union [of South Africa], and now, the first export of indigenous South African theatre, it will reveal to the rest of the world the peculiar flavour of township life, as well as the hitherto unrecognised talents of its people. The show, as recorded here, opened at the Princes Theatre, London, on February 23, 1961.” The song “Sad Times, Bad Times” was considered a reference at the time to the infamous South African Treason Trial in Pretoria, which had begun in 1956 and lasted for more than four years before it collapsed with all the accused acquitted. Among the defendants were Albert Luthuli (ANC president), secretary Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela. According to John Matshikiza, King Kong′s first night was attended by Mandela, who at the interval congratulated Todd Matshikiza “on weaving a subtle message of Derek Doddsupport for the Treason Trial leaders into the opening anthem” The shows key performers included Miriam Makeba, Nathan Mdledle. There was a cast of 72 that included Hugh Masekela, Abdullah Ibrahim, Kippie Moeketsi and Thandi Klaasen. The London cast also included Patience Gowabe and former Miss South Africa 1955 Hazel Futa, who went on to provide backing vocals for “She’s Fallen In Love With The Monster Man” by Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages (1964).

Finally, Palm Wine Guitar Music The 60s Sound by S.E. Rouge (1988). S.E Rouge is an amazing guitarist from Sierra Leone. A tailor by trade he became a professional musician in the 60s, singing in four languages. After touring America he moved to England in 1988. I saw him play during the early 90s at an arts centre in Taunton of all places. He had an amazingly warm, happy, very uplifting sound. I spoke to him after the gig, he took my phone number and about 3 months later he rang me up asking if I could promote a gig for him in Bristol, but I was not putting on gigs at the time. Shortly after that call, he died. He had just completed the recording of his last album, Dead Men Don’t Smoke Marijuana. He had undergone heart bypass surgery some months earlier but against medical advice travelled to Russia, where he lost consciousness while performing onstage.

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