Here's a bit about my new EP, Blood Moon, recorded with The Froe. The first step I suppose is the who. The Froe are a string quartet from Birmingham who I first met through one of their members, Helen Bell. Describing them as a string quartet is doing them an injustice as they play a plethora of instruments, from banjos to harmoniums. Helen wrote the string arrangements for the EP and we worked most of them out in a couple of sessions in the spring of 2017 at Helen’s house. Myself, Helen and violinist, Charlie Wild, sat around with pots of fresh coffee playing parts of the songs over and over again into a myriad of mobile phones.
There were a couple of songs we tried for the EP that didn’t make it past this stage; there was a song called ‘Peter, She Says’ which was my attempt at a story song about a couple trying to save their marriage through a trip to the seaside but it always felt flat to me and I’ve left it to collect dust now. There was also a very early attempt at a song called ‘Southern Gothic’ but again it wasn’t quite ready for recording.
In late August 2017 we entered the cool silence of the Fishermen’s Chapel in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. Leigh is an historic fishing town about forty miles from London nestled amongst salt marsh and sea lavender in the summer. The Mayflower stopped here on its way to America and close to the chapel, in Normal Terrace, local legend has it that Admiral Nelson was present at the birth of one of his children (his whereabouts at the time of war was a state secret). The Chapel is a Methodist church built against the Fenchurch to Shoeburyness railway line and was relocated to its current position in 1932. The dark wood stain of the altar rail and the cracked white Spartan walls made the perfect pallet when recording. The eyes of long dead fishermen looked out from framed photographs, a life sized cut out of John Wesley hid among the cobwebs in the downstairs room. It was intensely hot and we often had to stop for aeroplanes and trains to pass by before resuming a take. We took breaks between recording, walking Hudson the dog up the hill to the sandwich shop or allowing an elderly gentleman to play the organ for half an hour on the Thursday morning. It was a peaceful and productive time. Five songs made it into the EP:
Blood Moon is an unusual song for me to write and distils a particular thought process I was having at the time. I must have written it in early 2017 or late 2016 but I recall at the time there was a mesmerising and all-pervading blood moon hanging over Southend. Everybody talked about it and it stuck in my mind for some time; I had been watching the Daniel Johnston documentary ‘The Devil and Daniel Johnston’ and I was drawn into a soup of thought about serenity and redemption. The song is one of the longest songs I have written and it seemed apt to name the EP after it. If you listen closely to the end instrumental part you will hear a train slicing across the rails just outside the chapel wall.
My grandfather used to collect and grow different variations of rose and they sat in a bed outside his kitchen window. I was visiting one summer when he pointed out (why I can’t recall) that soil gets rose sick and you have to leave it fallow for a year to let the soil rejuvenate. That struck me as a fantastic analogy for something (I hadn’t decided what at the time) and for years I worked it into songs that never fully formed. It found its way into this attempt at a southern gothic style short story. It took us some time to get the intro working to how we wanted it and required Andy Bell, our very able producer, conducting The Froe in a singularly hilarious style that had us in stitches. My friend Lizzy O’Connor added some superb backing vocals and ‘pips’ at the end of this track. She worked really hard and brought the song to life.
Giving Up the Ghost
The Froe arrived at my flat in the late afternoon on our first day and Andy and I went to the chapel to set up and record the basic track for this song. “This will be easy” I thought. I had this song in my head and fingers and I knew it would flow quick. The experience was harrowing beyond belief; take followed take and we left the chapel that night with seven versions at least (forget the aborted attempts). Over the following days we must have recorded it another ten times, Andy coaching me through the performance as if I were an athlete. It was exhausting.
This song was recorded live with everyone playing together. It was a great feeling to sit on the altar surrounded by microphones with The Froe sitting in a circle in front of me. We took about five takes of this song. I nearly threw this song away when I first wrote it but I always liked Paul Ambrose’s bass line so kept it around. I’m glad I did. Emma Capp played a snappy cello part on this song.
The last recording we did for the session was the bass and lap steel guitar parts for ‘Soft Light’. I was all spent by this point, exhausted by the concentration of five days. I recall sitting next to Paul in the congregational seats as we played. The MagnaTone amp we used was in the small porch behind the dark wood doors. The lovely keys you can hear on this track and many of the other tracks are played by Tom Lenthall. After a few takes we packed up the kit and everyone drove to their homes in various parts of the UK. I was the last to leave, putting the seats and furniture back where we found them; I surveyed the quiet scene, felt the stillness and locked the door.
Cheers, M G x