The drowned lover and other dark tales
It's daunting making an album on your own! You start with silence, a blank canvas, and fill it with ideas until you have something you think works. There's nowhere to hide so you have to come out of your comfort zone. The theme is quite dark, there's death and disappointment, anxiety and things that go bump in the night ... and happy things too. You enjoy the good things in life more if you understand the down side. It was important to me for the whole thing to be as home-made as possible and to see what I could do with very limited resources. I used everything I had lying around in my home studio. So there’s bagpipes, loops and samples, soundscapes made by manipulating homemade acoustic sounds into new digital sounds, a band playing with the amps turned up to 11, hurdy-gurdies, string and horn sections, Balkan drums, toy pianos, a schawm, a reed instrument from Catalonia called a Gralla and a tin whistle. I've always been fascinated by drones and there's a lot of them too.
In terms of the music I wanted to do some interpretations of traditional English songs with strong stories that are as relevant now as then, and one cover - the late Desmond Simmons's song 'Big Corn'. A song about selling out and disappointment. Des was an old friend and an incredible songwriter. He died suddenly in 2013 (read the obituary of Des Simmons by Paul James). "Big Corn" says a lot about the area where we grew up around Newbury. So, the songs tell stories and I wanted the instrumentals to be about something too. 'Wakeful' is about insomnia and the long wait for the dawn; 'Once there was a lone wolf' is inspired by the idea of emerging from the wilderness to be confronted by a modern technological city for the first time; 'Falco e colomba' is about the historic landscape and the view from Walbury Hill where I live; and 'Dulcinea de la Mancha' is about remembering a train journey across the hot, arid plateau of central Spain. A lot of the album is me playing all kinds of instruments and singing but I also got in touch with people I’ve known at different points in my musical life, in England, Europe and Australia, and asked them to collaborate.
Guests: Andrew Hobday - bass guitar. Andy Taylor - violin. Beth Porter - 'cello. Carlos Beceiro - braguesa, bouzouki. Chris Moore - piano. Clare Rawnsley Hawkins - vocals. Damon Sawyer - drums. Enrico Negro - acoustic guitar. Fiona Barrow - violin, viola. Gigi Biolcati - percussion, toy piano. Gregory Jolivet - hurdy-gurdy. Laurence Hunt - drums. Llew Kiek - bouzouki. Mara Kiek - tapan. Romain Baudoin - hurdy-gurdy. Simon Houlihan - organ. Sylvan Biscoe - baritone sax. And special thanks to Victor Nicholls - electric guitar, fretless bass guitar, lap steel guitar, loops, f/x, ipad apps, tuba.
Paul James - vocals, saxophones, border bagpipes, bass guitar, drums, percussion, piano, electric piano, organ, other keyboards, synths, samples and programming, gralla, schawm, whistle and concertina.
Produced by Paul James. Recorded and mixed in Inkpen, England by Paul James, 2016. Guest contributions recorded in England, Spain, France, Italy and Australia. The rhythm section for 'Big Corn' was recorded at Platform Studios by Damon Sawyer. CD Mastering by Optimum Mastering, Bristol. Digital download mastering by Paul James. The copyright in these sound recordings is the property of Paul James, 2016.
CD front cover illustration Robin and Bryony Spiers. Design: Joe James. Photography: Jeremy Prout. Thanks to Clare Rawnsley Hawkins, Joe James, Sam James, Dan James, Victor Nicholls, Simon Houlihan.
EMAIL ME tel/sms: +44 78 87 94 88 53
Combe Gibbet, Inkpen Beacon, West Berkshire. Photo: Jeremy Prout. 2016.
.. dark tales.... Combe Gibbet is a mile from where I live. It was erected on the Inkpen Long Barrow in 1676 to display the bodies in chains of two local people, George Broomham and Dorothy Newman, who were hanged at Winchester gaol for a double murder. The murders took place nearby and the bodies put in the pond half a mile along the ridge to the West. The gibbet is a replica, the original rotted away in the 19th century. Location: grid reference SU36060620. West Berkshire Museum has the salted and smoked remains of a chine of bacon which was roasted for a feast on the night of the gibbeting. When I was 15 I ate a bit of it, but that's another story.