The Owl Service, at its inception, was little more than a spark of an idea in the mind of Steven Collins. A life-long lover of folk music, Collins always thought he lacked the necessary credentials to find a place in the folk scene; being raised in a faceless new town with no sense of tradition, he felt totally divorced from the bucolic sounds of the 1960s folk-revival. Enchanted by images of Fairport Convention regrouping in a rented Queen Ann mansion house in Farley Chamberlayne; beguiled by the strange sounds of the Incredible String Band; spellbound by Anne Briggs’ vocal purity; it remained a personal journey of discovery for many years. It was while watching Vashti Bunyan perform at the Homefires 3 festival in 2006 that the spark was ignited; 2 days the later, totally inspired, Steven began recording tracks that would form the first Owl Service release, the “Wake the Vaulted Echo” EP. Once those initial, hesitant steps were taken, the project began to gain a life of its own and by the end of 2006, the album had started to take shape and The Owl Service was a kind of loose collective with Steven at the centre selecting the material and arranging/producing the songs.
Dom Cooper accosted Steven on MySpace and an instant friendship was formed. Dom was raised in Whittelsea which plays host to the annual Straw Bear festival (hence Dom’s musical alias, The Straw Bear Band), the town’s rich tradition had a profound effect on him and his songwriting. Steven met Nancy Wallace during his brief spell playing bass in The Memory Band - Nancy grew up in Suffolk (another area steeped in the English aural tradition) and is an effortless singer and talented mulit-instrumentalist who brings an air of authenticity to the band. Jo Lepine and Diana Collier are both experienced folk singers who also dabble in early music; the hiring of two female vocalists was an intentional attempt to recreate the sound of Steeleye Span mk.1 (Maddy Prior and Gay Woods) and Mellow Candle (Alison Williams and Clodagh Simmonds).
“A Garland of Song” was recorded and mixed almost entirely at home between December 2006 and June 2007 (a few of the collaborators recorded their own parts); it fuses traditional British folk with elements of psychedelic rock, occasionally bordering on a doom-laden garage sound, and is interspersed with Steven’s original instrumental compositions. It recalls the great acid-folk bands of the late ’60s/early ’70s but never once sounds contrived or overtly retro - nobody has approached trad folk quite like this for over 30 years.
And so the Owl Service continue to forge ahead; an EP recorded with Alison O’Donnell (formerly Alison Williams of legendary Irish folk-rockers Mellow Candle) entitled “The Fabric of Folk” is nearing completion and Alison will be joining the band for some shows this summer. Recording has already begun for the second album, tentatively titled “The Pattern Beneath the Plough”; this time Steven wants to make an entirely traditional album - darker and earthier, embodying the true sense of the songs. Plans are also afoot for an EP of American underground folk covers. With a trusty line-up now in place The Owl Service is beginning to function more as a band, with a new found confidence manifesting itself in more assured and fully formed recordings.
“A Garland of Song” will be released by Southern Records in April 2008.
Edited by thevillagewait on 24 Mar 2008, 07:41
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