“Bending the Dark, as a title doesn’t refer to trendy new Physics, deviant sexual practices or even Lord of the Ring wizardry, it’s really very simple: It doesn’t matter how bad things are if you pull together you can turn the situation around and come out of the darkness stronger and more confident.”
The Imagined Village are: Eliza Carthy (fiddle, vocals) EC; Martin Carthy (guitar, vocals) MC; Simon Emmerson (guitars, cittern) SE;Ali Friend (bass, vocals) AF; Andy Gangadeen (drums) AG; Johnny Kalsi (dhol, tabla, percussion) JK; Barney Morse Brown (cello, vocals) BMB; Sheema Mukherjee (sitar, vocals) SM; Jackie Oates (fiddle, vocals) JO; Simon Richmond (keyboards, electronics, vocals) SR
Bending The Dark is an album about group survival. This is a band written press statement…
Around the time of writing material for the 2nd album Chris Wood kept saying ‘if the band’s going to survive we can’t keep covering material from the Martin Carthy song book” a sentiment Martin shared.
MC: ‘The Imagined Village was an experiment started back in 2004 to see if trad and non trad musicians could work together on what was largely my back catalogue, something I was only too happy to engage in…”
With this in mind we came off the road in 2010 hoping to embark on a period of writing fresh, original material or interpretations of trad songs not normally covered within Martin’s repertoire.
SE “It was apparent that if the band was to move forward we had to write a new body of songs based on our skills as lyricist and composers embracing contemporary issues as well as reflecting an English musical identity that isn’t specifically rooted in the folk tradition.”
Norma Waterson’s heath issues late 2010 interrupted this strategy; Martin was not able to do the proposed tour. We had 2 choices: cancel the tour or continue and use any profits to help support the family in times of need. We chose the 2nd option. The final gig of the tour was on the 1st March 2011 in London at Cecil Sharpe House and we closed the tour and set with a live mobile phone link-up to Martin in Robin Hoods Bay, where he told the assembled crowd back at the London venue that Norma was on the road to recovery and he’d be back in the band as soon as he had learnt the new material, which, he added, all sounded very good down the phone. Following the tour Chris Wood decided to take the rest of the year as a sabbatical to concentrate on his own writing. Which was fine but then we experienced another major setback. Mass, who SE has used as an engineer, mixer and co-producer since the 2nd Afro Celt album back in 1999, was suddenly unable to continue working on the album due to his father’s illness. Again we were a key player down, so the two Simons had to step up and fill in for Mass, adding engineering duties to writing, producing and performing.
We continued regardless with the recording, revising and refining a body of over 20 potential songs. The rhythm section was ready to record in the Strong Room studios, London in October 2011 and January 2012 with our new engineer Paul Grady, from Doncaster, who completed the project as the mixing engineer.
SR: “Martin eventually came to our studio in December 2011 and we all felt the band sound was complete again. It was great to have him back.”
The mixing was complete early February 2012.
SE ‘As a band we feel we’ve come through tough times but just through dogged perseverance and the simple joy of playing together we’ve achieved what we set out to do when we came off the Empire and Love Tour January 2010: make a recording that reflects both the fun and energy we generate as a live unit, plus our respective skills, eccentricities and unique identities as song writers, arrangers and musicians. We’ve never felt more united as a band and we hope this comes across on the album’
1 The Guvna – AF brought the demo to the studio with the feel and vibe all there from the off and the band fell in love with its nod towards eccentric English TV scores, the mighty Jerry Dammers and the days of Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. SR added what has come to be known in the band rather alarmingly as the “Supertramp” middle key board breakdown, and sampled AF’s guide vocal ideas for a melody – creating an Alivox synth sound layered with a Theremin. AG added rhythmic loops, SR brought a bit of Bays-style dub trickery, and by the time the piece was ready for studio recording, SE had refined all the ska and rock-steady guitars into place, something he will openly admit is closer to his own roots than English trad. The spelling of The Guvna was taken by AF from the Urban Dictionary: “A mysterious group of prophetic gentlemen that hide in the shadows and wait for unsuspecting older women.” Something he could identify with.
This song is also the only track we are aware of that has inspired a charcoal based underarm deodorant powder called “The Guv’nor” designed by Simon E’s bird watching companion, record label partner, Lush founder and radical perfumer Mark Constantine. The band are proud to stand in a line of song/deodorant collaborations going back to ‘Smells Like Tean Spirit’ by Nirvana. Free samples will be available on request.
2 Captain’s Apprentice – SR was at a JO’s gig during early stages of writing material for the album:
SR “Jackie sang the CA and I instantly felt it could be connected to NYT as a spooky intro to an equally ghostly story all about murder at sea. She learnt the song from the singing of Kathryn Roberts. At the same gig, Jackie performed a series of Cornish dance instrumentals which later became the basis for Winter Singing”
3 New York Trader – SR: “ NYT is a proper example of a tune’s development process through band input. I wrote the original 5/4 track – it was a slow and gentle piece based around a guitar figure and chilled beats. EC heard this and suggested the trad song ‘New York Trader’ would fit perfectly as it’s also in 5/4. She then sang it in 4/4. AG and AF came to do the rhythm track and took it into the double-time, 10/8 feel. Simple, really…”
So now you know. We then took the whole arrangement to our pre-tour rehearsals where the strings and fiddle riffs were worked out. NYT is a great example of us developing an arrangement to support the narrative of the lyric – in this case a harrowing ghost story based on the old superstition that a ship is cursed if its captain has committed murder. Right from the moment the tune went up-tempo, SE wanted to try brass on it, so called up his old mates from the Kick Horns, who he had worked with whilst producing Baaba Maal and Femi Kuti. This was the final session of the album, days before they started mixing. We used to start our live set with CA and NYT as a perfect opener, introducing to our audience our new singer JO.
4 Bending The Dark – SM’s PRS 20/12 Olympic Commission. The title came from a typo; the original was ‘Bending the Da’, the Da being the 6th note in the Indian Scale. But like all good mistakes it stuck. An epic written and conceived by SM – the rest of us did what we could do to be equal to the task of getting the piece completed. The two key hushed moments of the piece focus on MC’s playing of a trad figure transposed into a very untrad key Sheema found buried in the mix of a rejected album instrumental. She had heard MC play the tune in sound checks and had always wanted to use it to kick-start a bigger composition. AG took the final drum section away from the arena of ‘world music’ and evoked the teen beat don Sandy Nelson, not to mention the swing era big band feel of Louis Prima and Gene Krupa. The dramatic drum battle between AG and JK was one of the most lively and exciting moments in the recording session in London’s Strongroom studio.
Produced, written and arranged primarily by SM, the tune, in all its different twists and turns, provides a showcase for many of the different elements of The Imagined Village. The band felt this was a fitting piece to become the album’s title track.
5 Fisherman – SR wrote the music, with a working title of “Something Brassy about the North”. Naturally he turned to EC with her deep, northern heritage, to come up with a suitable lyric. She instead wrote a song about the protest movement and occupation of St Paul’s Cathedral – not 5 miles from SR’s London home. The lyrics address the general absence of non-material, altruistic – spiritual, even – leadership in the present day. EC’s stunning chorus harmonies are complemented by the brass arrangement giving it the expansive filmic quality of York’s most famous son John Barry – born, as it happens, just down the road from Eliza.
6 Nest – SR wrote the music. SR and SE started to write a lyric about parental paranoia and the Internet but it didn’t seem to work. The piece sat in limbo for a while. Chris Wood had a go but didn’t succeed. The music was waiting for the right moment and feel – hence EC nailing it in November 2011 during an album recording session at the studio of her cousin, Olly Knight. It was at his studio in Robin Hoods Bay, place of the Carthy family enclave, that MC walked in from doing the washing up at his house next door, laid down a perfect vocal, and went home across the road again to finish the dishes. Later on in Dorset, MC would bring haunting guitars to the piece as well. BMB played a sublime cello solo late in the day at a session in Bath to record JO’s final vocals.
7 Wintersinging – JO played the fiddle motif based on a Cornish 5/4 dance known as a Kabm Pemp. SR wrote a backing track around it and the 2 Simons wrote a chorus and lyric about celebrating solidarity at a period of darkness and not letting hard times overcome our spirit. The lyric seemed to fit the times and what the band was going through.
SE: “We were holed up in our West Dorset Studio, winter was closing in and people were taking to the streets across Europe as the recession was deepening”.
The song was originally a fairly full-on electronic arrangement with a Drum and Bass feel. AG insisted on trying out a lighter, gentler feel for the drums, and this approach of using the programmed beats to inspire and eventually be replaced by live performance became a kind of template for the album.
SR: “It was like starting with a re-mix and then creating the original song after.”
Eliza wanted more blokes singing on the chorus to give it weight and stop it sounding ‘too hippy dippy’, so we got in the lads from the Essex band Mawkin who aren’t hippish by any stretch of the imagination, plus Steve Knightley and Jim Causley who just happened to be in the studio on that day working with Mawkin. An anthemic chorus was born. The band performed the track on the Radio 2 2day live session from Maida Vale in June 2011.
8 Sick Old Man – Originally a guitar-based backing with a dub step feel written by SE, it was always intended to cover ground not usually heard in conventional folk composition – the bluesy crushed notes and more open 9ths were an attempt to move away from the open C tuning that both Chris Wood and Martin use, and get into some weirder chord shapes. EC wrote the allegorical lyrics based around the trad piece “Raggle Taggle Gypsies” but took the song into the 21st century, with its tale of England’s squandered resources and growing intolerance of immigrants. SR programmed a Drum and Bass feel for the track before the piece went through a series of rhythmic developments. In rehearsal for live performance the tune finally settled into its present arrangement.
9 Get Kalsi – SE approached JK for some percussion ideas for an Imagined Village Bhangra style track. JK sent over some of his tabla and dhol recordings and SR built these into a groove around a synth pattern. AG and AF fleshed it out into the break beat/drum and bass feel it now has. Whilst recording the plucked fiddle riffs at CW’s studio SE wrote the top line as a tribute to one of his favourite genres of traditional music: the English film score. It just happened to be the 40th anniversary of Get Carter, a film often identified by Roy Budd’s distinctive tabla, electric piano and harpsichord theme tune. SM wrote the introduction’s bravura musical flourish, bringing the whole Anglo/Asian feel of the piece into focus. Another tune that got it’s 1st radio airing on the BBC Radio 2 “2day live” Maida Vale session in June 2011 prompting a huge amount of public feedback and interest
10 Washing Song – Originally a purely trad song that had caught AG’s ears during sound checks, and that EC brought to the studio as an arrangement for fiddle, accordion and vox. It didn’t seem to quite sit as a piece on an IV album, so at a recording session late in the album’s development, AG suggested there might be a way to re-think the song. SR and AF worked on re-voicing and re-writing the song’s chordal and bass harmonies. The result creates a powerful contrast as the tune moves from the opening feel of Saul Rose’s accordion and Eliza’s fiddle into the warmth of the double bass and piano underneath the vocals.
Produced by Simon ‘Palmskin’ Richmond and Simon Emmerson with band input. Apart from BTD, produced by Sheema Mukherjee.
Album written, arranged and performed by The Imagined Village
Mixed by Paul Grady with the 2 Simons