Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Name: The Owl Service
Latest release: The Fabric of Folk [2008]
File under: Folk

I love throwing arbitrary adjectives at music, so here's a few for The Owl Service - rustic, medieval, nostalgic and whimsical. I hope that gives some idea as to the sound.

I also love music that transports you to another world. The Owl Service really manage to take me back to, say, the 1800s or something with their old English folk music, but you do get flourishes of anachronist electric guitar and suchlike which fits in superbly well and gives the music extra character. The vocals are gorgeous and enchanting and fit the stories told perfectly - almost narrating in places. Their second album, A Garland of Song, is full of wonderful stories, singalongs, interludes and wonderful acapella. You can check out a live album they released freely here.

I want to meet Pretty Susie and Katie Cruel.


Who are you, where are you from and what is your role in The Owl Service?
Steven: "My name is Steven Collins, I'm originally from London but now reside in the town of Leigh-on-sea along the Thames Estuary. For live shows I play electric guitar, on our records I play a bit of everything."

Your music seems very focussed on telling stories. Your upcoming release, The Pattern Beneath the Plough will be released in several parts. How important do you think storytelling is in music?
Steven: "For the last year we've focussed mainly on playing traditional British songs, and for that particular genre the storytelling aspect is everything. It's the reason the songs were written in the first place, and the primary reason they've survived for so long, and continue to be sung and to have resonance today. We've all adapted a bit of that into our own songwriting too. I expect the third Owl Service album might be a set of original songs in the traditional style, retaining the strong storytelling angle."

Who or what is the bands biggest muse?
Steven: "The English folk revival of the 1960s and '70s is the thing that continues to inspire us most. With the exception of Nancy [Wallace], who has English folk music in her blood, it's the route which we've all taken to discover this wonderful music. The passion, excitement and devotion felt by those young artists, who were all on their own journey of discovery, is a very tangible thing and it still emanates from the grooves of their dusty old LPs and continues to spur us on in our own exploration of the material."

There are a few other UK artists using folk elements in various ways - Phelan Sheppard, Sons of Noel and Adrian etc. - what are your favourite artists in the genre, old and new?
Steven: "See above; our favourite artists are those that we discovered 10+ years ago when we began listening to folk music; Shirley & Dolly Collins, Anne Briggs, The Watersons, The Young Tradition (particularly Peter Bellamy), Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Trees and (perhaps more than all of the aforementioned combined) Martin Carthy. In terms of newer folk/roots acts, we like Alasdair Roberts, Sharron Kraus, Micah Blue Smaldone and Ellen Mary McGee."

Last year you released a free live album, Field Music. What are your views on distributing music freely?
Steven: "I think that the free distribution of music via the Internet legally is always a good thing, and that occasionally even 'illegal' filesharing can have positive effects. I can understand how World famous artists and their multi-billion dollar corporate labels feel that unlawful sharing of their music is tantamount to theft, but for new artists it can actually end up being a useful promotional tool. Look at how The Arcade Fire exploded once kids started sharing Funeral on the Internet. I know plenty of people who use blogs and filesharing networks as a means to discover new music - the vast majority of these people then go and buy the albums they like, as well as t-shirts and concert tickets. So it's not all bad. Even if the big distros do get ISPs to work with them and even if we do see a drastic reduction in Internet-based activity, at the very least file-sharing will still exist in a similar way to how home taping did prior to the advent of the Internet, but with much better sound quality and portability."

Thanks Steven. Keep an eye out for their next album, The Pattern Beneath the Plough: The View From a Hill later this year.

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