Following an exciting year, including fantastic performances at Cecil Sharp House, Wilderness Festival and the launch of a new EP, the unique multi-instrumental ensemble that is The Coach House Company return to Cecil Sharp House on Saturday 17 January to play a very special double bill alongside Maz O'Connor. We had a chat to find out a bit more about them as a band, how they found the last year and what they've got planned for the future.
We all studied music together at university and between us were involved in lots of different classical and jazz ensembles. We wanted to explore a different type of music to that which we were studying, and one that would enable us to have a large creative input in what we were playing. We had all had a mix of experiences of folk music growing up, for example Maya had learnt a lot of folk tunes orally through woodcraft camps, and in that way we learnt different things from each other.
2014 was a really exciting year for us, all of us have now graduated from university so the geographical base of our band shifted from Cambridge to London. Although we were sad to leave Cambridge, it also meant we were reaching lots of new audiences and were no longer tied down by our lecture timetables! We’ve really enjoyed playing at smaller folk venues around London especially as we find that with a more intimate space and an acoustic setup, people are often more willing to sing along and get involved with our performance, which is something that we really love. One of the definite highlights was our first time together in a recording studio as a band in January; the whole process, although very intense, was musically really rewarding for us.
It was also a great pleasure to play at Wilderness Festival in the summer as part of the Travelling Folk Barn organised by EFDSS and The Local, it poured all the way there but the sun came out for our set!
Another real highlight was our solo performance at Cecil Sharp House in April. We worked really hard to try and create two sets that encapsulated our musical journey and made sense as a whole. It was such a privilege to perform in such a beautiful venue to such a large audience and we are so excited to be returning next week!
On a practical level, we needed something to show for ourselves, having played together for three years without making a proper recording! Musically, we wanted our EP to showcase all different aspects of our musical backgrounds, and to document tunes in our repertoire that had been evolving naturally for a while. It’s a mix of original material, purely instrumental music, five part harmonies, jazzy trumpeting and slow ballads. We thought carefully about which tracks would demonstrate all of this whilst also making sense together as a whole, and hopefully we’ve managed to achieve this.
Often the initial phase of arranging will be done by just one of us, so that at least the bare bones or a rough structure is decided before we bring it to a rehearsal. We find that each of us has a different approach and method to arranging material at this phase; depending on the tune or the person, the material brought to a first rehearsal may be a fully notated score, or just a lyrics sheet and some notes typed up on a phone! From that point onwards, generally it’s a collaborative effort. If one of us has an idea of the direction each arrangement will take, we can workshop different ways of realising these ideas together in a more focused way.
We like to take each different piece of music as an individual project rather than applying the same method every time, so probably wouldn’t say we have any specific ‘rules’. However, we really enjoy finding music that we have no previous knowledge of as it enables us to create a much more original interpretation. We feel strongly that we don’t want to play pastiches of existing folk music, but rather we want to create and arrange something new from something old, therefore continuing the line of tradition whilst also laying the foundations for new traditions. Above all, we want to be able to interpret traditional music within a contemporary framework whilst remaining respectful of its origins.
I don’t think any of us would say that it was a hindrance to have so many influences among us, because it allows our music to be such a melting pot of different styles. Of course we have to be careful to make sure that our music sounds like a coherent entity rather than a patchwork of different opposing styles, but the range of influences is ultimately what is unique about our music and helps us stay true to all of our different musical roots.
We have lots of exciting gigs coming up, in particular a solo performance at the Forge (Camden) in April, and a double bill with The Old Dance School at Bush Hall in June, promoted by Folk on Monday. We’re also looking forward to returning to Cecil Sharp House in September as part of the London Folk Fayre. In March, we’re going to record our arrangement of the song Blackbird, the melody and words of which we found in the Clive Carey collection in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House. It’s a song we’ve been playing for almost a year now, and has always had a special place in our set, so we think it’s in a good place now to record and share.