One of the early treats of 2015 has been ‘On The Forest Floor’ the debut E.P. from Henry and Fleetwood a duo comprising Martin Henry from De Rosa and Gillian Fleetwood from the State Broadcasters.
The E.P. is the first substantial work Martin’s been involved with since his solo LP in 2011 and interestingly, it’s perhaps closer in tone to his previous work than the live performance we saw at Randolph’s Leap’s ICDTTM3 the other week. With just the two of them Martin and Gill’s played with a stately air of grace which perhaps owes more to Gill’s other band the State Broadcasters than to De Rosa.
On record however the extra instrumentation lends an extra scope to the songs whilst still recalling the quieter parts of Martin’s back catalogue. Overall though there’s a real sense of serenity in the songwriting.
There’s a strong connection in the songs to nature, explicit in the song titles with even the instrumental called ‘Timber’. Musically, second track ‘Forestry’ may be the key to the E.P. – the early part of the song is hushed but, with layered parts added throughout, it builds to a climax.
After their performance at ICDTTM3, I spoke to Martin and Gill about the forthcoming record and their plans for the near future.
First off we talked about how the collaboration had come about. Although they’d both moved in similar Glasgow music circles for a number of years, it took a Danish pianist (and a Scottish sound engineer) to introduce them as Gill explains:
“We’ve got quite a lot of mutual acquaintances but we didn’t know each other at all until we were touring with Agnes Obel.
“Andy Bush, who’s also in De Rosa, was her touring sound guy which was how I’d ended up touring with Agnes – through Andy.
“When we came to tour in the UK, we were thinking it was all going to be a bit of a slog. In general in Europe you’re much better looked after, the venues are beautiful, the staff are really nice but touring’s harder in the UK. So she was kind of dreading it.
“Andy suggested Martin and he came on board which was just brilliant because he’s got such a great way about him and just turned it into a much better thing than it would have been without him.
“He took the reigns as tour DJ and just repetitively nailed it. On tour you get these difficult dull moments or when you’ve played a good show and he would just have the right song. This guy just knows his music and it was absolutely brilliant.”
Martin also has positive memories of the tours in the U.K. and on mainland Europe with Agnes.
“It was a really nice experience getting to sleep between gigs rather than driving hundreds of miles. Gill was there and we bonded over music tastes, tastes in alcohol and stuff. It was good.
“We really just made friends and talked about working together.”
For a while, with Martin based in Sunderland and Gill busy with other projects, the opportunity to play music in the same room didn’t present itself. But Martin says that the willingness to collaborate wasn’t dimmed.
“We kept in touch and we realised that there was a possibility there that we could both explore areas that we hadn’t had a chance to in our bands.”
“We both had quite a lot of other plates spinning. I do quite a lot of traditional Scottish folk music and I write as well in a string group, more chamber music.
“So time is tricky but we’re both really dedicated to it now and this year we’re both putting it at the front of what we’re doing.”
With a working relationship established an unusual opportunity presented itself as Martin recalls.
“There’s an estate up in the Morvern peninsula called Drimnin Estate. The people that own the estate had some lottery funding to develop an old chapel on the grounds that they would get various musicians and artists in to use the space.
“Up until that point, when we won the commission, they’d only had classical musicians so we were the first different act that they’d had.
“Basically you get the use of the church for the week to create and to play and rehearse then on the Friday night the whole community comes to watch what you’ve done and it was great. There were people of all ages and it was a lovely atmosphere.”
With this experience behind them, they both have definite ideas on how they’ve benefited from each other’s perspective.
Martin: “For me it was getting to look at traditional music and connecting with Scottish music a bit more.
“With Gill, as someone who’s been immersed in tradition and trad folk, she was maybe looking to push the boundaries a wee bit and how she could use her background and the harp a bit differently.”
Gill: “We’re both really into environment and how that shapes what we do. While we’re from really different backgrounds there is a lot of crossover so I think that finding those areas of common ground has become really interesting for us both because you think you kind of know stuff then you realise that you don’t! You meet someone who appears to be really different to you but in fact is coming at it from a different angle which is really inspiring and really refreshing as well.”
Martin also feels that working with Gill rather than the all male members of De Rosa has impacted on his writing.
“It’s a wee bit more optimistic but it’s maybe more romantic as well. I don’t know if it’s working with the male/female thing and I can be more relaxed and softer in my lyrics.”
Place has always been a vital component of Martin’s songwriting as reflected on the two De Rosa albums to date but, for ‘On The Forest Floor’, Martin reckons that his input takes inspiration from a different type of place.
“I think it’s more of an imagined place. It’s nothing new, but the yearning for wilderness and maybe the state of mind that you find in places that are rural and less populated. They’re probably the experiences that most connect you with the real world when you’re in places like that with close friends and loved ones.
“But it’s also about the imaginative potential and the poetic potential of those places.”
In terms of the new E.P. the material was well under way before the Drimnin adventure as Martin recounts.
“Gill and I had done a wee bit in Gargleblast studio in Hamilton and a wee bit at home. So the E.P. was kind of half developed at that point and we wrote a lot of new material there which is starting to be developed. The E.P. was finished after that.”
Gill is very proud of the record but feels that it’s just a starting point for Henry & Fleetwood.
“It’s good to get it out as it’s been finished for ages, as is so often the case with these things but I like it very much. I hadn’t listened to it for ages until it came back in print and I stuck it on and thought ‘this is cool’.
“It’s an interesting little nugget because originally those four songs were going to be the first four songs of the album. But the new stuff you heard tonight is quite different and is evolving. So it made sense to do this as a little nugget and the album will have a different feel.”
Although there’s an instrumental on the E.P., the fact that they played three instrumentals at the CCA doesn’t mean that H&F are going to be an alt folk take on Godspeed as Martin explains:
“Most of the stuff comes out of instrumentals, out of jams, messing about with loops and improvising. The vocals are written later so some of the stuff you’ve heard tonight might end up having vocals. We’re presenting stuff that’s really a work in progress at the moment as well.”
‘On The Forest Floor’ is coming out on Olive Grove Records and both are delighted about that if initially they didn’t think that it was likely, as Gill remembers.
“I’ve known Lloyd (Meredith) since the State Broadcasters album. At first I was like “I’m a music industry cynic, what does he want from us? Surely he can’t work for nothing!” But he really is that nice, he’s a total champ! He’s been super, super good to us.
“I sent him the E.P. because I knew that he’d like to hear it. But I also knew that he’s got so many things on his plate I didn’t expect him to come back and say that he’d like to work with us. So when he did, I kind of fell off my chair! But that’s how he works, if he’s into it, he’s into it.”
Martin was equally pleased to work with Olive Grove.
“Gill’s band had worked with them and I know Lloyd well. I’m always really impressed with the effort that he puts in for his acts. I was just really happy that he wanted to work with us and I knew that he would do a great job with the E.P.”
With a record to promote, Martin and Gill have a series of live dates in the next couple of months, starting with a Glasgow launch for the E.P. which Martin is looking forward to.
“The launch is at the Glad Café is on Saturday the 11th. It’ll be pretty much the same set-up as tonight with just the two of us with maybe a couple of new things thrown in.”
The launch is the start of a run of dates as Gill describes.
“On the Sunday afternoon (12th) we’re doing a free little gig in the Braw Wee Emporium in the Barras Art and Design Centre at the back of the Barrowlands, which is my friend’s shop. Jennifer McGlone runs Glow Arts who do lots of really fantastic community arts projects. She also stocks an amazing selection of CDs.
“In May we’re playing at Brew at the Bog up in Inverness which is my hometown so I’m very excited about that. I’m doing that with the State Broadcasters as well so that’s going to be a fun weekend.
“Then we’re doing a fund raiser for Scottish Women’s Aid, I think, in May (at Summerhall in Edinburgh). That’s going to be really fun, we’ve to learn a cover of a song by a girl band. I don’t know what we’re going to do but I’m championing maybe ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’. So we’ve got a few irons in the fire just now. “
Martin explains that the run of dates is likely to be the last time that Henry & Fleetwood will be in the public eye for a while although, tantalisingly, he raises the prospect of playing live with others.
“After this burst of live stuff up until May, we’ll be concentrating on recording for a few months. We’re going to book some studio time quite soon to get the album done properly.
“But during that time when I’m recording with Gill I’ll hopefully be getting out with De Rosa and playing with those guys.”
It turns out that the aforementioned Braw Wee Emporium is more than just a shop for Henry & Fleetwood as Gill explains.
“We spend one night a week in the shop writing and we sit there and rehearse. It’s a great space because it’s really quiet. We’re trying to write this really quiet music and it’s good for us to break out of the normal rehearsal room things.
“I think it’s just nice to be in a different environment from the standard rock set-up where there’s other guys shouting and there’s macho stuff going on.”
‘On The Forest Floor’ is released on Monday 13th April by Olive Grove Records. You can pre-order the E.P. here or purchase it at one of the following live appearances:
Saturday 11th April – The Glad Café, Glasgow (E.P. launch) with support from Mayor Stubbs and Randolph’s Leap (solo) [More info]
Sunday 12th – The Braw Wee Emporium, Glasgow [More info]
Saturday 2nd/3rd May (day to be confirmed) – Brew at the Bog, Bogbain Farm, Inverness [more info]
Saturday 9th May – Summerhall, Edinburgh – Teen Canteen presents ‘The Girl Effect’ for Scottish Women’s Aid [more info]
Here’s the duo’s live performance of the E.P.’s title track on STV Glasgow’s ‘The Riverside Show’ the other night: