This year Ella Jo finished the long awaited album ‘Almost Anglo Saxon’ – this is what she said to Diamond Seeds:
“It was a very enjoyable project and a fantastic challenge to learn history, write songs relating to that history and produce an album that is musically credible as well as educational. History has never been so much fun and the research turned up some interesting facts. Choosing subjects like King Ethelred the Unready and the folk tale of Wayland Smithy, I wanted to tell the stories as the Anglo Saxons may have told them.
Reflecting on the material I realize that I was trying to stand in the shoes of those who witnessed historical moments in Anglo Saxon History, like a woman watching the ships land when the Vikings invaded in the song ‘Dragon Ships’. There was also moments when I allowed A modern point of view such as ‘The Hidden Hoard’. In ‘The Minstrel’s Song’ I wanted to embrace the place of music in culture and show how highly it was valued in the past.”
Who is this album for?
“Everyone. The idea was to create a collection of modern day folk songs, but I am from a pop influenced background so the songs strode off into their own directions. We experimented all the way through this project wanting to create something new, but recognizable. I suppose Pink Floyd worked in a similar way when they experimented with the technology of their time. The challenge was to write good authentic songs. One way of keeping true to the idea was to turn things around. If I travelled back in time would the Anglo Saxons approve of my material? Or if I could bring Anglo Saxon musicians into a modern day recording studio would they have performed songs like mine? These ideas set the standards – and on a spiritual level there was an underlying will to please the ancestors.
So I suppose I wrote this album for the Anglo Saxons and all of their descendents and for anyone curious to know about them. All cultures could gain some insight from this album. As a songwriter I looked at the history and added human elements such as irony or joy.”
How did you write the songs?
“I really don’t know. A silent room will eventually allow words or a tune to develop. Some of this album was easy to write once I tapped into the zone – I had ‘The Anglo Saxon Chronicles’ nearby and looked up stories on the net. I didn’t try too hard to make sophisticated songs – I was concerned with telling the stories – in my view that is what folk is.
I was supported by some wonderful musicians who helped on various songs – it was a joy to record with Mel from Tarantism on Flute, Steve Kerr on Guitar, Ed Branch from UK Decay on Bass and Fiddlin Flick on violin. There was a lot of improvisation which was awesome – I loved giving the musicians freedom to interpret the songs, and as we were recording they could do as many takes as they liked. Working with Spon I knew that he would work this way and we would pick through takes and get the best out of everyone.”
Tell us about Steve Spon
“Well we made three albums already, and by the second one I had grown pretty comfortable with working with him as sound engineer. Almost Anglo Saxon was brand new work for both of us and we jumped on it. Spon is senior producer, so I got to work closely with him on the production. To be honest it was stress free – he has so much experience and understood what I was trying to do. He is also interested in Anglo Saxon history so he brought ideas and creative strengths to the project.”
What is different about Almost Anglo Saxon?
“Well technically it is a concept album. Only a few bars of music survive from those times a thousand years ago, but there is evidence of the instruments that they used. We have come so far with today’s technology that once I began to imagine sounds and atmospheres Spon was able to make up versions of my ideas. We twiddled and tweaked and allowed the feelings of the songs to transpire. So while I was tapping into ideas for mead hall songs, Spon would be out trying to record our local owl. I mean this album really is a testament to the saying that your world is as big as your imagination: for example, we made sounds by throwing cutlery around the kitchen and I clog danced on a wooden staircase in my heels…
I want everybody to relate to the subjects covered in this album, its not all heavy, although I couldn’t escape the fact that there was a lot of war and invasion going on. But there is ample opportunity to dance, and sing along. There is even a love song (‘Through the Eyes of an Eagle’). I tried to keep the lyrics historically correct on this album – I think people are sick of listening to bullshit pop. So it should appeal to anyone with some musical sophistication – and I have no doubt there are many out there who love history and music. So I think the album has a broad appeal.
I enjoyed the challenge of singing what I had created. There were moments when I had to trust to improvisation during the recording process, which is how I came up with the coda of ‘Ethelred The Unready Blues’. I was immersed in a song I had not written an ending for, and just found it – some things I will never understand. So Almost Anglo Saxon is a concept album, but is not contrived like commercial pop.”
“I thought I was a bit shaky this year – finding it hot when I performed in the summer, I was very out of practice. I think my best performance was on Xmas Eve – I filled in one song when Garry and Jenny had a break at their gig at the Bedford Arms in Souldrop. I hadn’t prepared anything, so I got the audience to clap along and sung ‘The Raggle-Taggle Gypsies’ which is an old favourite. It was a jam really, but I know all the words so I trusted the flavour of the occasion and went for it! It was a lot of fun entertaining the folks in my local pub!”
“I have a lot of catching up to do on guitar. I felt so much better just singing, perhaps I will find a guitarist who can accompany me to take Almost Anglo Saxon live into the pubs and clubs – I would love to take people on a trip into history!”
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