Caedmon were a student band without a contract, without rich families to finance projects and, to an extent, outwith the folk rock scene, (in sense of being isolated from) playing youth groups and church halls, tucked away in Scotland.
The main line-up: Jim Bisset, Simon Jaquet, Angela Naylor, Ken Patterson and Sam Wilson.
They were in their teens when they met and the group existed for only four and half years before an eventual comeback 30 years on. They never made money from their playing. But their DIY approach, writing their own songs, the very particular arrangements and their resourcefulness led to the making of a vinyl 1978 album that is now a collectors’ grail. Their reissue of 2002 on Kissing Spell, internet access and a rekindling of interest in vinyl had started to make the original copies collectable. Many pirate CD and vinyl copies were made without the band’s knowledge or permission. Their follow up studio album 2010 A Chicken to Hug is a gem but is largely unknown, mostly through a lack of marketing and distribution. The new album 2020 RARE mixes strong new writing with remastered basement tapes from 1975 … on a 12′ album with 7′ single mimicking the original album format and with artwork by Ken sharing Celtic influences with the first album. And Guerssen have now produced a licensed reissue of the 1978 vinyl with much care and attention to detail in remastering and presentation. And they are also distributing the two follow up albums world wide. Spotify playlists are appearing with new and favourite old Caedmon tracks. The band is enjoying a moment of renaissance.
Where and when did you grow up? Was music a big part of your family life? Did the local music scene influence you or inspire you to play music?
Ken grew up in the coal and ship building town of Newcastle upon Tyne, birthplace of Sting, The Pet Shop Boys, Eric Burdon, Alan Price, Lindisfarne etc.
Despite a large Geordie (Newcastle) tradition of music hall folk songs and Northumbrian traditional dance tunes, these only became an influence for Ken in the ‘80s an onward when he went to sessions in Newcastle pubs and played in Ceilidh bands, not pre-Caedmon 1978.
Recorded music, and the music our peers played, were the biggest influences. And because of Ken’s classical grounding at secondary school his peers were for ever analysing the harmonic structures of pieces: vocal harmonies. The Beatles, Crosby Stills and Nash, even The Carpenters got us working out the notes in the chords: the ninths, the elevenths.
Angela was from Brighouse, Yorkshire and very pleased to be in Scotland’s capital.
Simon a southerner from Sellindge Kent. Son of a vicar, He went to an enlightened school where bands were invited to play to the students including early versions of Genesis, Barclay James Harvest, Pink Fairies, MAN, and Comus. And his school band was support.
Sam was brought up in Prestwich, Manchester, the scientist of the band, Mr Fix It with anything electrical.
Jim was the only band member raised in Scotland from Crieff, Perthsire, son of a minister, with a big loud voice from singing hymns.
When did you begin playing music? What was your first instrument? Who were your major influences?
Ken was taught ‘cello and piano from the age of eight years and bought his first guitar when he was fourteen. The piano and cello teaching was very dry. His dad could play most instruments by ear but Ken wasn’t taught that way… his school had a big classical music tradition which meant a regime of reading music and being led by a draconian musical director as his musical nurture. But self taught guitar allowed him to start creating his own music. ‘Watch the Stars’ by Pentangle was one of the first songs he learned to play on guitar alongside ‘Angie’ (everyone did), Sidney Carter songs, Bert Jansch’s ‘Needle of Death’.
He saw Pentangle a couple of times at Newcastle City Hall, the second concert featured the Renbourne and Jansch on electric guitars playing through Orange amps.
What bands were you a member of prior to the formation of Caedmon?
Sam: ‘Nothing you could really dignify with the name ‘band’. There was an aspiration to put a band called White Dwarf together but it never came to anything. I did play in church a lot, both before University and during the vacations, and performed (if that’s the right word) several times with different groups of friends.’
The idea of playing bass came out of about 5 of us wanting to form White Dwarf and all playing guitar. I saw a bass guitar in a junk shop and since we apparently needed a bass player (who knew?) I bought it, or at least got my mum to buy it for me. I wasn’t aware of any stigma about bass players being failed lead guitarists or anything like – I enjoyed it.
The guitar was a Rosetti Bass 9, apparently made by Egmond in the Netherlands, and was literally made from plywood and sticky-backed plastic. You can find pictures of them on Google (and on caedmonsreturn.com!) and mine was one with the beige front, brown back and red scratchplate. It was horrible.
I eventually took the frets out of it, sanded the fretboard down to get rid of some of the bowing (the truss rod didn’t work), butchered the headstock to make it 3+1 tuners and relieve a bit of neck dive, and loaned it to Andy Thornton in Dundee. I believe you can hear it on the ‘Last of Stonewall Griffiths’ cassette. I never got it back and I’m not that sorry. I did write songs which remained as fragments and only in my head.
Ken had his own band at school with piano, bass guitar, acoustic guitars and drum kit. We had a home made PA amp with a biscuit tin chassis. Ken played a Hawk (Dreadnought style) guitar made by Boosey and Hawkes… but didn’t use his cello playing skills until getting to Edinburgh.
Although, not from a religious background, clubs at school got Ken involved in a Pentecostal church where there was a drum kit and an opportunity to busk along with simple gospel songs. His brother was in a band called ‘Pentateuch’. His own band briefly called ‘Nicodemus New Born Feelin’.
With this band he wrote a song called ‘The Sea’ which was based upon a cheesy Cmaj7 F maj7 sequence.
But ‘Worlds and Friends’ and ‘Maker Man’ were his first recorded songs.
Simon: ‘The first band I was in was the ‘Challengers’, which I formed with my sister Judy in the early sixties. The band was notable for its matching ‘branded’ stage gear, its infrequent ‘sitting room’ gigs, its pre-Carpenters sister and brother line-up, and its large repertoire of psych folk songs, including ‘The sun shines down’, ‘Gypsy Girl’, and ‘Sitting here in my garden’. The first song I wrote (outside of the sibling stable) would be ‘Sitting by a stream’ (written beside a stream in the Lake District). An early bootleg recording was made on a mono reel-to-reel, but this has long since disappeared’.
Jim: ‘I played with three other lads from the Bathgate High Church Youth Fellowship. For a brief period, there was also another guitarist who was better than me. T’was ever thus. The material was all self-penned Christian rock. e.g. ‘Listen to Me’.’
Can you elaborate the formation of Caedmon?
Angela and Ken (Newcastle upon Tyne) arrived at the same in Edinburgh in 1973 as undergraduate veterinary students at The Dick Vet at the tender age of eighteen.
Angela thrived academically on the course (but Ken stumbled through two years before changing to a biological sciences degree). She sang and Ken played guitar. Andy Love, guitarist from Aberdeen, was in the year above at the same college.
After the first few weeks they all ended up in the same Pollock Halls of Residence where they met Simon (a student of French) and Sam (Chemical Engineering) who joined a few months later bringing guitar/mandolin and bass guitar, respectively, to the ensemble. They rehearsed in a small music room in Fraser House. They played covers of Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill and other stateside Jesus Movement material.
When Andy left the vet course in September ’74 Jim Bisset soon became the fifth member of the band. He brought a Fender Strat and experience in a four piece rock band called Raven. He lived in New College buildings on The Mound in Edinburgh. Ken: ‘I remember going to his room for a meet up for the first time and he had just bought ‘I’m Not in Love’ by 10cc… we discussed the production values and multi tracking’.
In the following year the four men moved into a 4th floor Edinburgh tenement together. In many ways this was the start of three years of composing together, as well as an annual week away in the Yorkshire Dales and times rehearsing in The Netherbow Arts Centre on The Royal Mile.
In 1975 Simon spent a year in France as part of his course and fiddler Alan Torrance played with the band.
When and where did Caedmon play their first gig? Do you remember the first song the band played? How was the band accepted by the audience?
The first gig was in their halls of residence playing ‘Born to Die’ (which appears on RARE).
There’s a strong memory of a traditional version of ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ with Ken playing a yellow German concertina, but I think that might have been December 1974.
The first five piece band (still with Andy Love) performance was around Easter ’74 in Baird House, Pollock Halls, Edinburgh
How did you decide to use the name ‘Caedmon’?
We think that Willie Storrar, a friend of the band and now Director of the Center for Theological Inquiry in Princetown, suggested the name.
Ken wrote and sang the story of Caedmon in ‘Geordie Bible’ style to ragtime guitar. (e.g. Moses parted the waters asunda … or was it a Monda?). It is a recording that we haven’t shared with the world yet.
Famous through fiction as the arrival point for Dracula: Whitby, North Yorkshire has an illustrious history. The 7th Century Priory led by Abbess Hilda. She took the cowherd Caedmon under her wing when he had vision of where he received the gift of writing sacred verse.
‘Dream of the Rood’ (RARE) was thought to be written by Caedmon, but recently academics have changed their views on the authorship.
What’s the story behind your 1978 album? Where did you record it? What kind of equipment did you use? How many hours did you spend in the studio?
The album was recorded in a tiny home studio in Edinburgh – in an attic known as ‘Barclay Towers’ owned by Tony Pilley. The Rezillos recorded there around the same time.
It had on an analogue 4 track tape machine with a plate for reverb and the buzz of a fluorescent light strip over the cooker that was inadvertently left on (hissing away for warmth) during one take.
We recorded over two successive Sundays (16 hours total?) and mixed at a third session. Four track reel to reel recording … live with occasional overdubs.
We were recalling in our documentary videos this year that for some time Jim, Ken and Sam played through the same (borrowed) Ampeg Bass combo that had a top that inverted to reveal glowing valves. But In the recording Jim was using a Dan Armstrong guitar with sliding pick up played through an H/H 100 2 x 12 transistor combo. Or may be a Music Man combo.
Sam: ‘The Ampeg (it’s sitting across the room as I type) belonged to the Church of Scotland summer mission team when you brought it along, Jim. I also have your fake WEM cab with the original (cracked) Jensen speaker in it. Oh the joys being a hoarder! We used the Ampeg for three instruments at once (guitar, bass, keys) for a while before we (you?) bought the Dan Armstrong amp with the graphic EQ which I think then moved to Ken’.
I eventually bought the Ampeg from the CofS for £50, the same price we were told they’d got it for. I had it refurbished 15+ years ago for £700 – re-covered, new handles, new valves. Somehow the guy doing it in Bradford managed not to give me the original 1962 Ampeg valves back. It’s now got Sylvanias in it but I haven’t used it for years – it doesn’t flatter a 5-string’.
Further highlights included using a cup and teaspoon and match boxes in the final section of ‘Maker Man’.
For the recording we borrowed friends Ever After’s Fender Rhodes but still depended upon Ken’s own Crumar Compac Piano which had three sounds: piano, clavichord and harpsichord. It was bought for £100 second hand. There was no touch sensitivity, but it seemed very exciting at the time. All organ type sounds were played using the piano setting whilst sliding the volume control from 0 (when hitting the key) to the appropriate volume, to avoid the attack at the start of the note.
Ken: ‘I played an Ibanez classical guitar on Maker Man that was bought in 1969. I sold my ‘Smiley Joe’ banjolele to raise money for the transaction.
The cello was a German instrument from around 1890’.
Simon: ‘My mandolin, discovered amid dusty bric-a-brac in the attic of a large rural vicarage which we moved to in the early 1960s, was unusual. We had no idea of its origins, and its curious ‘guitar’ shape (rather than the more usual ‘pear drop’ format) marked it out as rare. From the age of seven, I would strum it – trying to find chord shapes and employ some of the techniques of its sister instrument the violin (which was I learning, but loathed!)’.
It accompanied me to Edinburgh, and in Caedmon, it became an important element of the overall sound. Listening back to some of the early recordings, I’m amazed at the speed with which I managed to churn out tunes.
In the 80s, I took it to Botswana where I worked as a youth worker for two years in a diamond mining town called Jwaneng in the Kalahari desert. It was here on a baking September day that I met Duncan Senyatso, a local musician who became a lifelong friend and collaborator. We would sit for hours in the shade of my house exploring how the mandolin and acoustic guitar could combine their strengths and tonalities to accompany the songs that Duncan was writing. These drew on the mythic depths of the poetry, music, and dance of Botswana. We formed the Kgwanyape Band, and in 1986 recorded the first ever album of local music to be made in Botswana.
On my return to the UK in 1986, I somehow contrived to leave the mandolin in a lift at Heathrow Airport. Realising my oversight, I rushed back to the lift, but it was gone. I never saw it again’.
“One of the main characteristics of the sound was that we mixed electric guitar and bass with acoustic instruments but, importantly, we didn’t have a drum kit: this means more dynamic range and fluidity.”
Please share your recollections of the sessions. What were the influences and inspirations for the songs recorded? What influenced the band’s sound?
The get in / get out was up / down four floors on stone steps, but we were in good physical training as our own flat had the same credentials.
The sessions were relatively fast and efficient because we were recording tried and tested stage material that we had played live for some time.
We think we did write a bit of ‘The Storm’ ‘on the hoof’ and it is an example of us composing as a whole band with all members throwing their ideas into the ring and it all coming together organically. Otherwise we wrote separately but arrangements evolved by improvisation using chord charts, Jim finding riffs, Sam bass lines, Ken cello licks etc.
Instrumentation was determined by the skills within the band and it affected the textures and feel of the band. One of the main characteristics of the sound was that we mixed electric guitar and bass with acoustic instruments but, importantly, we didn’t have a drum kit: this means more dynamic range and fluidity.
Influences were Fairport Convention and Pentangle, but Jim’s love of funk and jazz scales influenced grooves and solos, and we could all sing in harmony providing a folk feel from Steeleye Span, or Americana from the likes of Crosby Stills and Nash. But in many ways The Beatles approach of not being bound by a particular style and celebrating multiple composing gave us the model that shaped our sound.
There’s a fair bit of storytelling in our songs, in the tradition of folk ballad. Song ideas were often from old texts: interpretations from biblical sources (‘Ten Maiden’s Fair’), Celtic history (‘Columba’s’ song e.g.) or translations (‘Caedmon’s Hymn’).
As our lyrics became increasingly obscure, ‘Give me Jesus’, a simple spiritual (and a cover song), became a link to where we had come from musically. It was the usual concert finisher or encore.
Album was released in 1978 as a private pressing. During the pressing, a call from the pressing plant informed the band that they had too much music recorded to fit on a 33rpm 12′ vinyl. A quick decision resulted in 2 tracks being moved across to a 45rpm 7′ single. The album, with its slightly less than commonplace contents, sold for £2.50 to friends and fans.
Where did you press it and how many copies were made?
500 copies were made. The LP sleeve was designed drawn by Ken with text from Sam on the back. This printing job was separate from the pressing plant, an old Edinburgh printers, Blackwells, who arranged the covers, and they were already printed when we got the news that the audio couldn’t be fitted on to the vinyl. Angela wrote and designed the lyrics insert which was sent to the printers after this news, so we were able to put an explanation within the text on that.
When the sleeve arrived the background colour was darker in tone than expected, and there were some covers scratched in the process by the printing machine but the farewell concert was imminent so we accepted the consignment. People who bought the album had to go to The Netherbow to pick up their 7′ single a week or two after the concert. They showed their LP as evidence of the purchase to get the single.
Yes £2.50 was the price. We covered all our costs, or just about.
Would you share your insight on the albums’ tracks?
‘Ten Maidens Fair’ is from a parable. Ken’s song. On most versions you hear ‘en Maidens Fair’ at the start… but this has been repaired on the Guerssen remaster. The harpsichord, mandolin, electric guitar instrumental section defines the Caedmon sound with a classic descending bass line.
‘Maker Man’ by KP. The mystery of where all of nature, the universe and everything comes from … Ken had the sheet music for ‘One Note Samba’ but didn’t have much experience of Latin music and bossanova when he came up with the song. We have fun with the outro, with found objects to make the percussion overdubs.
‘Death of a Fox’. Jim wrote this, based upon the broo haha of a foxhunt with a vixen giving up her life for her young. The folk tune instrumental is at a ridiculous pace, we needed a producer to tell us to do a retake…
‘Sea Song’. Simon wrote this after a sojourn in Berlin between school and university.
‘Aslan’. Simon’s telling of the Narnian tale. Sam’s bass line is extraordinary. The cello and guitar fair crunch along together as well.
‘Beyond the Second Mile’. Sam’s song. Eye for an eye is a fine, but turning the other cheek even better. Best to go ‘beyond the second mile’.
‘Living in the Sunshine’. Jim’s funk influences shine through. A drum kit would have been good here?
‘Storm’. A group composition. Why are you afraid, if you have faith? And the wind ceased…
‘Columba’s Song’. Jim found some some stories about Columbas and was chuffed that the saint had made it over from Ireland to Loch Ness.
‘Smile on your Face’. When Simon was in France he picked up the refrain and then developed it into this affirmation of faith.
‘Caedmon’s Hymn’. Keith, a friend at New College translated Caedmon’s original text from 7C Saxon into modern English. Jim wrote the music. The recorders and drones give a medieval feel.
‘Give me Jesus’. A spiritual. The live set closer.
Was there a certain concept behind the album?
It’s the instrumentation and lead vocals and vocal harmonies that bind the eclectic mix of styles together in what might be called a mash up of psychedelia.
There was no producer directing us towards a particular outcome. We were unsigned with no conditions placed upon what material we chose or how we treated it.
The order of tracks was by mutual agreement, ‘Give me Jesus’ at the the end as the concerts had always been.
We had a number of other songs that might have been included. ‘Ivory Tower’, ‘Sunchild’, ‘London Psalm’ and ‘Worlds and Friends’ were all still being played at gigs (these appear on Caedmon Live. We were an egalitarian lot, we probably agreed upon two songs each plus a couple that couldn’t be left out.
We spent ages creating ‘Going the the Garden’ which is on the Live CD but we only played it a couple of times to an audience, because it did seem quite finished and we couldn’t agree on how to tie off the loose ends, perhaps.
Were you inspired by psychoactive substances like LSD at the time of writing the album?
Jim, Ken and Simon all dabbled in a bit of pipe smoking: associations with ‘granddad in flat cap and muffler’ rather than ‘hippy in Afghan coat’. And it was Mac Barren’s Scottish Mixture, or Dutch Troost that was smoked, nothing stronger, not even cannabis. Lance Stone, who wrote Death Knot (on RARE) was a pipe smoker who commended its sticky, ash filled joys.
We drank little or no alcohol until the last year or so of the bands existence. Ken: ‘I remember eating pizza and drinking red wine in a Bruntsfield Pizerria in 1976, my 21st Birthday (one of the first pizzas I ever had). The pubs used to close at 10pm in Scotland in those days.’
Present day terms: Acid Folk, Prog Folk Rock, Psychedelic Folk, Wyrd Folk are all used on widespread websites to describe Caedmon’s music.
Classification genres are surely made up by collectors and not by musicians. But it is interesting that they find clear criteria to define the sub genres.
Here are some definitions summarised from psychedelicfolk.homestead.com. We suspect that they were all coined some time after the heyday of the folk rock revival of 1965 – 1980.
Psychedelic Folk Music : ‘psychedelic’ as a musical genre is often associated with ‘mind-expanding experiences’, which are absolutely not necessarily drug-experiences. There are musical effects used, to express such an experience. In acoustic music, this could mean a somewhat open tuning and freedom for jamming improvisation, there are casual eastern influences.
Acid Folk: acoustic music that doesn’t reproduce or start from traditional elements… a reinvention of folk, producing a mind-freeing experience.
Folk Rock: typified by Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span… a combination of folk and rock based upon traditional tunes, Folk Music with some electric guitars and drums.
Progressive Folk : when the ‘progressive’ elements are very well worked out in instrumentation, but the basic use of acoustic instruments is still important.
Wyrd Folk: it’s something like acoustic music with an open, intuitive idea, acid folk music with purity, honesty, etc. without that it necessarily has to be psychedelic or completely free.
Caedmon’s music does, in some way, match up to all these different classifications. There was a spiritual dimension to our music.
We never met Stone Angel, Mellow Candle, Vashti Bunyan or the other names which nestle together in histories of Acid Folk and so on.
To be honest we’re only just starting to be aware of them now, after forty years.
So, our band that never knew any of the others, where there was no ‘cross pollination’ in performance or otherwise, can now be parcelled together.
Simon did see an early version of Comus at his school in the early seventies, but he doesn’t quote them as an influence at all.
Listeners have found similar sounding bands through ‘playlist’ culture: an ‘if you like this… then you’ll like this’ approach.
It’s very interesting to try and established why moments in time do produce similar musics even if there was no cross fertilisation of ideas between bands.
The commonalties no doubt arise as a result of the fusion of influences heard on discs at the time of music making, the sounds made on vinyl by major bands with recording contracts.
How pleased was the band with the sound of the album?
Each of us in the band still listens for our own particular mistakes… the notes which we know we could have played better if there had been time and money to hand.
Recording is rarely a completely rewarding experience … ‘cos you nearly always think you could have done better,
It was exciting for us to have our first LP and to have achieved that with our own resources: we booked the studio, found the companies to replicate the music, wrote the music, drew the artwork, sold directly to 500 buyers.
In retrospect the album sound fresh and a good representation of who we were at that time. The tempos on some tracks sound frantic, there’s any amount of energy…
How about your gigs? What are some of the bands you played with?
We didn’t really play alongside many other bands. We were mostly in small venues in Scotland as the only attraction for the evening.
We played regularly in The Mitre, a pub on the Royal Mile and at a number of times at ‘Charisma’ a West End cafe for people off the street in Edinburgh. At Charisma we once played on the same bill as The Water into Wine Band who we thought were very musically proficient. Like us, they were Christians who had a degree of depth and subtlety to their lyrics and arrangements.
David Heavenor was a fellow musician in Edinburgh at the time with whom we collaborated, some times working as a backing band for his singer songwriter set.
We played the Edinburgh Fringe festival for three years using The Netherbow as a base. We had lighting and projection of Gordon Strachan photographs… not Pink Floyd exactly but it broadened our approach.
Angela remembers: ‘It was good fun most of the time. However the down sides were endless church halls, carrying equipment up tenement stairs late an night. Playing at Charisma – ‘is anyone listening?’. But the Fringe was exciting, doing late night shows to full houses’.
And in 1977 we packed up the gear from the last late night concert at the Fringe and set off for Bedfordshire at around midnight in the band’s van Abysilda… we were headed for The Greenbelt Festival (which still runs today). The van had a dynamo/distributor problem so we had a long gruelling, slow, drive. Finally we arrived an hour before our performance, rushed to the stage and then found that our time slot was to be largely eroded by the over-running set from ‘Nutshell’. We when eventually got to play the audience had already moved on to the main stage which was just starting up the afternoon programme.
What happened after the band stopped?
For a year or two Sam and Simon played with Dave Heavenor, Ricki Ross (from Deacon Blue) and others in different scratch-band line-ups e.g. ‘in Cahoots’.
Jim played with Ever After then on a national tour with a new line up of Nutshell. He went to Zimbabwe and moved to Manchester on his return. He explored funk more fully with ‘Bernie Hot Hot’ and other line-ups.
Later Simon and Sam formed Wilde Cigarilos and Fairly Solid Theatre Company. Simon spent time in Botswana where he played high life mandolin with Duncan Senyatso (see above). In the ‘90s they formed Flaming Nora ceilidh band. Simon released an album with Dave Heavenor called Night Visitors.
Sam and Simon are currently in a band called Dave’s New Bike.
Ken: ‘After the 1978 album and leaving Edinburgh I moved to the Northumberland country town of Rothbury to run a tearoom, which became Egon Ronay recommended. I helped run ‘Linden Folk’ a monthly folk club in a pub country house pub. Started by Rod Clements of Lindisfarne and Geoff Heslop of Black Crow Records, the club managed to book internationally known folk singers, largely through a friends network. So with Tony Welbrock, Caedmon’s sound man, I helped set up the room, and sat on the door … and once or twice sang a song there. We got to meet Bert Jansch, Ralph McTell, Maddy Prior, Dave Swarbrick, Danny Thompson, Michael Chapman and many others. I once did a brass arrangement for Rick Kemp of Steel Eye Span when I worked with him in Cumbria College.
And in 1985 I went to a pair of one-off workshops with Grand Union Orchestra where we were taught world tunes completely by ear with no sheet music or chord charts being allowed. It was a Damascas Road experience. I got into improvisation, drumming, and community music in a big way. I soon started the first of a number of community street/steel bands, and up to the present have worked with Welfare State International, Dodgy Clutch Theatre, Theatre sans Frontieres, Folkworks, Amber Films and many other arts organisations, mostly as a performer /composer’. As part of the community music team at The Sage Gateshead music centre I’ve worked alongside Rachel Unthank, Wendy Smith from Prefab Sprout, Nitin Sawney and other ‘names’ in different projects’.
Angela: I didn’t have much contact with Caedmon after our farewells and had no idea the LP was valuable or that CDs had been produced … until my 10 yr old daughter took the LP into school and the head said he’d got the album and it was going for £££. I had never heard of acid folk until 2010.
Simon had arranged with Kissing Spell to rerelease the 1978 album as a CD. And then soon after found enough material for a Live album that they were keen to release. He had been contacted, via The Netherbow, out of the blue. The rest of us weren’t very aware of the developments.
By 2010 people were ringing us up asking if we had any spare vinyl to sell and we understood that we had a following, mostly due to a burgeoning vinyl collectors’ market and the internet that had give niche interest audiences access to sub genres of music.
Also we were upset that English Garden, Acme, and other labels had released our material without any permissions or communication with us. But we did now have an audience who might welcome more material.
As friends the band had always kept in contact, but not musically. But with interest in the band it seemed the right moment to collaborate again.
The time Simon and Sam had spent together in a number of bands meant they were bonded as a rhythm section: Simon playing drum kit, and Sam playing bass. Jim was down in Manchester, Ken in Newcastle and Angela in Birmingham.
Fast forward to 2010 when A Chicken to Hug was released. Would you like to share a few words about it? How was to record together after so many years?
So on the thirtieth anniversary of the farewell concert it was very special for us all to come together and play together over a number of weekends. To write again would give us an opportunity to reflect upon thirty years of experience and we were excited to see what we could come up with.
Ken had set up a studio at the head of the Weardale Valley in Co Durham and gave the four men the chance to meet half way between Manchester and Edinburgh. They spent a number of weekends together.
We had started to feel constrained by the categorisation of Acid or Psych Folk on websites and in in books so we consciously wrote without the notion of reproducing our original sound or a faux psychedelia that was in any way geared to a formula.
‘Elephant in the Chatroom’ and ‘Time Flies’ came from our jams together, proper Caedmon style, where we all pitched in ideas and created something special. The elephant in the room quote came in an e mail from Sam, noting that we hadn’t talked about faith (or the lack of it for some members). ‘We put our faith in what we found’ refrain in ‘Old Kings’ follows on from this, noting that all our mothers and fathers had now passed away and that we’ve now become ‘top of the heap’.
We created a demo album that Ken was keen to release, but Simon, in particular, wanted to spend more time in order to hone the sound.
He suggested a friend called Steve Butler a Scot who had been in ‘Lies Damn Lies’ who had a studio in Ayrshire.
So off we went with songs and arrangements pretty much in hand and recorded for a week from 25 April – 2nd May 2010 with Steve. It was a grand success with Steve taking great care over quality and getting the best out of us.
Recording together felt very natural. Ken now brought new instruments for arrangements: trombone, trumpet, whistle, accordion, ukelin, thumb harp. You’ll notice that the Sam / Simon rhythm section drives the album making it stand apart from earlier material.
But the searing electric guitar, acoustics, mandolin and ‘cello still anchor the Caedmon sound. Angela, who hadn’t sung publicly for thirty years was tentative but overcame nerves to sing well on a number of songs.
The reviews were very good in UNCUT, Terrascope, Shindig, Cross Rhythms and elsewhere. We played two reunion concerts in our old stamping ground ‘The Netherbow’. And a further concert in Caedmon Hall, Gateshead.
For your 40th anniversary, you wrote seven new songs and found unreleased archive material from the ’70s to make the album RARE.
This has been very exciting. Initially we had got together to write ‘Dream of the Rood’ in 2017. Pete Ryder, singer song writer, friend and fan had challenged us to write using this 7C text, once thought to be by Caedmon.
Simon had a new instrument, an octave mandolin, which he brought to France where Ken lives part time. They came up with a middle eastern sounding modal riff which was the basis of the piece.
They decided that the text had legs enough to be told with the adoption of a more conscious prog folk style resulting in an extended eight and a half minute epic.
The other new material came in fits and starts by meeting up for two day recording sessions in Simon’s attic in Edinburgh and internet sharing between Jim and Ken.
‘Go!’, e.g. started as a groove sent as wav files by Jim. Ken then wrote some words and added accordion. Then back in Edinburgh Simon and Sam added bass, mandolin, percussion and other cherries on the icing.
Angela came for some of the meet-ups, her voice featuring as well Simon’s wife Caroline and daughter Sally. We spent a happy pair of days reminiscing with a video camera on a tour of old haunts in Edinburgh. These are available as mini documentaries on ‘caedmon’s Return’ You Tube channel.
We’ve had cassettes of the 1975 studio session for years, but none of the versions had enough quality to remaster. David Heavenor tracked down the original 1/4′ tape from The Netherbow and Ken remastered a digitisation of the tape. It was recorded in mono in a small broadcasting studio never intended for music. But we were surprised at how fresh it sounds in the remaster.
At the same time we found a live recording from ’78 of a concert in Haddington church. Unfortunately much of the tape has bad hum and other problems. But we managed to shape up ‘Now the Green Blade Rises’ from that tape.
‘RARE’ the title track directly refers to the Caedmon 1978 album story, in metaphor. We hear that many famous artist’s guitars get sold at auction and are put in bank vaults as investments. Presumably not with old vinyl grails.
‘Sky Song’ was written by Ken as a song parallel in style and feel to ‘Sea Song’, reflecting upon life’s continuing journey through the eyes of a migrating goose.
Looking back, what was the highlight of your time in the band? Which songs are you most proud of? Where and when was your most memorable gig?
The Edinburgh Fringe gigs were always a time of writing and full audiences at The Netherbow.
And a follow up highlight was playing in the Netherbow in 2010. We saw lots of old friends. There was a great energy in the space and we pulled it off to a greater or lesser extent. A few new fans from the Acid Folk scene comes as well, one all the way from USA.
Ken: The song I’m most proud of mine is ‘Childless’ which is on the A Chicken to Hug album. Some songs you have to get off your chest and ‘Childless’ was hard to write but important. It’s also one of the first recordings when I’ve been happy with my own voice.
We were all very proud of Simon’s ‘Sea Song’ when it reached 200,000 hits on YouTube. It’s the name’s most popular song. The first two notes of Jim’s introduction on guitar was the call to Tim Buckley’s echo on the studio version of ‘Hallelujah’… but Jim came first.
Are you excited about the recent Guerssen reissue? They did 24–bit remastering from the original master tapes…
It was weird that Guerssen contacted us just as we were planning to release RARE on vinyl ourselves. We jumped at the opportunity.
They’ve been very professional about consulting us at every stage of the rerelease. It’s fun for us to be on coloured vinyl as well.
The sound is definitely very good, better than the original.
It feels grand to be allied to a record label known for care in presentation. It almost feels like we’ve been signed. It’s also exciting to hear that the sales are going well. Their distribution skills mean that A Chicken to Hug CD and RARE vinyl are out there as well.
Is there any unreleased material by Caedmon?
We’re getting together in March to write new songs so there will be new material.
May be a concept album would be fun?
We’ll try an remaster the Live CD and include a few new surprises.
Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.
Our friendship binds a group of five string personalities and tastes together. Since the first phone calls, worldwide, from individuals asking if we have any old albums in the cupboard, we’ve been bemused by the silly prices and the fervour fans have for the vinyl. But it was good to feel valued enough to bring the band back together and write again.
The story of that 1978 album has kept A Chicken to Hug in the shadows. We didn’t sort out a distributor and sales have been slow.
Listeners are reluctant to sample new material. And all old musicians are saddened that what they have to say now is treated with less value than that for the stuff they wrote when then were very young.
But now with distribution from Guerssen there are signs that with exposure through playlists on streaming sites people are starting to tune in to how good both RARE and A Chicken to Hug are and more people can access the ‘Grail’.
– Klemen Breznikar
Caedmon – Caedmon (Self-released, 1978; reissue on Guerssen/2020)
Caedmon Official Website