Saturday, June 8, 2019


As in they coulda/woulda/shoulda, Trees were the band Fairport Convention could have been if Dave Swarbrick hadn't been knocking about, a heady infusion of psychedelia and trad.arr. Contrary to current accepted dogma, Fairport weren't the sole progenitors of ye olde folke-rocke, merely the ones who took it first and foremost into their entire modus operandi, for 'Liege and Lief', having really only dipped their toes in and out before, gradually mingling elements of a folk tradition into their initially more american singer-songwriter palette. Trees were arguably ahead of them at that moment, with a potent stew of their own songs, a mix of meandering guitar based whimsies and folk club standards, applied with the same patchouli scented rhythmic brush. Plus, without a fiddle, they could resist the temptation of a jig and reel based sensibility, which would later give the genre a bad name. There was a slew of similar bands, vying for attention alongside, most, too, cast to the ranks of also-rans. I'm thinking Comus, Dando Shaft, Mellow Candle and Tea and Symphony. (Deliberate non-mention of Dr Strangely Strange and the Incredible String Band, each worthy of pieces of their own.)

The Garden of Jane Delawney

                                                            She Moves Through the Fair
                                          Both from 'The Garden of Jane Delawney', 1970

Coming together in 1969, a collection of friends and acquaintances, loosely related to the UK University of East Anglia. A 5 piece of 2 guitars, one each of acoustic and searing electric, bass and drums, vocals were provided by Celia Humphris, the friend of a friend, who was auditioned predominantly as none were otherwise strong enough in that department. Here's a pretty good interview with Humphris. (Don't panic, the translated article follows directly the italian!). Record companies were eagerly recruiting in these days, and multi-record deals were plentiful to any possible contenders, so, within months, the relatively inexperienced ensemble were signed to CBS. Whilst they perhaps failed to deliver the promise on the front of success, the critics loved 'em and the plaudits were plentiful. As so often the way, radio DJ John Peel played no small part in bringing their name into the open, citing that he wished he could devote a whole show to their music. But fame wasn't beckoning, good reviews failing to translate into sales, and so, after two records, they folded, a lifespan of barely 3 years. A 2nd version launched briefly, this time adding the by now de rigeur fiddle, although Humphris was the sole remaining original member.


Polly on the Shore
Both from 'On the Shore', 1971

Remarkably for a band of it's time, there have been, as yet, no re-unions, no reformations, possibly adding to the mystique. Performances have occasionally been mooted, without ever quite taking off. But the recordings have remained in print, slowly and steadily selling, buoyed by re-issues and helped by the odd stroke of luck: of all bands, Gnarls Barkley, maverick soul/electronica duo, sampled their song, 'Geordie', on the song 'St Elsewhere', the opening and title track of their 2006 debut.

                                               Tom of Bedlam: 'Trees Live', 1973 (later line-up)

I would say the time period 1968 - 1972 was as fertile a period in music as any before or since. The fact that it coincided with my formative years was a wonderful stroke of luck, if perhaps explaining my opinion. And whilst I have loved music since that time and discovered music from before, if not necessarily to the actual recordings, it is often to the musicians who then first paid their dues that I most frequently return.

Take a walk through the Trees.

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