Thursday 23 July 2009

Wet Welsh Weddings

SINCE YOU LAST SAW US parked in East Anglia, our house has made its longest leap so far (apart from the initial flight south from Scotland). We wended our way west across the country a couple of weeks ago now, taking a few days about it and stopping with friends en route. In Cambridge we loitered to see the Folk Museum and a lovely Swedish film, as well as desperately seeking out some Chinese Medicine for a nasty neck-crick of mine which wouldn't go away. Then onwards we drove, noticing the landscape changing subtly. Into Bedfordshire we took our Bedford, and stayed a happy couple of nights in the orchard of friends where their two year old twins ran about clothless in the withering heatwave, and we helped add an undercoat of paint to their house-lorry in the making. They took us to an Emmaus Centre for cake and second-hand rifling, where we found a bike for £20 that now resides on the roofrack, has since been painted olive green with matte emulsion and can take us from parkups to towns that are just a little too far away to walk to. Overnighting by a lake (above), we drove the next day via Ikea to restock our picture frame reserves, and onward into Oxfordshire. Each county we have noticed is just a little different from the last. You cannot always put your finger on the reason, they are all most definitely England, but also unique in their county character. From the flats of East Anglia we were gradually encountering hillier roads, the further westward we drove. The maximum speed of our truck-house hovers around 50mph, and this plummets to about 30mph if there's a slight incline. So on motorways we are hooted as impatient drivers zoom around us and even slow moving vehicles have to overtake. We prefer to wiggle down medium sized roads, at our own pace, and so that the old engine is not screeching so loud that we can't converse. As the map reader I take us on occasion down a road that looks small and picturesque on the map only to find that we are squeezing the hulking house down a single track road with low hanging branches swiping at our chimney and no idea of what claustrophobic peril might be round the corner.

In Oxfordshire we were surprised by a rare sight on the roadside verge as we whizzed past - another Bedford TK house! Parked with a tipi beside, and a man reclining in a deck chair, talking on the phone! We honked and waved but he did not look up.
And then, since we were passing right by her neck of the woods, we pulled into a layby for a cup of tea with my friend Gretel (who many of you may know already in blogland through her brilliant illustration and felt toy sculpture work). Braving the dreadful heat, Gretel and Andy zoomed out on their motorbike to find us. It was a delightful visit, which Gretel told of here.

We were keen to make it to Wales the next day so we plodded on and made it as far as just past Ross-on-Wye where we drove around a fair bit, at the tired end of the day, remembering that frustrating feeling trying to find a suitable place to park overnight that wouldn't be too near the traffic (it's noisy and large passing vehicles rock the truck in their wind-wakes), or bother anyone else living nearby. Eventually we hunkered down at Winter's Cross, knowing we only had a short last leg to go the next day.

We were loving seeing Welsh hills from our windows and following bilingual road signs. The house was even slower up and down the hills, and the air was thankfully cooling.
Do you remember back when we were parked by the sea in Kent? And kind Maria who brought us food and flowers and offered us her sister's address in Wales? Well that is where we are now, parked on the land of kind Mo, sister of kind Maria, next to her rather unusual gypsyish wagon. We overlook a river where we have spent happy hours, and are surrounded by the misty Brecon Beacons.

Not that we have had any chance to go up into them, because since we arrived it has rained every day. Westerly wild weather. Wet winds, weather that reminds us of those endless rainy days in Scotland. Tui has been fighting an ongoing battle with leaks. Armed with his silicone sealant gun, he is daily clambering about on the roof and walls to find and fill the sneaky little cracks that seem to let torrents in. The beauty of an old wooden house vehicle has the downside that the wood moves and swells and shrinks with the heat and damp and even a tiny chink beside a screw can let enough correctly angled rain in to soak through my entire clothes cupboard.
The river below us has been a delight, we have pottered about in it and I even swam an invigorating swim amongst the rocks and green slime in the icy icy water. One night we left our mats in a rushing bit, weighed down by river rocks til the morning, where we found them washed (fairly) clean and harbouring little clinging pincered things.

Another night we had a fire on the flat rock beside the water, which was lovely. Woodsmoke drifted along with the water to wherever it was in such a hurry to go. Out to sea?
There are horses all around us here. This group we met in the field beyond the river, and friendlier horses I've not met. One black fellow with the softest of wrinkly noses became my friend for an hour, and the horses all stood in a kind of horse-trance, gazing into the mid-distance, one hind leg cocked slightly, thinking maybe thoughts of hay and who-knows-what.

The next day we heard shouting from the field which we think was the farmer cajoling the horses into transport for market. We never saw them again.

Tui did manage to get just inches from one horse's eye, since they were so comfortable with us there, and took this exquisite photograph.

And inbetween all the Welsh raindrops I have been busily painting a clock to celebrate the marriage of my younger-yet-6'4"-tall brother Jan to his lovely lady Maria. We travelled by train to the wedding, to see the dear pair make their vows, which were sincere and moving. A beautiful couple they are and right now off in the Pacifics on honeymoon...

The clock is them but not a portrait, riding a tandem of two clocks, one that moves forwards, and one in reverse. They carry a basket each containing things they love to do. Jan is a wizard of mechanical trickery and could easily build a real-life bike powered clock if he wished. Maria is a keen finder of antique things and a crafter of wool and wonder. May they be ever happy on their tandem.

Here too is another thing I gave them, a little cardboard heart box painted by me with treeish things, the day of they marriage and words: Of Leaf And Tree May Your Love Be. Inside was berries from the hornbeam trees in the road where we grew up.

If you look closely at the clock painting, you'll see that the happy cycling couple have mouse tails poking beneath their garments, just to add an edge of Rima-oddness!
We're off tomorrow to the Big Green Gathering and so we had to return from London to wet Wales. We came back to find all in order, the truck having been well watched over by Mo. Though in the food cupboard, the cheese and the chocolate had dear little rodent tooth marks in the corners. Who could have been sneaking up through the clutch pedal holes I wonder?...

Tuesday 7 July 2009

The One Two Bird And The Half Horse

SOMEWHERE INSIDE the beginnings of a leaf in a forest far away from things, lays cocooned a memory of a song not yet born. If you lean a gentle ear close enough, you might hear her name spoken. Orla Wren is a dream child, a smile before sleep, an old lullaby, an ache in the space between. And my Tui knows Orla Wren best of all.

I have waited a long while to tell you about his incredible creation, this work that has taken him in and out of quite some years, and now I can. The One Two Bird And The Half Horse is here.
I have watched over two years as these most intricate of outpourings grew. As Tui made and remade these twelve beautiful sound sculptures with infinite care, I learnt that his craft is like mine, but the hairs of his paintbrushes are the most delicate of violin notes, and his paint is birdsong, netted from the bedroom window at dawn. I have never known anyone so heartfelt about the work he does. And it is this heart-feeling that he weaves amongst the melodies he makes with many strange and wonderful instruments. There are zithers and whistles and bells and fiddles and erhus and Uzbek changs and fence-twangs and melodicas and accordions and beautiful voices from Georgia and Japan and France and Scotland and birds and clarinets and cellos and creaky chairs and sewing machines and flugel horns and Tibetan singing bowls and pianos and music boxes and children's songs. And all of these are taken like threads on a laptop-loom and woven, with a quite extraordinary ear for detail together.

Tui is often asked what kind of music he makes, and this is an almost impossible question to answer. For him nature is his cello string, whether it be to record the rain on the tin roof of an abandoned house, or place a microphone close by the pebbles shifting at the sea's edge. Together with these collected voices of wild instruments he weaves into a precisely chosen part of the tapestry small lines of melody, sometimes played by him, and sometimes imagined by him but sung in imaginary words by others. And then he listens, sometimes for days, inside the womb of the music, until he hears more chinks in the warp and weft, where he gently places a harmony made from electronically altered footsteps or the rustlings of something that could be moth wings. And then maybe he takes a whistle and plays just two more notes, long and barely there, and lays them, repeated like a playground song, two octaves away from where they started and bouncing from ear to ear, like a blanket over the whole music as if to tuck it into bed for the night.

The One Two Bird and The Half Horse is Tui's second album, and in his sphere (seemingly named "folktronica") Orla Wren is quietly rather successful. This beautiful work has received some eloquent and deserved praise already (a few here below), though it has only just been released, on the Japanese Flau label. I am enormously proud.


It distils sublime wood smoke folk atmosphere and pointallist digitalis to the subatomic level, until it becomes effectively the same stuff that makes brooks babble and winds whisper. ~David Sheppard

A dream I would like to return to... ~Ben Eshmade

...these porcelain pirouettes are possessed and woven of a beautifully demurred tapestry that‘s all at once untamed and pure, not so much primitive but rather more natural, the melodies appear like daydreaming serenades, barely there, as though like flickering apparitions caught from the corner of the eye, willowy and fragile, partly hazy and blurred seemingly just out of focus, their free spirited timbres idyllically teased with an unreal arresting tenderness as they sway murmuring like woodland opines caught adrift upon a delicate breeze... ~The Sunday Experience vu de la petite fille crayonnée qui sert de pochette, et à entendre la voix fébrile, haut perché, qui s’échappe des morceaux, vous allez penser qu’Orla Wren est une fragile petite fée, qui dépose ses disques discrètement sur le rebord de nos fenêtres... ~Delicious Scopitone

Les pattes craquantes des insectes s’occupent des percussions, tandis que les toiles d’araignées se tendent dans le vent pour vibrer doucement, harpes minuscules. ~Delicious Scopitone

... achingly lovely ... ~Boomkat


I have been enormously privileged to see inside the making of such unique music.
And even more so to have my scratchy pencil drawings adorn the album sleeve, my flute and clarinet and accordion meanderings to be mixed into the music and be asked to tell an animated story around one of the tracks.
For many months I sat crouched in our Scottish attic moving tiny pieces of paper underneath a camera to tell the pencil-drawn tale of The Fish and The Doll. And here it is at long last.

There is another film on the album too... made by Tui from little snippets of film of my family and me when I was just five. These he has made black and white and layered with old photographs, and exploiting my Dad's original wobbly video camera technique, he has created a glimpsed evocation of childhood, half remembered, and half longed-for. The First Born Daughter of Water.

Both of these films are for tracks featuring the amazing vocals of Georgia born Russudan Meipariani. We do hope you like them.

Tui sees the world in a very beautiful way. Like me he always notices the outsider, the one who is innocent or old, who has known madness or has lines of sad experience etched around her eyes. Those who long to hold hands with these folk will hear what Tui is trying to say in his music. Orla Wren is for these people and about these people, and if you are one of them it is for you.
These songs are fragments of a yearning with no name. They will evoke in you a childhood, down amongst the grass blades, where it was once possible to find sunlight floating in a puddle and make stories for all tomorrow's mayflies.
The songs' names are as beautiful as their sounds, and you must listen to them alone, sitting by a tree or at the edge of a hill. Put the music right into your ears so that you can hear every lilt and scuttle, so that you can find that place in you where your tears began.

Here are some places where Orla Wren can be found...
orla wren on myspace
orla wren at flau
You can buy the album from cargo records here
sideways through sound (A psychedelic reverie of a radio station half way round the world who made The One Two Bird And The Half Horse the featured album on the show a few weeks ago.)
orla wren blog
orla wren at expanding records (the home of his acclaimed debut album Butterfly Wings Make)
& on street corners and village greens of Europe playing wonkily handmade instruments alongside my yet-to-be-made puppet theatre...

The lovely delicate photographs of frosty leaf, downy seed-head, foggy trees and moth-cocoon are Tui's too :)