Contemporaries of Pentangle and Fairport Convention, the group is now the subject of a lovingly curated box set reissue.
David Costa’s home sits almost equidistant between Stonehenge and Glastonbury in England’s Somerset county. For the 73-year-old graphic designer, who helped create the cover art for Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Queen’s A Night at the Opera, it’s the perfect location to wait out the pandemic, and to contemplate retirement. His home’s locale is also, as he says with a knowing laugh, “pretty apt” when it comes time to field a Skype call about his days as guitarist in Trees, the acid-folk quintet that bloomed for a brief four years in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
The group was one of many British artists in that era who were fusing the traditional folk music of their home country with the psychedelic rock that was being baked to perfection on the West Coast of the United States. Like Costa’s home, the music of Trees stood at the musical midway point between England’s mystical, pagan past and the electric sounds celebrated at Glastonbury.
Though Trees were part of a scene that included luminaries like Fairport Convention, Pentangle, and the Incredible String Band, their two lush, incandescent albums—1970’s The Garden of Jane Delawney and 1971’s On The Shore—never achieved widespread acclaim. In the five decades since their inception, the group’s legacy has been kept alive through the efforts of dedicated fans like Danger Mouse, who built the title track for Gnarls Barkley’s St. Elsewhere on a sample of Trees’ version of the traditional ballad “Geordie.” Other artists, like modern folk musician Sally Anne Morgan stumbled upon the band after a night spent going down a YouTube wormhole. Continue reading →
The English Folk Dance and Song Society headquarters in London, otherwise known as Cecil Sharp House, became a Mecca in the late 1960s to young musicians and singers. Different than those who flocked the place in previous decades, they were armed with electric guitars and smoked rolled cigarettes that smelled funny. Like their predecessors they mined the vast library of traditional folk songs that passed unrecorded through generations of singers for nuggets of melodies and harmonies to make their own.
Fairport Convention, mavericks of the style known as folk rock, did just that and in 1969 released two of the genre’s most celebrated albums, Unhalfbricking and Liege and Lief. The following year another band followed the same pattern and released two wonderful albums that put a new spin on traditional folk songs.
They were much less successful commercially and short lived as a result, but their albums survived the test of time very well. This is the story of Trees, who in 1970 released two albums, the second of which – On The Shore, is a true classic [ . . . ]
When Alex Neilson was a teenager in Leeds, his musical comfort zone was in the city’s DIY scene – specifically its more improv-based, experimental noise corners. To the young man sporting homemade t-shirts of the free jazz pioneer Albert Ayler, the idea of folk music, with its austerity and cosy certainties, was not on the agenda. Until Neilson had an epiphany.“
There was a bunch of progressive weirdos doing skull splitting drone music that really helped forge/warp my tastes” Neilson told me, “Around a similar time I came across traditional British folk music and that became an alternative way of experiencing British culture- one that was romantic and elemental and connected to the underlying mystery of places that were very precious to me.”
For the last decade now, Neilson’s group Trembling Bells have been quietly reinventing what it means to be influenced by folk music, and as they release their sixth record ‘Dungeness’, it’s clear that Trembling Bells have now found themselves amidst a small blossoming resurgence in the aesthetics and ideas of the acid folk moment of the late 60s and early 70s.The acid folk moment was the point at which traditional British folk music, which had been thriving in the hundreds of folk clubs across Britain in the late 50s and 60s, rubbed up against the mid-60s burgeoning psychedelia (and in some cases jazz). This spawned some of the most incredible British music of its generation, in unique acts like Pentangle, the Incredible String Band, Mellow Candle, Trees and early Fairport Convention. Continue reading →