Almanac is the third album by Emily Barker and The Red Clay Halo band. The album is soon to be given a full nationwide release on 17th October 2011 on Emily's own label, Everyone Sang. All 11 songs are self-penned and the album was produced by Emily and Ted Barnes (Beth Orton/ Clayhill).
Almanac is the second of Emily's albums to yield the theme for a major television drama. First, the track 'Nostalgia' from 2008's Despite The Snow, was selected as the theme to the BBC one series of Wallander and went on to win BAFTA and Television Awards. This was followed by the mesmerising 'Pause', which was used for the BBC 2 series The Shadow Line, broadcast in May and June 2011 (and starring Christopher Eccleston, Stephen Rea and Rafe Spall among an extraordinary cast).
Hailing from Bridgetown, Western Australia, Emily Barker is proving herself to be a compelling songwriter with a gift for weaving melody and words. Her talent is perfectly complemented by the magnificent arrangements of her band The Red Clay Halo, whose rootsy ensemble playing underpins Barker’s agile vocal blend of strength and fragility. The Red Clay Halo band consists of Gill Sandell (accordion, flute, piano), Jo Silverston (cello, banjo,musical saw) and Anna Jenkins (violin).
Together, these women have not only toured the UK and internationally but have also recorded three distinctive albums. The first was Photos.Fires.Fables. (2007) - an eclectic tapestry of old-time narratives weaving gothic stories of fire, tragedy, love and hard lessons…
‘sharply observed, original songs …adventurously embellished by gypsy flourishes and haunting desert echoes that’d be at home on a Calexico album’ – Uncut
“This is a gorgeous, sincere voice that grabs you and won’t let go” - The Sun
Followed by Despite The Snow (2008) - recorded in just 4 days over a snowy Easter weekend in Norfolk. Critically acclaimed in the UK and Australian music press, its opening track ‘Nostalgia’ became the theme tune to BBC One drama Wallander starring British actor Kenneth Branagh.
“Stripped free of studio frippery and all the better for its carefree simplicity” **** - Q Magazine
"The hills have yet to be emptied of gold if you know where to look.” - The Times
February 2011 saw the intial release of Almanac to radio, immediately attracting strong support from the BBC with sessions for Cerys Matthews on 6 Music and Radio 4’s Loose Ends. The single Little Deaths, was picked as record of the week on Nemone’s 6 Music show. A stream of sold-out UK tour dates followed, culminating in a rapturously received show at London’s St Giles-In-The-Fields church at which Almanac was performed in its entirety.
“This is a dream of a record. A new Marling, then? No, Barker offers something else..." - BBC Music editor’s choice Feb 2011
The band's albums are released in the same independent and imaginative spirit with which Emily and her band approach their song making. They are entirely self-financed and released on Emily’s own imprint Everyone Sang, with Almanac being jointly funded by spareroom.co.uk and a pledgemusic.com fan-funded campaign.
Emily’s notes on Almanac songs :
This was one of the first of a batch of new songs that I bought to The Red Clay Halo and I remember the four of us arranging it in the shed out the back of Jo’s house in Peckham on a beautiful summer’s day. The sound fitted the setting well but for all its apparent lightheartedness, the lyrics speak of a darker subject: the end of a relationship. We noted the interplay of light and dark and it remained a feature for the arrangements and production of Almanac.
Is set on the southern Cornish coastline near Gorran Haven. It's about beginnings and endings, taking risks, breathing in sea air and standing on cliffs.
The instrument and vocal parts that we wrote to accompany this song were the most challenging we’d done (sort of like rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time), so when we got to separate our playing and singing in the studio, we found our instrumental parts took on a new identity.
We also enjoyed the giggling guest appearance of Ben Eshmade on flugel and French horns.
The first thing we arranged for this song was the harmonies. It marked a new sound for us as we’d not previously all sang together. 4-part harmonies subsequently became a feature of Almanac. The song is a month by month account of a relationship breaking down and all the emotions and states of mind that go with this.
This song is about the death of plans and dreams, their letting go and a wish to be filled with inspiration, creativity and light.
This was the first song we recorded as we had an earlier deadline due to it being the first single. It was great to finally lay down the new sound- the addition of drums by Nat Butler, double bass by Ali Friend and a cracking electric guitar part by Ted Barnes added to the quartet really took the music in a new direction, the one I’d hoped for.
The beautiful guitar part and vocal melody of this song are written by Ted Barnes. I wrote most of the lyrics when walking over Waterloo bridge feeling oppressed by city living and the relentless pace of London. Looking out at the Thames and longing for the open sea, somewhere with a clear horizon.
I wrote this song when back in Bridgetown (South West of Western Australia) in my childhood home. I could hear my parents in the background pottering around the farm. It's a song about exhaustion, a longing to slow down and the importance of taking time out to be with loved ones. It's also about the depth of love you can feel for someone.
We had an incredible time recording this one for the pipe organ part was done in the Royal Festival Hall! We had just two hours in which to set up the recording equipment, sound check, write a pipe organ part and record it. Oh, and by the way, Gill was our designated piper organist and had never played the instrument before! To make matters even more challenging Gill got stuck on a train and ended up doing all the above in just 4o minutes. Pretty remarkable hey.
This is a song about politics on a personal level and also on a larger scale. It realises that every action we make has a consequence that resonates not only in our immediate vicinity but across seas to other parts of the world. For instance what we consume and how we consume it. It's also about the importance of community and localisation as opposed to globalisation.
This song was inspired by Primo Levi's poem 'Almanac' which is an apocalyptic glimpse into the future of the earth if we don't take care of it. It was written in the 70's and I was struck by the profound relevance it has today. So I wrote 'Calendar' which is an update on this theme about respecting our home on earth and doing what we can to look after it instead of taking with no foresight.
The addition of Liz Jones’ trumpet and Ted’s mandolin over Anna’s playful violin part is perhaps the most uplifting moment we’ve ever created.
Light is about finding someone at a time least expected and falling head over heels for them. So light coming from darkness.
This song was incredible to listen to as it grew with the tracking of each instrument. The part when the drums start rolling and then land on the chorus with everyone in together never failed to put a smile on our faces or a tear in our eyes during all those hours of listening in the basement at Café Studios, Bow.
Witch of Pittenweem
This is a true story about a woman called Janet Cornfoot who was accused of being a witch after a local fisherman had a dream that she killed him. For this she suffered a brutal jail sentence and on escaping the prison, a local mob stoned her to death- all because of one man's dream and the mass hysteria at the time regarding witch-hunts. I was appalled to discover this was quite commonplace at the times and felt the story must be told.
We asked Dom Coyote to come in and sing the male character on this song. He sang with all the gusto and pizzazz you’d expect a theatre man of his caliber to and I think it was done in the first take!
At University in Perth, Western Australia, I did an Indigenous Studies unit for a semester that was run and taught by Indigenous Australians. I was completely shocked by what I learnt there. Much of the true history of how Australia was 'settled' has been entirely swept under the rug, buried beneath statues of revered pioneers. My song 'Bones' talks about the untold atrocities committed by settlers on Indigenous Australians during colonisation. The idea that Australians are walking around on aboriginal bones that lie underneath our roads and farmland. There are no graves for them but instead, statues of men responsible for their demise.
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