Me and my friend Tim drove up to Wysall the day after Trump was elected. We commiserated with councillor Sam Stephens in the Plough.
Sam was there to give me a DVD of cine film from 1969 to 1971. Two sisters known only as the Miss Evans took the film in the village. The films had been found in a house clearance after the two sisters had passed. It had taken him a few days to track down the only DVD copy in the village so I suggested he best back it up.
After watching the DVD I showed it to Julia who remembered the Miss Evans and she talked to me about the village at that time with her small dog on her lap.
The film showed the last day of the village school before it closed. We watched the children dance in the playground and Julia told me all about Mrs Kettle, the teacher.
I’m grateful to be travelling with friends. I am taking Bill and David to their first Thankful Village. Meldon is the most northerly of the Thankful Villages and one of the smallest.
‘I’m not sure why it’s called a village’ says the landowner who finds us noodling around his silos. Crows squawk overhead and his long eared dog licks our faces and microphones.
The theme of the school house will come to thread it’s way through Volume 3 of Thankful Villages and here we hear it’s first mention. It’s strange to imagine a school for so few houses and this idea of a remote place of learning stays with me.
David leads us into a soft fluttering melody and we leave for lunch.
Photographs by Chris Trew and Sarah Barnaby
I visit Ousby whilst playing live shows for the first Thankful Villages album with British Sea Power. It’s odd to be moving into the last phase of the project whilst unveiling it’s beginning to people.
I stay just outside the village and visit it twice. There’s an open caravan park and a closed pub called the Fox. I find a small wooden shelter with a weather vane on top and fight against the wind.
A horse stares at me, a dog barks at me, another horse draws a carriage across the top of the green. The pub, church and community hall all look a little forlorn but the green is clean and neat with new playground equipment.
I shouldn’t play with my phone in these remote places but the garbled news gradually reaches me of a tragedy. It is the day that Jo Cox was murdered, Brexit was looming.
It’s nearly spring but there are still the tiniest scraps of snow in Bigby. I arrive in the evening just as night started to fall. I return again at 5:30 am the next day to be there for the break of dawn.
I only see Bigby in the half-light. I only see Bigby when my eyes are heavy with tiredness.
I wrote a tune in between my two visits in a nearby bed and breakfast. I think of light snow and black night.
I record Bigby with the oldest and newest technology. I leave an iPad in the graveyard taking time-lapse photos of the sun rising behind the church whilst I fumble with 120 film in an old plastic Diana camera. The film pops out and I lose photographs.
Bigby is old and new too with trim new-builds hidden behind the old houses. My photos are muted and ghostly when developed.
Coln Rogers is another village on a river. The river Coln, in fact runs into the Thames. I could build a raft and let it carry me home. I was heading home in any case.
It was early spring and Coln Rogers fluttered glowed in the sunlight. There were daffodils everywhere. It was late afternoon, when the sunlight changes quickly. I set up cameras on time lapse to capture the moving shadows. I used a sample app and set up random looped lengths so the stringed instruments fluttered and collided in random ways.
I painted the tree line. I painted a telegraph pole. Volume 2 has seen me meet far more people than Volume 1, but here I was, alone again. A villager walked up and down the main street and called on neighbours. She said hello and looked at my paintings, then left me alone again.
(Yes we have gone slightly out of order on this one, we will pick up where we left off on the next one)
Three planes crashed above Woodend in World War 2. Two came down but one still flew. I’m trying to imagine how three planes can crash in the air. In 2010 archaeologists found one of the pilots’ bracelets. A simple shrine and information panel over looks an empty field.
Woodend is all gables and gravel drives. The Methodist Chapel is a now a house as they so often are. There is a neat row of green recycle bins outside a line of post war houses. One has a huge ‘Help for Heroes’ flag in its garden.
Spring has just come to Woodend and Snowdrops, Daffodils and Hyacinths decorate the grass verges. I hide in a concrete bus shelter and collected together all the notes I had for Woodend. I strung them together and a made a list song.
Woodend had it’s arms around me.
I love Fairport Convention. I love all of the different line ups of Fairport Convention. I love their strange and compelling first album with Judy Dyble singing. I love Judy Dyble and her following albums with Giles, Giles and Fripp and Trader Horne. I always wish she’d made more albums.
Judy agreed to go with me to Upper Slaughter, not far from where she lived. We took Molly, her greyhound, with us. It was a pleasure to have someone else to break the ice in the village. Judy understood the project immediately. We had only been in the village five minutes before Judy had started talking to a stranger and got us invited to the village soup afternoon.
We ate delicious soup underneath group pictures of the village. Judy and Molly charmed the locals. Talk was of the plight of the village. Upper Slaughter has an older population and a high proportion of holiday homes. We left a donation and sat by the River Eye.
I recorded Judy strumming chords on her auto-harp and drew a picture of Molly.
Later when I got home I constructed Judy’s chords into a tune whilst Judy wrote lyrics at hers.
If the accidental theme of Thankful Villages Vol 1 was the church then the theme of Volume 2 has been the river. The river has slowly woven its way through the songs and it snaked its way into Judy’s beautiful lyrics too.
Every New Year’s Day, the village of Colwinston plays the game of Collyball, a sport where swedes are rolled down the hill. The furthest wins. The scant information to be found online might mislead you into thinking it was a centuries-old tradition, but it was in fact made up in recent years for something to do, Alun Austin tells me. Swedes are used in place of the more name-appropriate cauliflowers.
Alun has a booming baritone voice and seems to be the guiding hand of the village. In the morning at the annual football match he distributes sherry. He leads the villagers from the field to the Sycamore Tree pub for lunch, he gathers them for the game of Collyball and then organises the ‘decorate the swede’ competition.
I’m not sure that I’ve visited a closer-knit community than Colwinston. The pub is crowded and laughing for the whole day. They seem to share a genuinely funny and offbeat sense of humour. The silly events raise money for charity and I am shown certificates and plaques. Colwinston has arranged it’s own cinema night in the village hall and has a philosophical society that meets regularly in the Sycamore.
During the game of Collyball one man grabs my arm and stares at me intently and says ‘We are very, very, very thankful!’ before bursting into laughter.
A new housing development is being built on what locals believe to be flood plain and they fight the development fiercely.
We leave before the Swede decorating competition and I record a colourful set of chimes in a playground next to a friendship bench.
Colwinston is the happiest of the blessed villages.
The vicar in Arkholme seemed a little over protective. He said he didn’t think the villagers would want to talk to me.
I looked elsewhere and found a folk song about the death of eight men on the river Lune. It seemed to echo the story in Cromwell. Rivers are powerful beasts.
I meet Gerald Lees in the Bay Horse, we talk by a crackling fire. Gerry has written a book about the Lancashire Thankful Villages called ‘Thankful and not so Thankful.’ He is full of details about the wars and we find a connection between my folk song and two soldiers who lived in the Ferryman’s cottage. You can hear him at the end of this recording.
That evening I went to the village bonfire night. Despite the vicar’s reservations the villagers were warm and friendly. I filmed the community at play and made a short film for their website.
I thought about the warmth of home fires and the coldness of rivers and rain. A finished a song of two halves back in the B and B.
Arkholme started off cold but soon got warm.
I saw Rob St John do a talk on underwater sound recording and his beautiful album ‘Surface Tension’.
I invited him to come with me to Nether Kellet in Lancashire. The rain was pouring down. We meet at the edge of the large green triangle in the village’s centre. A peace stone in the middle of the green marks the end of the Second World War.
Rob records with binaural microphones. They sit in his ears. As he records he looks like he is concentrating very hard. It continues to rain hard, but Rob likes the sound.
We climb muddy banks and stone walls. We record amongst farm machinery and and wind turbines. Rob is drawn to water. He records drains and gutters.
The clouds part and the sun comes out. We heard the sound of the village change, birds twittered, cattle moaned, doors opened and people came out. We recorded the twang of barbed wire fences and the outflow pipe at a nearby quarry. Then we went for soup.
I went off to Arkholme but returned to Nether Kellet that night. The Limeburners Arms was open. It was a small, antiquated pub and amongst the pictures on the wall was a photo of the woman’s football team during the war. I drank and listened to the locals talking and laughing.
Me and Rob batted the recordings between Lancashire and London. We arranged the sounds of a village waking up.