Fancy a bit of digital digging? Simon Jones explores the forgotten Birdloom recording an experimental piece of dark Anglicana and electronics which might have had all manner of repercussions had it been released when first laid down some twenty years ago. Recognition is due! Speculation on what might have been.
April 2002, David Muddyman, electro guru and computer obsessive placed an idea on line, he didn’t know if he’d get any response, let alone a relevant one. After all the requirements were specific and very niche. Muddyman’s intentions at first seemed a good distance from the sort of thing he’d written as he was part of Loop Guru, a dance act which dealt in fusion, samples and deep grooves.
‘Female singer, in the vain (sic) of Sandy Denny, Celia Humphris, or even Yma Sumac, wanted to pull English traditional folk music into the 21st Century. If you think a backing of Mongolian drones, screaming 60s organs and transcengenic rhythms sounds appalling, please don’t reply. What I want is a singer with heart and passion and a sense of adventure.’
Obviously there was more going on in Muddyman’s mind than just raves and floor fillers. All things considered he was an unlikely champion for Anglo trad and whilst he may be able to give the music a new face for a new century he’d need a partner who had a folk background as well as a sense of adventure.
How could a girl resist? Sharron Kraus couldn’t. So she didn’t. The US born, English based roots’n’folk singer contacted the man behind the words. She found him eager but with one proviso, this was to be a recording project only and no touring or live work was on offer. Undaunted they pushed on.
“Dave and I started corresponding and quickly found common ground: a shared love of and respect for traditional music, coupled with an eclecticism and experimental approach. At that stage Dave told me that he wasn’t what he considered to be a real musician, saying his instruments were his computer, samplers and lots of pieces of tape,” she remembers.
As time passed they traded ideas and many CDRs- this was in the days before the likes of WeTransfer – finding common musical appreciation in the works of Shirley Collins and Martin Carthy as well as the Topic’s catalogue especially their ‘Voice Of The People’ series. Once a track had been selected they began to play around with it trying to find the most appropriate setting, which wasn’t always as easy as you might think.
“Our process for each song involved Dave building up layers of sound that I would then sing and add the occasional analogue instrument to. He would send me his work in progress and was sometimes anxious that I’d be shocked at how unorthodox his experiments were, so would email to let me know what he was sending so as to forewarn me, he once likened our ‘Polly On The Shore,’ to Tom Waits on ‘Swordfish Trombones’ and how he handled ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ to a Jamaican dub master playing underwater.”
They adopted the name Birdloom for the recordings and started receiving positive reactions from those they played the songs to, amongst the listeners were Spiers & Boden whose enthusiasm was rewarded when they were invited along to lay box and fiddle over lots of percussive effects, whirling electro samples and background washes. At the close of 2003 Muddyman and Kraus had amassed an album’s worth of material and began to wonder about issuing all their hard work. Expectations were high, the omens were good, there had been debate in English folk circles about a new apporach to traditional sources, a young chap called Jim Moray had released a fantastic EP and had a scintillating debut album in the racks based on similar intentions using Protools on his laptop, whilst in Ireland, Scotland and Wales the process was well underway, the Celtic nations grooving to new integrations and fresh fusions, Martyn Bennett the techno piper, the Afro Celt Soundsystem being just two of the new breed. How could our heroes go wrong? The Electric Muse was due a refit.
Sharron does her best Sandy Denny album cover shot.
However… “We sent out demos to a number of record labels. Yet none of them wanted to release our music, so it got shelved,” Sharron confirms with not a little regret and bemusement in her voice.
There was one ray of light however that ever curious and ever questing, all round great chap Ian. A. Anderson, editor of fRoots who’d started a coversation on the state of English trad and how someone might produce a relevant contemporary folk hybrid. Sharron remembers “He was on Radio 3 and invited us to feature on ‘A Place Called England’ a programme about English folk and its future. Two Birdloom tracks were aired and that’s the only time any of them saw the light of day. At the time of that broadcast, we described the project as the idea behind Birdloom was to mix ancient with even more ancient and tradition with modern. To take traditional English folk songs and enhance their stories with cinematic tendencies. To breathe rhythmic life into the cobwebs and create a new twenty-first century folk music.”
David M unlikely folk champion. Folk with cinematic tendencies achieved.
Both Kruas and Muddyman moved on though and the Birdloom tracks were archived much to their disappointment. Over the ensuing months they did keep in touch never quite forgetting the potential of what they’d crafted and created. “After a 3 year gap I received a nice email from him catching me up with his latest news and saying he still listened to the Birdloom music. It didn’t date. That he would still like to see it released sometime. He felt it was worthy of that, ” Miss Kraus recalls.
March 2022 at far too early an age David Muddyman passed away, his death came as a shock as he was still active and very much a creative force if in circles far from folk. Kraus took stock and wondered if she should listen again to the music the pair of them had made almost two decades before. Having gone on to become an acclaimed folk singer herself with genre pushing albums to her credit – she decided that the time was right to finally let others hear Birdloom.
“I listen to the tracks and am flooded with good memories of a dear friend, a lively collaboration, and a time and place in our lives. At this point, post Tuung, Imagined Village, Stick In The Wheel and other experimental folktronica, they retain a certain something.”
Thus in March this year Birdloom appeared with minimal fanfare on Sharron’s Bandcamp page, now at last we can hear the finished product. Available for your ears over nine tracks are such delights as the arcane, bucolic keyboard swathes and drones of ‘Nellie The Milkmaid,’ the urgent and sharp stabbing on ‘ One Night As I Lay On My Bed,’ creeping and bleak horror on a stark atmospheric ‘Bold Lamkin,’ all seven minutes of it as well as the cut’n’splice rendering ‘Lovely Joan,’ perhaps the most folky item included with pumping accordion from Spiers. As a whole the selection hangs together splendidly, you end up asking yourself what might have happened if it had been released back in 2003, how might English roots have been different, would they have progressed further?
If you’ve an ounce of adventure or curiosity about you then here’s your chance to hear the start of a road never travelled or at least not that far. Birdloom is fascinating not just as a something that was but for what still could be if more individuals were as bold and adventurous. Is that a recommendation? What do you think? As if that’s not enough, half the money earned from the download goes to fund hospice care.
I still say it deserves a full album release…. maybe now those labels will listen!