As a professional musician I have the good fortune of being able to see many beautiful and varied places by appointment or chance either on tour or as a wanderer. (Sometimes both!) I am also lucky enough to meet so many incredible people on my journeys in so many different scenarios. Songs come to me this way as well - some I am asked to learn, some find me in various ways - through favourite albums or friends recommending or playing them for me or sometimes using my experiences and writing them myself.
This is how this collection of songs came to be - By Appointment or Chance.
About five years ago, I met Oliver and Birgit Gray who were promoting a gig I was on in Winchester, England. The band stayed at their house and they made us breakfast the next morning in their lovely home in the village of Twyford in Hampshire. Oliver mentioned they had just purchased a new camper van (Polly Pocket!) and that they were planning a camper van holiday in the spring and would need someone to look after their beautiful (although slightly deranged - as many bands who have stayed with them can attest) cat, Poppy.
Now, I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing that next spring but I knew that I wanted to cat sit in Twyford. And so it was decided. And repeated. Over the last four years I have had the pleasure of getting to know Twyford and its inhabitants. I’ve had glorious green and lush English springs. I’ve played Pooh sticks from the bridge over the Itchen river and walked (slowly) up St. Catherine’s Hill. I’ve taken the train into London for plays, exhibitions and meals with pals in the city and I’ve sung for fresh eggs, stood my round at the pub and scurried home to avoid badgers with my village friends.
I have learned things about village life - the “drop by” (no one does this to me in Toronto), having a person deliver milk, winning the pub quiz (which was probably the best day of my life - and I even got the Twyford question right!) I have also learned a lot about myself on my solitary walks, snuggling with Poppy and finding out what I miss and what I value when I’m alone.
The Grays have a beautiful wooden structure in their yard called "The Swiss Cottage" (They do intimate house concerts there which are amazing - they've hosted a real who's who including Whitehorse, Alejandro Escovedo and Joey Landreth). I thought that this would be the perfect place to bring in microphones and gear and capture all these songs I’d collected in a live off the floor way complete with exterior ambient birdsong and hopefully only a few cat scratches. And so with time, luck and circumstance in my favour to do so, the plan came together.
The musicians I assembled for this caper are all lovely souls whose friendships I’ve discovered and loved like the songs I wanted to record,
First of all, Tali Trow had to produce it. I can’t remember if we met first in Toronto at Folk Alliance or if I had met him in London at a show but whenever it was, I immediately appreciated his insane knowledge of music (and bands I’d never heard of), his work ethic and his sense of humour. Fast forward to my first UK tour for my solo album, Whipping Boy. Tali learned all my songs to accompany me on guitar and voice, set up the tour and drove me around England like a champ. There was no one else I wanted in the producers’ seat and guitar chair for this record.
I met Tara Minton in London when she came to a show of mine and we chatted afterwards. I packed up and ran to catch the last tube and who should be on the same car but Tara! I found out she is a jazz harpist and singer originally from Australia and we swapped stories all the way to my stop. By that time we were firm friends. Over the last few years we have played a few gigs together from at the end of a magical garden in Bethnal Green to a dark club in Camden. She was miraculously available for the time I needed having just finished her masters at The Guildhall School of Music THE DAY BEFORE.
In another miracle of availability Joe Phillips was actually not booked for the exact number of days we needed as well as one on each end to make the journey to England. I met Joe over a decade ago at a Bloor St pub in Toronto (R.I.P. The Brunny). We both had our instruments and started jamming and it was fun, easy and genre-crossing. We made a duo EP, we wrote music together during an artists’ residency in Banff and I love the way we use our multi-genre backgrounds and education to create new things. Not only is Joe one of the finest bassists i know - trained yet instinctual in every style, he is also a seeker of knowledge (and one of the major reasons we won the Twyford pub quiz) and a fantastic cook.
While being a fantastic cook wasn’t a prerequisite for my band, it just happened to be true. During our magic week, we spent the days arranging, playing and recording music by day and then cooking up some incredible meals and eating, drinking, philosophizing and laughing into the night. One of my favourite moments was one night when we were still gathered around the dinner table long after all the dishes had been pushed away and we were nursing our “last” glass of wine and we ended up having a spontaneous international a capella song swap. I caught some of “Waltzing Matilda” harmonized on the fly with four voices on my phone and it makes me smile every time I hear it.
It was an international band and the songs are an international mix caught and captured in time. We all loved making this album. We discovered it was just what each of us needed in that particular moment in June.
In what seems like an increasingly fractured world, I feel very grateful to be able to have music as a tool to connect with people - in real time while playing it, across time recalling songs and stories learned, and now when our little moment in time playing music with friends in the English countryside will hopefully find you somewhere and bring you something you need.
P.S. The artwork I’m using as my cover and on each page of my website are by the one and only William Morris. I believe in the Arts and Crafts movement - in the late 1880s, artists had witnessed and undergone an industrial revolution the way we have undergone a digital one. In response, they returned to craftsman (people) ship, to quality, to small batch products and to taking joy in the work. I like to think I honoured all of those values while making this record and they made me a happier and more grateful person.
This is the dawn chorus from the musical birds outside my bedroom window in Twyford. What a way to wake up!
Heart Like A Wheel - Kate McGarrigle
I was asked to sing this song for a Soulpepper Cabaret in 2010 and I have loved it ever since.
Peg And Awl - Trad.
I found this song by way of the Irish band Danú. It feels especially relevant as we musicians navigate and adapt to the digital revolution.
Old Churchyard Trad.
I learned this song from Jefferson Hamer at a Folk Alliance Convention in Kansas City. Folk Alliance has always been one of the best convergences of chance and by appointment!
Bar Rage - Miranda Mulholland
I recorded this song on Whipping Boy but rehearsing it with Tara for a gig in a beautiful garden brought a whole new character to it and brought it back to life.
Raglan Road - Trad.
I first heard this song at the Cobblestone Pub in Dublin when I spent a month there between two tours with The Paperboys. It’s a keeper.
Crossing The Bar - Lyrics Tennyson, Music Miranda Mulholland
I love Loreena McKennitt and I wrote this song for her having noticed that it was the only poem mentioned in Anne Of Green Gables books that she hadn’t set to music. So now you know I am a total nerd!
Black Diamond - Jordie Lane
I met the incredible Australian songwriter Jordie Lane when he opened a Belle Starr tour in Eastern Canada. This song has one of the most satisfying choruses ever and I guarantee you will have it in your head for days.
Hunt of Zax/Pirate Rémi - Mulholland/Phillips
These are two tunes that Joe and I put together in Banff. I wrote the first one when I was living in Montreal. Joe’s tune was inspired by his son in a pirate costume and I can picture him parading around a room with a very menacing step!
The Parting Glass - Trad.
I learned this beauty from Newfoundland Musician and stellar human Daniel Payne when we were on a tour together over a decade ago. I will never tire of this song.
All songs arranged by Minton/Mulholland/Phillips/Trow
Recorded live off the floor at The Swiss Cottage, Rosemont, Twyford in June 2019.
Miranda Mulholland - fiddle, vocals
Tara Minton - harp, vocals
Joe Phillips - bass, vocals
Tali Trow - guitar, vocals
Produced and Mixed by Tali Trow
Mastered by David Travers-Smith