Trees – 1971

Now this kicks off the new English folk decade with a bang. When you first hear the opening track of Trees’ On the Shore you’ll notice something extremely different, folk music that’s rocks in wild ways you’ve probably never heard within the same style. Its the sound of a band fully absorbing amplification and finding ways to treat each instrument as the powerful element it could be. Shortly after releasing their more subdued The Garden of Jane Delawney Trees embarked on a tour that highlighted their strengths. Crowds were more ecstatic to hear their electrified, harder take on folk songs than their more tempered tracks. Somehow, seizing the moment, the whole Trees band sharpened their musical steel into this jaw-dropping folk-rock juggernaut that somehow got lost to time.

How’d they do this? You could say its the sound of a band feeling comfortable with each other. For once, Celia, the lead singer, adopted a range more suited to her range. The rest of the boys, Barry Clarke (lead guitarist) specifically, used guitar effects and a grand growth in taste to deliver mighty riff, after mighty riff. David Costa, on 12-string acoustic guitar would play his guitar in atmospheric ways, almost always intoning a spectral quality to the music. Bias Boshell, on bass and assorted gadgets, would figure out ways to turn traditional and neo-traditional songs inside out by invoking a modern edge feeling, more interested in capturing a certain mood than telling you the whole story straight. Unwin Brown’s drumming was just so spry and propulsive.

On the Shore just damn brilliant album cover.

I don’t want to waste your time too much reading this review when you can be hearing this brilliant work of musicians who had displayed some deep connection on tape. You hear this on songs like “Streets of Derry” which almost renders Television’s, Crazy Horses’, and any angular band’s work superfluous, and “Sally Free and Easy” a traditional recorded in one take that presents you with all the varied sounds and feelings English folk music can make. I still can’t believe how a group in such a short amount of time beat their heroes, but they did it. In a just way, they knew they couldn’t top this album and split up shortly thereafter leaving everyone, even themselves trying to explain how it got made.

Here’s what they said in their liner notes:

David has fond memories of the session: “Sally Free And Easy was the closest we ever got to delivering what we wanted to deliver, because it went down live. We had never played it before and we toyed with it in rehearsal, decided we were going to do it and I said “ok let’s give it a go”. Bias was on keyboards, which opened out the band tremendously, and Tony Cox our producer went on bass. We began to run it and it became completely apparent that it was going to work – so we went for it, did it in one take and it became our defining moment. We had time on our hands so Celia put on another vocal and we couldn’t decide which one we liked best, so we double-tracked them both.” “Sally Free And Easy was brilliant,” remembers Celia, “It happened after an all night recording session. The guys were fiddling around with a tune they’d always liked, and Bias moved to the piano. It was around five in the morning and we felt great afterwards. It’s my personal favourite. That was indeed a turning point, I feel, but one that we seemed unable to build upon at that time.” 

Sally Free And Easy exemplifies David’s earlier theories, of the power of existing material folded in on itself and transformed by accidents and unforeseen circumstance; “I’d seen Cyril Tawney play the song in a folk club in Hampstead – from memory – with a nylon strung guitar and I was always lead to believe that that tremolo was representative of the hum of a submarine. He’d served in submarines and the throb of the diesel engine came through into this lovely tremolo. I was playing a chord configuration that was all tuned to D with a capo which is partly why my fingers gave up, which you can hear in the second verse. We had to double the tempo because I couldn’t keep on doing it. I went into a different style, everybody kicked in, the build just picked up so well. None of us expected Sally Free And Easy to happen the way it did and it took the wind out of our sails. We couldn’t quite believe what we’d done and we knew it was a defining moment. Sadly it was one which we were never able to re-find because it just worked by accident.” 

For me this is one of the unheralded masterpieces of rock at large, and if even they can’t explain how they come about to creating it, I won’t try either. Some things are better left unsaid, and simply heard…

HIGHLY Recommended Listening:
The Garden of Jane Delawney (1970)
On the Shore (1971)