Wednesday, 3 June 2015

So here we are again.  I have lost count of how many times I have tried to relaunch this blog.  But this time I promise I will try to be more disciplined and post regular stories, wips and photos from the studio.  However, it is the perfect time to try to get back in the saddle, as I have a wonderful adventure to recount.  I am going to split the story into several sections.  But here is the first.  Got your mug of tea?  Okay, here we go...

Part One : An Unexpected Christmas Gift

In late December of last year, I was contacted by Gregory Spawton, founding member and bass player for the rock band Big Big Train.  Who are they?  Well I am sure many of you will be very familiar with their wonderful sound.  But for those who are not, if your speakers are turned up, then you are listening to them right now (as they are the feature music on my Wikiplayer).

Greg asked me if I would be interested in the idea of producing a painting for the band, for an upcoming EP release. I have been a fan of BBT for quite a while now.  I just love their soaring sound and the strong narrative which runs through every song. They were once described as the "musical equivalent of the Olympics opening ceremony" - and I still can't think of a better way to sum them up.  So Greg's request felt like the biggest and best Christmas present ever.  Trying my very best to sound as breezy and nonchalant as possible, I said "Yeah, sure. No probs" ..... and then ran around my front room, jumping for joy.

Greg and David Longdon (lead vocals) sent me a very rough, stripped down cut of the song in question, along with all the lyrics.  David explained the story behind the track and a little of the lyrical subtext.  So whilst every other artist was putting their paint brushes down for the holidays, I was hard at work coming up with some concepts for the cover.

The song is entitled "Wassail" and takes inspiration from the age-old tradition of the apple wassail.  One of the fabulous aspects of this project has been the opportunity to do some research into a folkloric tradition - a subject which I can happily disappear into for hours!.

The Wassail ceremony (thought by some to date back to at least the 1500's) takes place at the start of each year. A little cider from last year's harvest is kept to one side.  On the night of the Wassail (usually on Twelfth Night), the cider is warmed and placed in a special cup (or wassail bowl).  Whilst in the orchard, the cup is passed from person to person, each taking a swig and toasting the tree spirits.  The last of the cider is poured on the roots of the apple trees, along with slices of bread or toast - offerings to the Gods of the orchard.  Often a Wassail Queen is chosen and she is crowned with a wreath made of  ivy, yew, fir and other winter evergreens.  

The Green Man is honoured and celebrated. This was thought to bring health and abundance to the orchard, so that come the Autumn a bumper harvest was to be had.  

The lyrics were interwoven with a very clever nod to the biblical story of Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden.  As we all know, there can be no more significant fruit than the apple!

So with all this wonderful material to work with and a guiding hand from  David, I set to work trying to find a way to represent all of the above.  

First off, I made a list of what I wanted the image to say/represent and what feeling I wanted it to project:
- a sense of abundance and plenty
- fertility and the hope of a good harvest
- The Green Man - the "king" of all tree Gods
- A feeling of tradition/folklore/paganism
- A strong link to nature - and the sense that we are all part of one big cycle of life, death and rebirth

David also requested some features :
- A winter scene, representing the traditional Wassailing period of the calendar
- A young girl and boy : her to be tempting him with an apple (the Adam and Eve story)

After some initial sketching and mucking about with ideas, I settled upon the image of a wreath made up of apples and apple blossom.  It represented everything I wanted to say and could also double as the Wassail Queen's crown.  It also left me a space in the centre in which to represent David's narrative. 

And so, as the New Year chimed in, I set to work on a preliminary work-up for the lads to review...


  1. Great to be able to read the story behind the amazing artwork for Wassail. And just fantastic with the heavenly music of Big Big Trains' running on the wikplayer!!

  2. Thanks Tobbe - Greg was very generous in allowing me to have BBT playing on the blog - which is great. I am going to try to get the next part of the story up over the next day or so. x