‘If you are about to listen to On The Shore for the first time, then you are to be envied. In an era of mass communication and commercial misappropriation, there are few genuinely lost treasures to be discovered.’
Down to the garden, and across the salt seas so wide
Signed to the prestigious CBS label in August 1969, Trees put down two albums within one year only, The Garden Of Jane Delawney (released April 1970) and On The Shore (released January 1971). By early 1971, shortly after the release of the second album, we had already begun to go our separate ways, the original group had started to unravel, and the small body of work was left for posterity to rediscover.
Trees’ short journey down to the garden and across the salt seas so wide was beset by lack of funds, lack of experience, lack of equipment, inconsistency and frequent inconclusive comparison. But alongside such adversity, all of it shared to this day with every start-up band who ever had any sense of self-belief, there was also much welcome critical acclaim at the time. Five decades on, the mystique of such a brief, promising but unfulfilled career persists.
We set out with songs written in school sixth forms or learned in the smoky folk clubs of the sixties, shifting into a delivery closer to the psychedelic soundscapes of the great American bands of the time, and imbued with an innocence that in many ways distinguished us; a natural and evolving combination which had Trees’ music most often described with adjectives such as gothic and arcadian, light and dark, disturbing, acid folk.
Hard-working months on the road shaped the band. Naivety and youth began to make way for confidence, ability and attack, and the best of On The Shore reflected the best of what Trees could deliver live, finally working as a group rather than as individual players struggling to find a common voice. The late move of Bias Boshell from bass guitar to keyboards opened up a sound world and a breadth of opportunity that sadly would never be explored beyond.
Destined, it now seems, for longevity, these two albums have never been deleted from catalogue and have endured through vinyl, to cassette, to CD, online, and back to vinyl again. Gnarls Barkley’s 2006 sampling of 'Geordie’ from On The Shore for the title track of their album St Elsewhere led to Sony's remastering and repackaging of both albums. On The Shore ranked #3 of Five Folk-rock Classics, after Fairport Convention’s Liege and Lief and before Led Zeppelin III (!) in The Independent, September, 2007. The 2007 upgraded re-releases received four and five stars in Mojo and Q.
With barely a few changes of guitar strings between each album, both survive as timepieces. And we hope that each remains, if a timepiece can, timeless.
David Costa, 2018
A beautiful hybrid, Trees found a unique space between intimate folk and freewheeling psychedelia. Musically ambitious yet brilliantly balanced. They have left an enduring legacy for those lucky enough to be in on the secret.
Edd Gibson, Friendly Fires
Down to the garden...
After committing to a series of demos in the CBS studios, recording of The Garden of Jane Delawney finally began in August 1969 – two weeks before the recording contract was signed – at Sound Techniques studio in Old Church Street, Chelsea, the site of an old dairy reputedly haunted by a cow. Tony Cox had been brought in to supervise and produce. The album was received on release with the full gamut of critical comment from substantial acclaim to polite indifference, while being simultaneously feted and endorsed on the radio by both John Peel and Pete Drummond, dependable high priests of the underdog.
The character of the album, and that of On The Shore less than a year later, was the burgeoning relationship of the acoustic and electric guitars of David Costa and Barry Clarke, underpinned by the interweaving bass of Bias Boshell, the innovative drums of Stephen Unwin Brown, and fronted by Celia Humphris’ ethereal and often theatrical voice. Together they presented a collection of reinvented traditional folk songs and Bias’ own written material, a repertoire thought of as gothic, dark and Arcadian, exemplified by the haunting title track, the much-covered Garden of Jane Delawney, and shifting up to overdrive through key tracks such as the traditional songs The Great Silkie, Lady Margaret and She Moved Thro’ The Fair.
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...and across the salt seas so wide
With The Garden of Jane Delawney released in April 1970, honed by the rigours of life on the road and with a substantial touring schedule already under their belts, a maturing band returned to Sound Techniques in October of the same year to begin work on the second album. On The Shore reflected a renewed vigour and assurance – embodied by the masterful rendition of Cyril Tawney’s Sally Free And Easy, taped live, in down-time at the end of a long day’s recording, the song itself having never been rehearsed previously other than for the thirty minutes immediately before committing to tape. By this time, each band member was beginning to hit their stride with confidence and ability; the album remains distinguished by the strongly textured arrangements of traditional songs such as Polly On The Shore, Streets Of Derry and Geordie combined with original songs like the mountainous, echoing Murdoch.
Despite the band’s conviction that they had exceeded their expectations, sales were restrained and reviews again divided between those who applauded and recognised the promise of a grown-up Trees, and those who still couldn’t see through poorly-judged comparison. It would take the slow burn over the next four and five decades for the promise of On The Shore to be finally embraced. Patience is its own reward. Good things come to those who wait.
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The poet’s voice lingers on