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Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Captain Pugwash on your back, part one.

On May 5 there'll be a concert at Cecil Sharp House called Fresh Handmade Sound, advertised as including work by the "internationally renowned folk musicians Simon Emmerson and Jackie Oates". My antennae twitched when this dropped into my email inbox because the word "spa" was also on the ad and I *like like like* spas.

So I looked into it and it's this: there are four CDs of folky music that have been produced by Lush, in collaboration with Simon Emmerson and a collective called Walking with Ghosts, for use in their four spas (London, Leeds, Poole and Kingston). Lush, if you recall, are the makers of bath products and cosmetics that look and smell like food, which is very confusing for those of us who never grew past the stage of discerning something's essential nature by putting it in our mouths.

So what we're talking about here, basically, is a massage with folk music, a conceptual break with the whale song and waves crashing on the shore that usually accompany the experience.

Upon closer examination I also discovered that the massage itself is supposed to be themed around Englishness, having indigenous birdsong included on the CDs and a cup of tea made for you afterwards by your masseuse. This, I was told by Lush's PR, was very big in Japan. Of course.

The teasing question, then, is how niche is this product? After all, nearly everyone of sound mind likes spas and therefore even if you're not a huge folk fan I'd think that the music would have to be fairly objectionable to muck the experience up? And if you like folk music and spas, well, a little of what you fancy does you good but a lot of it is obviously preferable...

So I hotfooted it to the King's Road yesterday, met Jen, the comely French therapist, and was led down to a beautiful spa underneath the shop decked out, in keeping with Lush's food/cosmetics confusion, like a kitchen. It was one of those kitchens that's very fashionable at the moment: kind of minimalist, Quaker-Shakerish, painted white with ewers and urns all over the place, as well as a selection of old-fashioned bottles with labels around their necks, Alice in Wonderland-style ("Don't Eat Me"), and wild flowers in a glass jar. "Everything in this kitchen was bought on eBay," Jen said.

I was having a treatment called The Good Hour, which is intended as a deep tissue massage, themed around sea shanties. There was a wonderful moment when Jen did something involving a blue bath bomb, hot water and liquid nitrogen which made the whole floor of the candle-lit treatment room disappear under a layer of smokey, crisp-smelling "water". This was a lovely start.

The massage itself was also great, Jen was charming and the music appealed to me. But looking back on it there was something vaguely amiss, which I struggled for a while to put my finger on. I was never able to drift away completely and here's why.

I like sailing, I like weather and I like sea shanties. But, in my experience, there is something about the kind of people who want to be in charge of their own boats to the point where they are prepared to spend tens of thousands of pounds on it, that can be pretty unsensual. My search for a lovely crew of people to sail with goes on (all offers seriously considered).

Now I realise that sea shanties are mainly about working boats, not pleasure craft. But every time I thought I was on the point of losing myself completely in the massage there was some beardy sounding bloke on the sound track hauling away, dragging me back to reality and reminding me of the last time I sailed with someone "difficult". For me, the soundtrack would have worked better if it were instrumental or only had female voices on it (mermaids?)  I realise this is quite a personal take on the matter, but there you go. If you're intrigued, I guess you'll try the massage for yourself. It costs £75.

Simon Emmerson, of The Imagined Village, said that he thought part of the intention had been to create a spa treatment that would appeal to men as well as women. "The project started at an Imagined Village gig in Poole, where I met Mark Constantine, who owns Lush. I'd invited a load of people from my birdwatching club along and he turned out to be one of them.

"He rang me up afterwards, said how much he'd enjoyed the gig and asked if I'd be interested in writing some music for a chain of spas he was opening, which was intended to have an English aesthetic. Now, I didn't know anything much about spas at the time and assumed he was talking about supermarkets.

"So I was on the phone to Eliza Carthy later and asked her whether we really wanted to do a load of supermarket music for a chain of spas and she went very quiet for a minute and then said 'No, Simon. Wrong kind of spa.' So I googled Mark and the penny dropped.

"When we next spoke he kind of twinkled at me down the telephone and said 'Not only are you going to be very well paid for this but you'll spend the next three years being massaged by beautiful women..." To be continued...

* There will be a second part to this blog, to be posted within five days, in which you will discover what happens when you take Chris Wood to a spa and Simon Emmerson's thoughts on recent changes in the music industry.

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  1. A posh spa that uses bath products that look like food, and gives massages to a soundtrack of sea shanties. Bit late for April Fool, isn't it Emma? :-)

  2. @Folkcast Definition of a good story right there... Something that stretches credulity and yet which is absolutely true :-)


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