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Monday, 23 April 2012

Six Moulettes, one Mumford and a new addition to The Copper Family

Talking to Hannah Miller, the Moulettes' cellist and lyricist, I was aware that she kept expecting me to misunderstand her. "A lot of people don't get this..." she said at one point. "No scrub that, that sounds mad..." at another. She even offered to write her thoughts down for me, lest I was unable to do them justice aurally.

Because in her mind there is an epic story unfolding. More of that in a minute, but first a few basics.

I was handed a small pile of Moulettes CDs the other day by a promoter called Joe Cushley, who was at The Lantern Society in Clerkenwell, and got simultaneously invited to a gig. Listening to the CDs, I liked them a lot and intended to go along. But it was in Brighton (where most of the band lives) and on the day I wasn't feeling 100 per cent. Then I got a text message from Joe saying that the added filip that had spurred me to agree to go to the Las Vegas of the South Coast wouldn't be available for interview. So me and my inner sloth gave in and stayed home.

However, the more I listened to this band - and in particular to their second album, The Bear's Revenge, to be launched in July - the more I liked them (a process that continues to this day). And then, upon consideration, it became obvious that I should do something about it sooner rather than later. Because sometimes it's good to be first.

So here's the thing. The "added filip" had been that Ted Dwane, Mumford and Sons' bass player, was supposed to be at the Brighton gig and I'd hoped to have a word. As it turned out he wasn't able to make it because Britain's second most lucrative export with the initials M&S had over-run at the London studio where they're recording their second album.

What a shame, I thought, first assuming that mentioning him had been a ploy on the part of the promoter to get me to the gig. Though there was a nagging doubt because if it had been done with any cynicism, surely Joe wouldn't have texted me to let me know Ted couldn't make it?

Anyway, I now realise Ted Mumford wasn't being dangled as a PR bauble. He's listed as a band member on the CD cover, which eventually arrived a week or so later, so I think I'd been under-sold rather than over-sold.

As a result of the Mumford connection I'd imagine there's going to be a bit of a hoo-hah about the Moulettes in the mainstream media pretty soon. And I'd also imagine that the band knows it.

This because one of the Moulettes, Ruth Skipper (bassoon, vocals), is doing her medical finals at the moment but has decided to have a year out from doctoring because it looks as if this might turn out to be the band's big year - and that's not a decision to be taken lightly. "Having a doctor with us encourages my hypercondria," said Hannah. "I'll say to her 'What is this pain in my heart?' And she'll say," there was a pause for dramatic effect, "'You ate your food too quickly'."

Other clues include that they are booked to play the Mumfords' Gentlemen of the Road mini-festivals in Huddersfield and Galway in a couple of months' time and that - this is where I came in - they've just made a brilliant album.

It has the multi-instrumental virtuosity of Bellowhead, the urgency of Mumford & Sons - though without the lyrical directness (they haven't fucked anything up this time) - and the winding, melodic complexity of The Indigo Girls. It also has something unique that I was having trouble putting my finger on.

"I really enjoy fantasy realms," said Hannah. "Not crap fantasy, like lurid album covers with wizards on them. But going to other worlds, like you do in Lord of the Rings, Narnia and Philip Pullman. The songs draw on this love." We'd been speaking for a while but when I asked whether she was watching Game of Thrones,  it was as if  I'd taken all the tension out of the situation by mentioning the thing that she really wanted to talk about. I'd hit the main vein.

"Yes! I'm so glad you brought it up. We love it. It's amazing." I love it too - what's not to like about Lord of the Rings with shagging? So we talked about how that dwarf rocks, that it was a shame that Drogo the horse warrior had to die and how I was really missing out by not having seen any of season two yet.

"That show is like crack," she said, correctly.

Anyway, it turns out that many of the songs on The Bear's Revenge are part of a fantasy narrative that Hannah's inventing: she's writing her own mythological world through songs. "I also weave tapestries. I make them out of fabric and buttons and things. But the funny thing about fantasy is that there is a certain snobbery about it - as if it might not be real or good," she mused. Here's one of her tapestries, which is also artwork for the album. That might or might not be a dragon.

In a way the aesthetic of the Moulettes is like the title sequence of Game of Thrones: all hand-made with a theme containing swooping fiddles and cellos. Apparently several forthcoming videos will involve animating Hannah's tapestries. I must stop dwelling...

So where did the Moulettes come from? "The band started with Ruth and me when we were at school and we've picked people up along the way. We were both at school with Ted." Millfield public school in Somerset, as it turns out. "Ruth and I were both music scholars, so we didn't get out much, and I had a free haircut one day that turned into a mullet. We were joking that it was a moule-ette."

These days there are six full time members. "Myself, Oliver, Ruth, Georgina, Jim and Rob. But there are nine who can call themselves Moulettes. It's very much like an extended family. Ted was in the band until three or four years ago, until things with his other band started taking off. But it's been great having him back again. He worked on the second record with us.

"And while he was touring the States," during which Mumford & Sons were said to have cracked America, "he made some great finds. For instance, he sent us this extraordinary mandolin and banjo player called Matt Menefee who came all the way down to Winchester one day. We picked him up at the station and he did a day's session work for us. He plays progressive bluegrass."

There are lots of trad instruments on the record and Hannah describes the band's sound as "rock, pop, fantasy folk". The fiddle player, Georgina, plays folk and blue-grass, as well as sometimes making noises so assured that her classical training shows through. "She went to the Royal Northern. But Ollie (drums, vocals, guitar, banjo) is completely self-taught and Laura (Hockenhull on vocals) is a real folk-singer. She grew up in a folky family, singing with some of the Unthanks." Hannah's own father is a folk musician who makes musical instruments for a living.

And then there's this. On Friday Laura, whose partner is Ben Copper, gave birth to the newest member of The Copper Family. "Yes! We've got a tiny little Moule baby. I haven't seen her yet but her name's Georgia Rose."

Their fecundity knows no limits. Despite The Bear's Revenge not being officially launched yet, Hannah said she'd be recording some stuff for the next album as soon as we put the phone down, something which is possible, she said, because they have many years' worth of material to fall back on. She's in her late twenties now, so that's probably a decade's worth.

They've got a single out called Sing Unto Me.

"I was thinking about the Nordic mythology of singing the world into being. In the Bible it's The Word, in Narnia the lion sings the world into being. It's about the idea of the world being born and dying in a blaze of harmony," said Hannah.

And there's this, which gives you a bit more of an idea what they're like when they can hear each other.

I should think there'll be some more from them along shortly. I'm going to finally get to a Moulettes gig for a start.

In the mean time, here's that Game of Thrones title sequence in full.

* Moulettes are sexually deviant pagans, says Liverpool Echo. Yay!

* If you really like Game of Thrones you might also be interested in this post about The Medieval Baebes ;-)

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook news feed you can make it so by *liking* its Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter @emma1hartley

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