Bluehorses History - Chapter 4 (the Quartet Years)

Towards the end of 2002 Neil, decided that being in the band was too stressful commuting from his house in North Wales, and so the band was on the look out for another replacement guitarist, at the same time  Mark had been offered a touring position in a "bigger" band and so was also not available for selection.. Much discussion followed on whether, and in what form the band should continue.

In the end Nic, Liz and Nathan chose to slim down to a Quartet, with Lizzie reworking all the dual fiddle parts and keeping the best bits, at the same time a breaking in a new guitarist. Jakey Graupner ... a long term fan of the band and occasional solo support act was drafted in.  Most of the fans never knew he could play electric guitar ... They should have picked up the hints from the previous christmas bash where he joined them onstage for the encore with a very battered Strat'!

Jakey's (and the Quartet format) first gig was in Kent - Deal, and this was proof that everything would work as a quartet. The change also brought some energy, which developed into the sessions where the Skyclad EP was born. This was also the period where Bluehorses played the Saul Festival and after a highly charged evening, the final encore was Jakey taking the lead to a rendition of "Folk on the Water" to the Deep Purple tune of a similar name. As everyone left the tent to return to their resting places, there was a fog over the canal penetrated by red and blue lights ... one of the barges had caught fire and this was the responders dealing with it. A mercurial sign maybe.

The Saul show had gone so well, that Nic was soon talking to David Wheeler about doing another video, this time for DVD and this was penciled for 2005 Saul festival. In the intervening months Jakey had to resign his place in the band, due to personal problems and a big panic followed to find a new guitarist in time for the video recording. A manic call around everyone they knew in the Cardiff area turned up Jay MacDonnald, who passed the audition with flying colours and then learnt the set off, in super quick time ready for the first shows of the year.

By the time Saul came around Jay looked as if he had always belonged, and all the work with rehearsals etc. had also generated some new tunes for the DVD. The DVD itself was filmed direct at the festival, with all the usual panics of getting things right , and even then the first couple if tracks had to be repeated as there was a problem with the sound.

The DVD certainly helped in getting the shows for the next year, and especial at Montreux, where they played 2 nights at the Jazz festival, earning many new friends. The tee-shirts are still treasured to this day.

What caught the spark, or how Nic got to hearing the Folk Metal of Scandinavia, we will never know. However this lead to another milestone, with Nic and Jay locked away for hours working on new material, emerging with what transpired into Thirteen Fires. This utilized a lot of the new technology  that had become available, which allowed for Studio standard recording to be done in a much more convivial atmosphere, without the time and money pressures of hiring a studio.

The pressure of the forever present struggle to make ends meet, finally came out on top, and the band fragmented after the tour to promote thirteen fires.  All we are now left with is the memories

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Bluehorses History - Chapter 3 (the Quintet Years)

Over the next couple of years the band started to be offered more and better gigs and festivals and made their first trips abroad. Their fanbase was steadily growing and the demand for recorded material was increasing... It was time to record a 'proper' album.
From a bit of market research, it was clear that the fans wanted to hear songs and tunes from the bands current live set, so to make it as close to that as possible, the whole album was recorded live in Big Noise studio in Cardiff. Apart from Lizzy's vocals, there were no overdubs and the whole thing was recorded and mixed in less than three days. A slight difficulty occurred then, when Dave was deported for being an illegal alien. This was very sad, particularly as he was reported by a 'friend' who then stole all his gear while he was in custody. True, he had been in the UK. for 3 years on a six month visa, but he'd always earned his way and even played at the Cardiff Police Ball for two years. Everyone knew Dave and that he probably shouldn't have been here, but he kept himself to himself and was a really nice guy, so no-one minded. He was put on a plane without the chance to say goodbye— we remember him fondly.
Stop Press! Spooky stuff time... Having lost contact with Dave three and a half years ago, writing about him led to comments that we ought to try and find him again via the web. Lo and behold, an email has just arrived from him asking us to get in touch. Ooh... How the telepathetic power of the cosmic computer reaches out!
Knowing that Dave's disappearance was always a possibility, we had kept in touch with a couple of guitarists interested in stepping in if necessary and so a call to Martyn Standing, who had seen the band at the ill-fated Harvest Pair in West Wales, heralded the next chapter. Mart was from Cwmbran, near Newport, but since doing his degree in Coventry had stayed in the area. To join Bluehorses he moved to Cardiff and for a couple of years all the members of the band lived within a five minute walk of each other, which was nice — always in and out of each others houses with each others tea/ coffee/chocolate Hobnobs etc.
Mart naturally wanted to put his own stamp on the as yet unreleased album and a few more hours in the studio saw to that. They didn't want to wipe Dave off the face of the earth, so left his guitar and vocal on a couple of tracks—'Into the Woods' and the indisputable classic 'Big white Telephone'. The intention was to just sell the CD at gigs and they were soon ordering a repress to keep up with sales. Sending it out for review wasn't even considered, so when the phone rang at BH Towers and the caller introduced himself as Ian Anderson, the editor of Folk Roots, they were quite taken aback, Ian explained that he'd heard a lot about the band on the grapevine and would they send a copy of the album for review. Modesty prevailing they weren't expecting much, so when a copy of the mag arrived a month or two later with an extremely glowing review, a photo and request for an interview, they realised for the first time that they might just be doing something a bit special.

The rest of the story has been well documented: The release of Dragons Milk and Coal resulted in their being featured on the front cover of Froots and was awarded MOJO Polk Album of the Month. There have been many great reviews for the following albums and video; many festival headlines and a few more line-up changes. Liz expanded her repertoire to include electric mandolin; keyboards and recently the electric Celtic harp. In late 2001, Mart left to be replaced on guitar by Nic's old friend from his Bangor days, Neil Browning, who brought with him a multitude of other instruments including bouzouki, squeezebox, banjo and crumhorn! At the moment, the 'second fiddle' (sorry!) position recently vacated by Debs is being held by Mark Knight—The Mad Fiddler!
So that’s the past, you know all about the present, but what of the future?

More of the different!

At the time of writing (really!) and after several years of trying to get their attention, 'Mad Tom's Song is being played on the Mike Harding Show on BBC Radio 2 which might possibly help the bands wider recognition. New music is being written: the bands ethos of never standing still is being maintained and everyone's looking forward to producing more fresh and exciting sounds with a few surprises bursting to be let out of the bag!

I'll leave you there now... but first, all of the members of Bluehorses have asked me to extend their best wishes and thanks to everyone who's helped, followed and encouraged the band — it's all of you guys that have kept them going over the years through thick and thin.

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Bluehorses History - Chapter 2 (the Circus Years)

Dave Salmon had become a familiar sight on the streets of Cardiff. Six feet eight inches tall, half American Indian with long hair and if it wasn't big enough for a tattoo (which didn't leave much), he had it pierced. Dave, originally from California via Alaska, New Orleans and Ireland (the journey from there to Wales becoming complicated when it transpired that driving we whole way was made slightly difficult owing: to the unexpected appearance of 'The Irish Sea'... !). Dave had refined busking to a fine art, playing along to his own backing tracks of blues instrumental and, aside from his physical presence, drew much comment owing to his ability to play two guitars at the same time. Or at least in quick succession—one left handed, one right handed, slung diagonally across his chest, first fretting with one hand, then the other, clever. Dave's appointment was not given the absolute thumbs up by some of the other Cardiff musicians— one, who had been turned down for the job, earnestly advised them that they were at risk of turning the whole thing into a circus.

Having had their choice of guitarist so succinctly endorsed, it was bass player time...
Rob Khoo was a well known Cardiff figure. Not usually to himself after 10 o'clock on a Friday night, but working in the infamous Clwb ifor Bach (where we recorded the Live Album and Video), he had occasionally introduced Bluehorses to the audience. Unfortunately it was usually by some other name, but they never bore a grudge and when he heard they were looking for a new bass player and said PleasePleasePlease for several days, they relented and he was in.

The bands already distinctive appearance was now considerably enhanced... Nic and Jonathan became the shortest males in the ensemble, even tho' they are both six foot tall, and a reputation as the folk band with the big sound and even bigger hair soon followed. During an interview after a festival performance, the young lady of the press commented "Its such a sexy band. Tho' I'm a bit scared of Nic, 'cos he looks like a Viking". Liz says she should be scared.

Bluehorses shows took on a novel format: Rob would take to the stage on his own and proceed to attack his bass with a violin bow. The rest of them would wait outside the doors at the back of the hall and then make a big entrance in procession... First Jonathan emitting mournful wailing sounds from something which used to be a goat. Dave was next, towering over everyone with crossed guitars, Liz and Em following in his wake. Nic took up the rear with a big rope strung tabor— a mediaeval marching drum, similar to those used at hangings and the like.

They soon realised that Rob found this whole procedure highly embarrassing. Particularly as he was made to wear a hangman's hood when he made his lone entrance and recognising that sport was to be had, the remaining members processional entrance became delayed more at every gig sometimes leaving Rob to swelter for two or three minutes. This may not seem long to anyone who doesn't have experience of being on stage... alone... all eyes on them, but I'm sure Rob'd put them right! Often Rob would accidentally forget to bring his hood, but luckily Jonathan had made a spare which was always quickly produced, much to Robs, erm... relief!

It was after one of these gigs, at the Fleece and Firkin in Bristol, that Nic was approached by a member of the audience. Big happy bloke. Loved the band. Did they ever need a driver? A few weeks later he turned up again at a show in Trowbridge. having spent £50 on a taxi to get there! Then a week later, there he was in Worcester, then Bristol, then... Well, then we gave him the job! And you all know Stan! Since then, Stan's been with the band at just about every gig first just driving, then as back-line technician, mat means setting up the drumkit and amps, taking care of all the tuning changes and passing instruments to and fro during the live show. The band (and the fans!) regard Stan as an additional member of Bluehorses, a much loved friend and totally indispensable.

At a gig at Club ifor Bach, David Wheeler, who was the director of BBC's 'Top Gear" introduced himself and said he'd like to make a video of the band—only it had to be soon! After a frenetic couple of weeks, finding a location, making costumes and writing a script, we trekked down to Margam Park near Port Talbot and with Beeb cameraman John Couzens spent a day shooting a dramatic and evocative film to the original electric 'Helen'. Visually the video is first class, but unfortunately in the rush, the soundtrack was less than favourable, leading to the video not being released. You can see an excerpt from it on the 'Live Video' (also directed by David) - its the bit with Liz and Em dancing in raggedy dresses, if you look carefully you can spot Dave and Jonathan in there too!

A year or so later, Jonathan became involved in traditional Welsh group 'Fernhill' and decided to concentrate his efforts in that direction, so for the first time, Bluehorses became a five-piece. Although this caused the band some trepidation, the first show passed without any hiccups and despite Jonathans considerable stage presence and eclectic instrumentation, the rest of the band were able to fill in the gaps without too much of a problem.

Chapter 1 can be read here
Chapter 3 can be read here

Bluehorses History - Chapter 1 (the early Years)

Liz Prendergast (Goth) and Emily Grainger (Hippy chick) met at the Welsh College of Music and Drama around 1988. After several years of being reprimanded for outlandish garb, berated for giggling in rehearsals and made to sit at opposite ends of the violin section, they left with few definite plans other than to absolutely not play in an orchestra or wear a Laura Ashley frock, for at least the foreseeable future.So Em's slightly rickety collection of English and Irish traditional tunes and Liz's vision of Doom, Death and Darkness provided the framework for "a Band".
In 1994 Nic had just arrived in Cardiff from North Wales where he'd been living in a horse-drawn Gypsy wagon and earned his living decorating narrowboats (No tat, mind) on the English canal system. After a playing career that began in Scandinavia in 1977, a brief collaboration with the ex-guitarist of a very famous band of the 70's left Nic deciding never, ever, EVER again to get involved with any kind of musical combo. But things happen and Nic was introduced to Liz and Em a few weeks after arriving in Cardiff to start his degree in ceramics. Recognising the potential for the fulfilment of his long held ambition of putting together a band with a similar flavour to the Oysterband who he first saw in their early Canterbury days (Nic’s home town) , prior resolve was cast aside and that was the start of all this!

After a bit of a false start with a guitarist known as Ploppy, and a good pal of Em's, Gary Owen on bass, they started doing a few gigs. Despite getting an extraordinary audience response right away, it didn't take long for the 'polities' to kick in and Gary left. They soon found a replacement, Cardiff based Paul Rogers, who'd played in various 'rootsy' bands over the years and more gigs were played. By this time they were realising a few home-truths like :-
  • The Folkies were not going to immediately take them into their bosom and
  • Some singing was needed to break up the currently instrumental set.
This latter revelation led to the occurrence of the Great Schism with Em and Ploppy adamant that the band should stay instrumental and the rest taking the opposing view. After much er... discussion! The two sides parted company and went their own ways.
Liz and Nic were by now spending much time in each others company (nudge, nudge) and were busy plotting their vision of a cross between Led Zeppelin and Blowzabella with Liz taking care of the vocal department. (This was a year or two before Page and Plants 'No Quarter' which was kind of a cross between Led Zeppelin and er... Blowzabella! -Even had their Hurdy Gurdy man in it). So not realising they would be later usurped in their venture by Jim and Percy, they started writing new material ('Helen' being the first) enrolling multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Shorland to blow his eclectic range of twigs, tubes and bits of goat and new second fiddler, Namaste Lochrie.
Karl Craddock, a founder member of Cardiff's superb and sadly missed 'Howling Sleepers' was brought in to play various guitars and banjo (Karl came back to add banjo to the Dragons Milk and Coal sessions). Six months on, Namaste 'remembered' that she had to go abroad for a year - something she had apparently forgotten about when applying for the job. (These girls will say anything to get in the band). Hearing we'd be looking for a new fiddler, Em got in touch and after a short meeting involving lots of tea and girly squealing, was back in the fold.
It was at this point that the band got theatrical... At least some of them did! Jonathan’s first meeting with Liz and Nic found him in brogues and chinos. By the time the new line-up had a few shows under its belt, he was ahead of the pack in a natty ensemble put together from a mixture of fencing (that’s swords, not chicken wire) and bondage gear. Stripey hair soon followed along with a delight in creating instruments from assorted found objects (sheep's skulls, rubber gloves) and plumbing supplies (overflow pipe, blowtorch). Not to be outdone, Nic and Liz set to, making a range of backdrops, 'post-apocalyptical-Mediaeval' banners and chains of bells and gongs, used to 'enhance' Nic's drums. Liz and Em manufactured and decorated their stage outfits with diamante and fishnet and Nic's leather waistcoat carried so many brass studs that Liz couldn't stand up in it. All of this went down well with the, no doubt slightly bemused, audiences, but then as photos started filtering through from the gigs, a problem was spotted.
Over on stage left, Karl and Paul were looking uncomfortable. In fact, in their baggy jeans and checked shirts, they didn't look as if they were in the same band: Jonathan christened them 'The Chip Shop Boys' and soon after they came to realise that maybe this arty and possibly a little eccentric environment wasn't quite their cup of tea.
Chapter2 can be read here