Local newspapers ran with a yarn of snow blizzards, due Saturday, and illustrated the clickbait with scenes of worst weather of yore. The laughable reality was there was a blustery storm which bought five minutes of flurry.
I don’t conscribe to sensationalising, neither need to interview for the emblematic promotion of a new product. The Lost Trades aren’t yet announcing a second album, neither have they memoirs published; there wasn’t a good reason to interview them. They didn’t whet appetites broadcasting a follow-up album when I asked them the standard “what’s next” question, rather spoke about strategies.
I was eager to catch up with them though; haven’t seen them for ages, and they were happy to oblige, because they’re nice like that! They’d finished a soundcheck supporting Focus for a Long Street Blues Club gig at Devizes’ Corn Exchange, which Andy kindly reviewed.
No matter how they’ve been gigging further afield and stamping a benchmark for folk harmony trios internationally with The Bird, The Book and the Barrel, their feet remain on the ground, and this is, after all, their original stomping ground. Two thirds from Devizes, Jamie R Hawkins and Tamsin Quin, while Phil Cooper is from Trowbridge, the latter of whom casually asked prior to the interview what I could write about them which I haven’t already.
Fair cop, since day dot Devizine followed all three, Tamsin crowdfunding her debut album, Gypsy Blood was our first article in 2017, a review of Phil’s Thoughts & Observations closely followed, and I met Jamie slightly later, at the Saddleback Festival’s Battle of the Bands in 2018.
The three musicians closely associated themselves with each other, producing and recording, assisting with gigs and collaborating sporadically, until a natural bond had formed and it made sense to form a trio. The news of The Lost Trades we broke in December 2019, a year of lockdown followed their debut gig at Trowbridge’s Pump, but a period which has seen them improve tenfold, together, on their already high standard.
Both the name the Lost Trades and the album name, The Bird, The Book and the Barrel derives from their surnames; Cooper is a barrel-maker, Hawkins the bird and Quins were counsels or scribes, hence the book. Figuring a blithe beginning, being my rare organisational skills surprised them with a typed sheet of questions, I thought I’d ask if Phil minded being referred to as a barrel! He said he didn’t, but do they call him it?
“From now on,” Jamie laughed while Tamsin christened it his new name. Phil retorted “that makes you Jamie ‘the bird’ Hawkins,” and I added I liked a bird with a beard, which isn’t exactly true but it broke the ice, if there was some to break, which there wasn’t, so I don’t know why I mentioned it!
The Trades know me well, in this, I pointed out a milkman is a something of a lost trade, and wondered if they had space for me, perhaps in the corner, with a triangle! Jamie noted I could be a “bottle fourth member!” While they pondered if there were to be any sensible questions, I broadened it with, “or is three the magic number?”
Phil was first to confirm, the others agreed humbly. Tamsin expanded, “having three of us there’s no scope for two people going against two other people, you know? It’s always equal.”
“Yeah, democratically it works really well,” Jamie added. “There’s always a mediator,” Tammy motioned, “it works well like that.” Phil enhanced, “from a harmony point of view, I mean, don’t tell any barbershop quartets this but three is the magic number!” To be honest, I’m all out of befriending barbershop quartets these days anyway.
I offered it was great to see them back in Devizes, because it was, and I asked them where was the furthest so far, they’d played. Being, I’d imagine, the map-man of the trio, Phil called Eastbourne.
But are they booked for many festivals this summer? “Yes,” Phil replied, but couldn’t spill the beans. The Lost Trades are getting a lot of bookings, which is understandable. The only characteristic variance I noted seemed to be Tamsin, who once conveyed a slightly anxious persona when performing but is now rightfully brewing with confidence. More importantly, all three seem so at ease with the Trades’ success, loving the moment, and they’re bonded even tighter.
This is the point I slipped in the standard “what’s next,” and asked, “where do you take it from here?”
“Well, we have a strategy, you see?” Tamsin whispered, “first was getting our name out to our fans, and building up this joint fanbase, which is what we’ve worked on. And now we’re trying to build our name up in the folk world. So, hitting the folk clubs.” And they’ve been getting blinding reviews from folk magazines. “And a lot of radio-play from specialist folk shows as well,” Phil added, “up in Cambridge,” he exampled. Nationally, or even internationally, I queried. “Yeah,” Phil answered proudly, “in Canada, and Italy.”
I supposed lockdown live streaming helped in this exporting, despite lack of profit. Phil nodded, “it certainly tied us over, when we weren’t able to do anything, and kept us in people’s minds.” Tamsin assured, “at this stage in our career it’s not about making money, it’s more about getting our name known and reputation built up.”
To prevent it getting too cosy, I had something more challenging up my sleeve. As individuals The Lost Trades are no strangers to diversifying genres and sounds. Phil in particular, who even delves into electronica with a side project called BCC. Yet the Lost Trades is narrow in ethos, like a corporate identity, being strictly a folk trio, even in design of covers and promotional material. Make no mistake, this works, and is a great formula, but I asked how they could future prevent criticism that it’s getting “samey.” In this I gave the example of the Adele single.
“The fact there’s three songwriters in the band, all with different styes, will help keep us fresh,” Phil explained, “and like you say, we do all like to switch and try other things. I think it will happen, but obviously we’ve put this folk package together, and the music is very much modern folk, going to Americana.” I nodded, in theme too, content is modern. Tamsin added “Also that we’re playing multi-instruments too, which keeps us fresh.”
It was perhaps a tricky question, but you only need to listen to The Bird, The Book and the Barrel to note there is room for experimentation within the genre, and The Lost Trades wish to engage this. Phil expressed, “the folk thing is less about the music and more about how we present ourselves, as a brand, if you like.”
On reflection of their earliest songs as the trio, and knowing them as individual performers, I sense each song in style and writing are pitched by one of them to the trio; I could pick out that one was very Jamie, or very Phil, but the lines are blurred on the newer songs, melded so much I cannot pick out who’s idea or who wrote any particular song; is this what they’re working towards, complete harmonising? It was the longest question with the shortest answer, they nodded throughout me asking it. “I guess so,” Jamie replied, “there’s lots of methods and approaches we’ve yet to try out; that’s another reason why I think we’ll stay fresh.”
“One of the reasons the later stuff is harder to tell is,” Phil expanded, “the earlier stuff the other two were harmonising with whoever had the lead vocal, but the stuff we did towards the end of the album didn’t have a lead vocal, it was all about the three voices all the way through. We could get samey if we did just that, so we’ll keep the solo voice every now and then, just to keep it interesting.”
Tamsin added, “Also, as we’ve grown together musically, we’re writing songs specifically for the band. We write our own solo songs and ones which we think, oh, this one would sound better as a harmony; we tailor it to be a band song.”
Sure, feels like a progression happening naturally, as they work closer together. “It already did,” Phil said when I suggested this, “when working on the album there was two or three songs which didn’t exist until a month before the recording. We put them together really quickly, and yes, they were very much that kinda organic feel.”
Mentioning the impending lockdown as they first formed, I wondered if they felt there was positives which came from it. Phil called the album a massive positive, which if you’ve heard it, you can only agree. “There were songs on there written about what we were going through at the time….”
Tamsin responded too, “lots of the songs we wrote when we were feeling down about having to cancel the tour, for example ‘Winning Days’ was where Jamie and I were feeling miserable, and Phil said ‘right I’m going to write a song to cheer us up.”
“I think, perversely,” Phil added, “the fact we’d built up friends on our side, and to suddenly have it swept away, we got a massive outpouring of love towards us, and that has probably put us on a run up the ladder, that maybe we wouldn’t have got at that point.”
I beg to differ on this one, sensing this shadow of modesty in them, when really, this massive outpouring of love towards them would’ve been inevitable with or without the restrictions of lockdown, because this grouping just works; whether you are folk’s greatest devotee, or not.
For the final question I returned blithe, as I sensed they were busting to get to the stage; “have you ever been interviewed before with questions as stupid as these ones, and did you expect anything less?!”
The one who remained most silent during the interview, Jamie, made a funny noise of which I’m unsure if it was positive or negative, but it rolled out a belly laugh, Phil pleaded the fifth on it, and Tamsin voiced in the background she thought they were “lovely” questions, because that’s our Tammy, Devizes loves her, we love all three; Trowbridge and Devizes finest musical export; I give you The Lost Trades, who I lost; by the time I stopped the record button, they were gone, up on stage, to do what they love, and long may it be so!
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