We’ve all known bands who we know have been going for about ten years but when you look in their biographies, it says “we met last Thursday in hilarious circumstances and have already put out our first single, EP, album and are planning a UK tour for next week”.
With that in mind, full disclosure. We first played in public together about two years ago now, doing some carols at an open mic with a cheap ukulele and an even cheaper (comparatively speaking) violin. However, in many ways, 2014 was our first year as something edging ever closer to a “proper band”. Actually, if we’re honest, it was in December of 2013 that we did our first proper full-length gig, so if you’re still counting, we think of Moss & Jones as having been going since then.
We started this year in the doldrums a bit. We were struggling to get gigs, and the places we’d played over Christmas weren’t really interested in booking us again so soon. Bands with more experience at this sort of thing told us that this was pretty usual; that the first part of a year was always pretty quiet, but it was still hard not to worry that we’d done something wrong. However, a few open mics (thanks, Liverpool’s the Brink and the Egg Café! Thanks, St. Helens’ Bar Java!) to keep our hand in and we didn’t feel quite so bad.
However, with spring came some amazing opportunities. The fantastic Bombed Out Church responded to our request to gig there (oh, we also asked if we could get married there, but more on that later) with not one but three gigs over the course of 2014! We also played a few local festivals (Rainhill, Victoria Park, Childwall Valley …) and got to be part of a wonderful Liverpool Acoustic event too at the View Two Gallery.
2014 was also the year where we first ventured into the studio together. A kind present from Ruth’s sister of half a day’s recording in a studio in Leigh led to this semi-live recording of our summery song, Shepherd’s Delight (It’s Not Time To Go To Bed). This led to our being played on the radio for the first time; Halton Community Radio and Radio Kaos Caribou. In fact, Laura who hosts the HCR show also played a beautiful set at one of our Bombed Out Church gigs with her band, Laura&Claire. Small world!
Probably our favourite gig of the summer, however, was opening for brilliant folk-indie-pop band The Beautiful Word, at Liverpool’s Sound Food and Drink. Ruth was more than a little star-struck as they are one of her favourite bands, and we were honoured to have been asked.
Of course, 2014 was also the year we got married (and played a set at our own wedding, naturellement) in the Bombed Out Church.
As we already have all our own furniture (admittedly, some of it broken and most of it second hand) we asked that instead of toasters and pudding bowls, if anyone wanted to buy us a present, they got us vouchers for local studio, Catalyst. We went in autumn for the first time and recorded a track for our EP (out next year) and an original Christmas carol, A Song for Mary. More on that later, too.
A friend of ours, himself a musician, suggested that on future recordings, we vary our arrangements a little more. We worked on that (in a live context too) and we feel it’s made a difference to our sound.
In autumn we also played another gig in Sound food and Drink, and were thrilled to be asked by Vikki at Friends of Victoria Park, St. Helens, to play not one but two sets at an event that they were holding. The second set would be as background music to a fire juggling act; that’s not something we would ever say “no” to!
In a lovely sequence of happy coincidences, Ruth was asked to compose and then perform a violin part for some music by St. Helens indie band The Loungs. The band hired a really rather beautiful violin for her, and it meant she was able to use that violin on some of our songs, too (including our carol).
With the approach of winter, we “dropped” our carol on Bandcamp. In terms of numbers of people listening, it’s done the best of all of our songs. And this little carol went quite some way! It was played on various radio stations - including BBC Radio Merseyside, as part of Dave Monks’ BBC Introducing show - and podcasts, it made its way onto a wonderful Christmas compilation CD from Cherryade Records, it was included as part of an online carol service, had a write-up in the Liverpool Echo, and WON the Wirral carol competition! (Okay, yes, we live in St. Helens, but Marc’s from the Wirral, and most of Ruth’s Mum’s side of the family are that side of the water too, so it’s fine!)
Our second to last gig of the year was - certainly in terms of numbers - our very best so far. We played two sets (a folky set and a festive set) at the Domino Gallery in Liverpool and charged a small amount for tickets. We were very pleasantly surprised that so many people came that the venue owner, Felicity, had to get more chairs from the basement! The small space was packed and we played a wonderful gig to an appreciative audience.
Everyone said they felt festive after our Yuletide Yarns gig! Our last gig of the year was our first house gig on Christmas Eve. We received some money from the family which was very kind, so we gave a donation to Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity.
At the end of the year, we had some bad news about new EU VAT rules, and it looked for a while like we might have to take our music off Bandcamp, but just today we learned that Bandcamp will sort it all out for its users, so that’s great news on which to end the year!
What have we learned this year?
We’ve learned that it’s fine to get off to a slow start. In 2015 we’re going to use the quiet time at the start of the year to write some new songs, learn our new instruments (a psaltery, and a baritone ukulele) and get back into the studio to record the final songs from our EP.
We’ve learned that it’s good to take advice, and to learn from other musicians. One of the most instructive moments for us this year was attending a Lightning Seeds gig in St. Helens. When Broudie’s guitar strap broke, the rest of the band carried on playing while it got sorted out. We put this idea to great effect at our Yuletide Yarns gig; while extra people arrived and the chairs were fetched from the basement we played a number of instrumental tunes that weren’t on our set list, just to fill the time while people chatted amongst themselves.
We’ve learned that although we can play in a number of contexts, we do seem to work best as an afternoon outfit with a family audience.
We’ve learned a lot about the English folk tradition and we’re realising that we’re probably best described as “folk-inspired”.
We’ve learned that it’s great to make friends with other musicians and listen to them play. Not just to support them in the hope they’ll support us, but to do it because we enjoy their music and we want to be part of an atmosphere where we do all support each other. We’ve also realised that open mics are great fun to play at but also just to attend without playing; in fact, there’s something wonderfully relaxing just about turning up to an open mic sometimes and watching everyone else! We’ve been so lucky to meet and listen to the music of some amazing musicians this year.
We have learned that it’s important to have everything practised to the max and arrangements written down in advance before stepping foot in the studio, in order to make the most of the time there.
What about 2015?
This next year, we plan to put our our first studio recorded EP/mini album. We plan not only to have it available to download on bandcamp, but also to have it on CD, and possibly on other digital platforms too.
We want to do more gigs with other bands and musicians.
We’d like to perform a bit further afield than Liverpool/Merseyside.
We’d like to do at least one “proper” (i.e. camping, longer than one day) festival in the summer.
We’d like to do a bit of busking.
We’re going to sign up for PRS in case we get more radio play. (We’d very much like to get more radio play!)
We’d like to get a few more reviews of our music.
We want to continue to perform most of our gigs in family-friendly venues at family-friendly times. This rather conveniently for us means we don’t have to think about childcare, but it’s also really important to us that the next generation gets a feel for live music. One of the best moments of the year for us came at the end, at our Yuletide Yarns gig. A couple had brought their just-over-a-year-old baby with them; we learned that this was baby’s first ever gig! To be a part of someone’s life in that way is probably the biggest honour of all. Long may that kind of thing continue.
Here’s wishing you all a wonderful 2015 and thank you all so much for your support, whether that’s downloading, sharing, retweeting, reviewing, playing on your radio station or podast, streaming, having us at your open mic, giving us a gig at your venue… or however you’ve helped. It’s hugely appreciated! - Moss & Jones xx