Nature and home are key themes on Up Through The Woods, the second album from David Gibb & Elly Lucas. The cover shows a pastoral image projected on to their faces – a novel, rather modern way of being at one with Mother Nature.
But while the album does explore the countryside – a sweet, lilting arrangement of Rudyard Kipling’s The Way Through The Woods is a key track, while England’s Skies is inspired by the birdlife in Gibb’s garden – throughout the album the duo inhabit a more complex landscape altogether. Opener Jackwire, for example, issues a rallying cry in support of Luddite frame wreckers, with Gibb’s spiky acoustic guitar propelling a simple-but-effective chorus. And the album’s finale, Wheel Tapper, acts as what Lucas calls “a suitable metaphor for keeping our railway industry safe”. Not exactly your usual fare, then.
In between, a multitude of themes and ideas are explored energetically and wholeheartedly. The Beatles-y, bittersweet Waterloo Johnny imagines a pub encounter with a Battle of Waterloo vet, while Four Poster Bath celebrates absurdity with an appealing lightness of touch. And the album’s lighthearted, optimistic title track is irresistible – a bouncy handclap intro heralding a simple, short and sparky song about Gibb taking his dog for a walk. It’s smartly set to a morris tune – Old Tom of Oxford – and exemplifies the duo’s youthful vitality.
But not all is cheery and jolly. Gibb and Lucas demonstrate gravitas and sophistication beyond their years. Paper Boat, in particular, is magnificent – a heavy melodeon drone backs Lucas’s substantial, earthy delivery of lines like “paper boat are you strong? Can you last out the storm? Can you take the weight of a heart like a stone?” As the song builds and a dramatic fiddle line comes in, you don’t rate its chances much. Gibb’s take on the modern city is just as bleak – A Place Called Home doesn’t pull any lyrical punches: “when you drive into Derby all you see is two great car parks and a shopping centre placed neatly in between”.
The duo are just as confident with traditional material as with their own: Lucas impresses on discomfiting lullaby Dalmatian Cradle Song, as does Gibb on the tragic love song Lovely Molly. Indeed, Up Through The Woods is a confident album. Gibb and Lucas aren’t just talented – they’re two young musicians bursting with ideas, tunes, questions and harmonies. It’s only out today, but we’re already pretty excited about the next one…
David and Elly spoke to Folk Witness about the album, as well as their sponsorship deal with Gola, busking, and – inevitably – sandwiches.
Folk Witness: How did you approach Up Through The Woods as a second album?
David Gibb: On our first album, Old Chairs to Mend, we’d really made a point of keeping things as sparse as possible, with very little extras, but this time I think we felt more relaxed with idea of bigger arrangements and being a little more experimental. I think it’s probably a bigger step forward from our first album than either of us expected.
How does the Gibb & Lucas division of labour work? Do you bring songs to the table and work on them together, or do you bring finished songs to the table separately?
David: We normally write songs by ourselves and then finish them off together. Occasionally a song will be fully formed, arrangements and all when it’s brought to the table, but usually there’s some form of collaborative effort.
What inspires you? You cover a lot of ground, thematically. What makes you think ‘right, I’m going to write a song about this’?
Elly Lucas: You know, I’m not really sure. Sometimes songs just tumble out fully formed, sometimes I’ll have had a verse or two ticking over for a while which I suddenly feel inspired to finish and sometimes I’ll just feel so strongly about something that I’ll glare at a piece of paper until I’ve successfully managed to articulate precisely where I stand on the matter. The latter usually involves rather a lot of grumbling and consumption of caffeine-based products. David’s very prolific and writes some brilliant story songs whereas mine tend to be written rather more sporadically, usually in the car or at about 4am. Typical.
Elly, you’re a professional photographer – how did this affect the aesthetic for this record? When you’re working on assignments with other musicians, does it give you ideas for Gibb & Lucas photos? What’s it like in front of the camera?
Elly: I’m such an aesthetics magpie that I’ve previously been known to buy albums just because I like the artwork, and I know David’s done the same. Having a good image and interesting artwork immediately makes you stand out on a wall of posters or rack of CDs, and gives the audience an additional thing to remember you by. David and I tend to work on the Gibb & Lucas visual ideas together and then I create them, so the duo work actually tends to remain quite separate from the rest of my photographic work! Being on the wrong side of the lens used to absolutely terrify me, but I decided to have a go at doing a bit of modelling in order to better understand how my clients felt while being photographed. Like many things, the more you do, the more you get used to it, the better/more relaxed you get. I actually quite enjoy working as a model these days! (This obviously has nothing to do with the fact you get to dress up and pretend to be a rockstar every now and again. Um.)
Songs like A Place Called Home reflect feelings of powerlessness in the face of various forms of ‘progress’. David, you say in the liner notes that “it’s easy to feel like you haven’t got a voice”. Is there hope for places like Derby?
David: I think that there has in the last few years been a realisation that what’s been happening to our city centres may actually have a long-lasting detrimental effect, and in response there has been some small amount of action taken. My concern is that it may be too little too late. Landscapes will always change and in some ways that’s healthy, but I think what’s really scary is the sheer pace and scale of the redevelopment that’s taking place at the moment.
Speaking of Derbyshire, your part of the world [ignorant southerner warning – I’m cheating and including Sheffield and its environs here] seems to have more than its fair share of folky talent at the moment. Do you feel part of a scene that’s flourishing?
Elly: Pretty good, innit! There’s a very definite sense of community in the folk scene up here that I absolutely adore and feel hugely privileged to be part of. You so often hear people fretting that when a certain generation leave us, folk’s just going to stop – but judging by the wealth of young talent and gorgeousness that’s around at the moment, that’s really not something to worry about. The enthusiasm for our genre is alive and thriving.
Your partnership with Gola is an unusual opportunity for a folk duo. What does being part of its Born in Britain project mean for you? Did you have any reservations about aligning yourselves with a brand?
David: I always say that if we were going to be endorsed by any shoe company then it would be Gola. We’ve got no hang-ups about their involvement as they’re a British brand who has been around since 1905, and there’s a real sense of history to them, which definitely appeals to us. They’re lovely people to work with and genuine fans of our music, so it’s been a really easy partnership. I think if it had been a company like Adidas or Nike it may have been a different matter, as there’s no obvious connection or common ground. I guess we see it as just another way to get our music out to more people outside of the folk scene, and if we get to wear nice (free) shoes as part of that, then it’s all fine and dandy!
You’re currently on a ‘busking tour’. What exactly does that mean? Will we be able to catch you in ‘normal’ venues too?
David: We’ve been heading out to various city centres with a couple of small battery-powered amps, playing songs from the album and giving out sampler CDs to passers-by. The whole idea is to try and get our music out to as many people as possible! There is also a full UK tour of conventional venues throughout September and October. The dates can be found at www.gibbandlucas.co.uk.
Just time for the Folk Witness final question … what are your favourite sandwiches?
David: I’ve always been a fan of peanut butter… Or failing that, any kind of meat with Branston Pickle is a winner!
Elly: Oh blimey, that’s a tricky one! Usually I’d probably go for the classic BLT, but the post-Christmas turkey, stuffing and cranberry combo has got to be the winner really. Phwoar.
Up Through The Woods is out today on Hairpin Records