Track By Tracks: Theigns & Thralls - Theigns & Thralls (2022)

1. Procession - (instrumental):

This opening track started with an old riff I used to play on the bass guitar. I thought it would be nice to add some drums, keys and guitars to it, to make it more dramatic, and use it as a ’walk-on intro’ for concerts. However, I think that it really came to life when Dagda added pipes to it.

2. Theigns & Thralls:

I decided early on to have an eponymous album, so the album had the same name as the band, but I also thought to go one stage further and add a song with the same name. As it is the opening song, I wanted it to be up-tempo and anthemic as it also conveys some of the band's underlying philosophy, in terms of its socio-political stance. Again, Dagda’s pipes helped to lift the song and I really enjoyed adding a bit of old school harmony guitar here.

3. Drinking (Thralls mix):

Once I got into the flow of writing and recording the album, things came together quite quickly. Like with this track. When I came across an old poem (by Abraham Cowley) called ‘Drinking’, I thought folk-metal and drinking, what could possibly go wrong? Again, this song has a big chorus and I thought it would be good to ask all the people playing on the album to add some backing vocals and do a little video of themselves recording it so we could make it into a video. This was so successful that I decided to do a different mix of the track for the video. So, you have the ‘Theigns mix’ for the video (which is shorter) and the ‘Thralls mix’ (which is the album version). This mix also contains the ‘drunken guitarist’ intro which you might witness at gigs. It is a BIG song with lots of players on it, including Emilio (Souto) on guitar, Jonne (Järvelä) on mandolin and Dave (Briggs) on whistle. It’s a bit of a ‘folk-metal anthem’, hopefully.

4. Strive:

‘Strive’ is a very important song for me, I see it as a ‘game changer’. Again, it came together quickly when I was having a very productive period of writing and recording. It is important because it expresses some humanist sentiments (such as ‘think for yourself, act for others’). It is based on a little riff on the bass guitar (deftly done by Arjon Valk) but it builds to include a lot of instruments; including a hurdy gurdy which I have always wanted to add to some tracks. It is a slower track, but it is a ‘stomp’, with a quite hypnotic feel which should be great for gigs and festivals.

5. The Lords Of The Hills:

This is a quiet, reflective track with a sort of 70s feel to it (underpinned by a lovely bass part from John Clark Paterson). It is based partly on the ‘Vindolanda novels’ by Adrian Goldsworthy, partly on my life in Northumbria (which I left in 2016) and partly on my ‘peregrinations’ (for example, a trip to Cape Finisterre in Galicia, ‘the edge of the world’). But I wanted to create a sort of ‘Everyman’ story here, something people can relate to. I think Esa (Orjatsalo) did a fantastic job with the mix here as he really captures the mood of the song.

6. Life Will Out:

This track is a bit different from the others on the album in that it uses a distorted vocal to get its point across, like a megaphone. It is a heavy, atmospheric, and quite industrial-sounding track that uses a repetitive riff to build up the tension. It adds to the sentiments in Strive, which says you should ‘do no harm’ and that life, in its myriad of forms will find a way to survive – until it can’t of course. Again, the guys from Celtibeerian did a great job here. Dagda with his pipes and Patricia (San Martin) with the female vocal line which really added another dimension to the song.

7. The Highwayman:

This track is based on the famous poem The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. It is, however, an abridged version of the poem as it is very long but it is an up-tempo, dramatic track, all swashbuckling and bloody like it should be. It features a bit of ‘spoken word’ (by John B. Kirtley an actor friend of mine) and a rip-roaring solo from the guitarist Dario (Mollo), another old friend.

8. Today We Get To Play:

This is one of the oldest tracks I wrote for this album. It is a ‘back on the road again’ track and went through a few changes of lyric until I was happy with the story. It is also based on the quote by John Lennon that ‘life is what happens to you, while you are busy making plans’. Again, it is an up-tempo singalong type of track to celebrate getting out and playing live (of course, made relevant given the recent pandemic restrictions).

9. The New Folk Devils:

Another of the original tracks for this album but this one is different in that it is a political track with a strong message. It is based on a couple of books about ‘Folk Devils’, which outline how certain groups are blamed for society’s ills. I think the song really came to life though through the addition of the violin part by John (Ryan). It added a plaintive quality to the song. It’s strange how the addition of some instruments has added a new dimension to some of the songs here and it is certainly one of the benefits of this collaborative approach.

10. Flora Robb (instrumental):

This track came about through me experimenting with a different guitar tuning. And the desire to get an instrumental track onto the album using Galician pipes. I really like the sound of the pipes and, living in Spain, I often go to the north to listen to the pipes in Galicia or Asturias and really wanted to add them to a track. So, when I came up with the tune, I got in touch with Javier (Celada) and he did an amazing job, not just with the pipes but in adding whistle and percussion as well. It is called Flora Robb after my grandmother.

11. Not Thru The Woods Yet:

I had written this song a few years back, and I see it as the last song of a trilogy, including ‘An Angel At Harlow Green’ and ‘De Profundis’ from my solo album ‘Flying In The Face Of Logic’ (FITFOL). It is about my early days as a musician in the Northeast of England, playing in covers bands there. Yet again though, it was the addition of a wonderful accordion part, by Toni (Perttula) that made this song sparkle; along with another great mix from Esa. It’s what we in the trade call a ‘toe-tapper’.

Bonus tracks

12. Over The Hills And Far Away – traditional:

Another thing I wanted to do on this album was add a traditional song. I came across this tune through the TV series ‘Sharpe’. However, I didn’t care for the lyrics. Through researching the tune, I came across another set of lyrics (from ‘The Recruiting Officer, 1706) which I felt worked much better and recorded this version. This track features more old friends, Dave (Anderson) on bass and Sophie (Ball) on violin, who also played on my solo album (FITFOL), and the hurdy gurdy of Ilona (Tychon).

13. The Queen Of The Moors:

This track appeared on the last Skyclad album ‘Forward Into The Past’. It was one of the songs I wanted to do live before the pandemic. However, there were a few changes that I wanted to make, having recorded it with Skyclad, so this is that version. It features a rather nifty violin take from Alberto (Tejera).

14. Drinking (Theigns mix):

As discussed above, this is a shorted version of the track made for the video, but it features Jonne (Järvelä), Keith (Fay) and Gus (Infantes) on lead vocals.

15. Strive (acoustic version):

I really like this stripped version of the song because it feels quite ‘earthy’ to me. It allows Ilona’s hurdy gurdy to come through along with John’s violins and cello.

16. Life Will Out (KärtsyMegatommy mix):

I thought this track offered the potential for a ‘remix’ and was looking to find someone who could do it. Through my collaborating with Jonne (Järvelä) - who was working with the band Waltari on their 30th anniversary album - I was asked to contribute to the Waltari album and this put me in contact with Kartsy; and he agreed to do the remix. He did a splendid job too as it is still dark and heavy.

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