Caught by the River

I Lived in Trees

26th September 2011

Mark Fry – I Lived in Trees (Second Language CD)
by Nick Franglen

I recently mixed I Lived In Trees, the new album by Mark Fry and The A. Lords. Jeff asked me how I came to work with this enigmatic psych folk musician, best known for a rare record released in the early 70s.

I first met Mark Fry three years ago over a long lunch at my oldest friends’ house in Northern France. It turned out Mark was a cousin of theirs and lived only five minutes down the road, so it was a bit of a surprise I’d not met him earlier as I’d been visiting the house since I was a teenager.

We hit it off right away, fuelled by good food, my homemade mayonnaise and a shared horror of our hosts’ appalling wine. Mark is charming and great company, and we found we had quite a lot in common, not least our enjoyment of a long lunch – even one where people baulked at paying more than one euro on a bottle of wine. I was pleased when Mark got in touch once I was back in the UK to see if I was up for a collaboration, and so a few weeks later we met up in my studio to work on a new version of his song Dreaming With Alice.

Dreaming With Alice is the title song of Mark’s rare and astonishingly valuable psychedelic folk album (£2000 a copy – check your attics, everyone), recorded in 1971 when he was an art student in Rome. On the album the song appears as individual verses spaced between the other tracks – “Did you pass the glass mountain, where Salome opened her dress? Did you see the dolphin’s feather fountain, oh the King made a bloody mess…” – before wafting off into echoey bliss as the following track appears. It’s a hypnotic mantra that threads the whole record together, and Mark’s idea was for us to make the first complete version of the song. As he put it, Alice has been on such a long journey, it’d be interesting to see where she led us once she was put back together. She was certainly going to lead us to some great long lunches and, as it turned out, long dinners too, with much better wine this time. Mark came laden with provisions, including cheeses and pate from Luneray market and a case of excellent Bandol.

Mark Fry, 1973

The original multitracks had ended up who knows where so we started from scratch with new recordings, as well as sampling and twisting moments lifted from other tracks on the old album – The Witch, Song For Wilde and so on – a gentle modern nod to the song’s original partners. This was a lot of fun – Mark is a fine guitarist with a mesmerising voice, and the sampling fitted the mood perfectly. Once it was finished the single was released on the Steve Krakow’s Fruits de Mer label in Chicago – purple vinyl of course.

Mark had only found out recently what an impact his first record had made, and a little like Vashti Bunyan the internet opened some long forgotten doors. While I was working with him he was contacted by Dorset alt folk musicians Michael Tanner and Nick Palmer, suggesting a collaboration. Michael and Nick were working together as the The A.Lords – a name so brilliantly wrong that it’s gone all the way round into the ‘great’ category – and these two excellent musicians are well worth checking out in their own right. They seem to be continually releasing music alone, together or with a circle of interesting people – beautifully crafted albums of organic, twisting folk, usually with handmade sleeves in limited runs. Directorsound, Plinth, United Bible Studies, Thalassing. I was thrilled when I was given a copy of Plinth’s Music For Smalls Lighthouse – packaging perfection with its handmade book, braille inlays and ribbons.

Mark and the A Lords

The A.Lords started sending Mark instrumental tracks to sing over, tracks with a great sense of timing – “the slowest music in the world” as Mark put it, and I can’t argue with that. It’s gentle psychedelic folk with hanging pauses, twists and turns, guitars, recorders and autoharps, and Mark’s lovely voice holding it all together. At first I had nothing to do with this apart from hearing the occasional track while staying with Mark, but once the record was ready they asked me if I’d mix it, so I did, with pleasure. It was a bit complicated compiling all the music as it had been recorded on very different systems in England and France, but once that was sorted the mixing was a breeze, just a question of not getting in the way and letting the music breathe. It will come as no surprise to hear that more lengthy lunches helped the record on its way, and now I Lived In Trees comes out on Second Language on 24th September. A limited edition in a beautiful quadruple gatefold sleeve by Iker Spozio, each album contains a packet of rowan tree seeds so those so inclined can grow their own rowan grove. It’s a lovely record. I’m really pleased to have been involved with it, and delighted to have made friends with Mark. I’m not sure what comes next, but Mark and I will certainly continue to work together, and have many more fine lunches too, I’m sure of that.

[audio:|titles=01 I Lived In Trees]

Copies of I Lived in Trees can be bought from the Caught by the River shop, priced £10.00