The Owl Service (band)
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|The Owl Service|
|Associated acts||Country Parish Music, Greanvine, The Trysting Tree|
|Past members||Steven Collins
The Owl Service was an English alternative folk music collective formed in 2006 by multi-instrumentalist Steven Collins (who led the band for its entire 10 year duration), named after the 1967 novel by Alan Garner.
The Owl Service originally began as a studio-based solo project for Steven Collins in June 2006. While working on the first Owl Service release (the Wake the Vaulted Echo EP from 2006) he met Dom Cooper of The Straw Bear Band and Cooper was drafted in to provide lead vocals on the song The Two Magicians. Dom remained involved with The Owl Service until March 2012 singing, writing songs, and co-ordinating the band's graphic design. The Wake the Vaulted Echo EP was warmly received in psych-folk circles and this led to Collins being asked to record a track for the 2007 compilation album John Barleycorn Reborn on the Cold Spring label (for which he also contributed sleeve notes). For the JBR album Steven recorded the traditional song The North Country Maid with session singer Rachel Davies, a song he would revisit on the debut album in an alternative version. While recording the debut Owl Service album later that year two female singers (Jo Lepine and Diana Collier) joined the band on a permanent basis.
The debut album, A Garland of Song, was released on Steven Collins' own Hobby-Horse micro-label in July 2007 as a handmade CD-r limited to 100 copies. Collins arranged, recorded and mixed the album himself at home, also providing almost all of the instrumentation - this model was how the collective operated until its demise; Collins selecting and arranging the songs, recording everything at home, and then bringing in singers and, on rare occasions, extra instrumental players to complete the tracks. Often Collins would record vocals and other parts on location if the singers/players were unable to make it to his home studio in Essex. Soon after the release of the debut album Collins opted to expand the line-up to enable them to function as a live group. It was at this time that Nancy Wallace (formerly of The Memory Band) became a permanent member of the band. By the end of 2007 Collins had signed to UK independent label Southern Records. Not an obvious label choice for a folk band, but Collins felt a certain kinship with Tony Sylvester (who handled Southern Records' A&R at the time) as, like Collins himself, Tony was passionate about both heavy metal and the 1960s English folk revival. The other deciding factor was that two of Collins' favourite records of all time are by the Chicago band 90 Day Men who were also signed to Southern Records.
Southern reissued A Garland of Song in June 2008 on CD and LP and this was followed a month later by an EP on the Static Caravan label recorded with ex-Mellow Candle singer Alison O'Donnell entitled The Fabric of Folk. By this time the band had a core line-up of 7 with the addition of Jason Steel (guitar, banjo, vocals), and experimental musician Katie English (aka Isnaj Dui) providing flute and melodica. Keen to return to his DIY roots Collins parted company with Southern Records at the end of 2009 and immediately began a series of new Owl Service releases collectively titled The Pattern Beneath the Plough. The second full-length Owls album, The View From a Hill, was released on 1 May 2010 and was the centrepiece of the Pattern series. The album featured guest appearances from Joolie Wood (of Current 93) and Alison O'Donnell among others.
December 2011 saw the release of a 2 track 7" vinyl single comprising The Standing Stones and The Red Barn, a traditional ballad based on the Red Barn Murder and this was followed by another 7" release entitled There Used to be a Crown which included cover versions of 4 songs originally by Tom Rapp/Pearls Before Swine.
At the start of 2012 Steven Collins put The Owl Service on an indefinite hiatus and immediately began working on two new projects; the first was Greanvine, a duo with fellow Owl Service member Diana Collier who played a mix of traditional songs and cover versions in stark, electric arrangements; the second was Country Parish Music, a project closer to the sound of The Owl Service. Collins also formed a new label, Stone Tape Recordings, named after the Nigel Kneale television play from 1972. The first 2 releases on Stone Tape Recordings were by The Owl Service; a data DVD entitled She Wants to be Flowers, But You Make Her Owls which collected mp3 files of every track the band had released at that point plus a wealth of unreleased material, artwork files, and video recordings; and the album Garland Sessions which included all 13 songs from the debut album re-mixed and partially re-recorded along with 6 additional tracks.
In October 2013 Collins publicly hinted via Facebook that a new Owl Service record was in production and that the band would be making a return to the live stage in December of the same year. The December concert in Leigh-on-sea, their first live performance in over 18 months, saw Collins reunited with Jo Lepine, Diana Collier and Nancy Wallace (Collins had hoped for a full reunion but Cooper and Steel declined the invite and English had moved to the north of England by that time). The band regrouped again 6 months later for 2 more shows; the first was again in Leigh-on-sea where they were joined by frequent collaborator Alison O'Donnell, and the second was in London at a fund-raising event for the feature-length Shirley Collins documentary film.
October 2014 saw the release of the first new Owl Service record since the Garland Sessions album in 2012; a low-key EP entitled Three Inverted Nines which featured cover versions of 4 songs written by legendary musician Glenn Danzig to mark Halloween. At the end of 2014 after 18 releases Stone Tape Recordings closed down. The reason Collins cited for the closure was the huge workload which was keeping him from recording new Owl Service material. In September 2014 another concert was announced, this time in London at an event organised by Collins to celebrate the 100th birthday of US folk song collector Alan Lomax. The concert, held the following January at Asylum in Peckham, would prove to be their last.
Free from the constraints of running a label, in January 2015 Collins confirmed that there would be an all-new Owl Service album released before the end of the year entitled His Pride. No Spear. No Friend. The third album was eventually released on 31 October 2015 and was something of a departure from previous Owl Service releases. According to Collins; "The album is mostly traditional songs, but the sound is far from traditional. It's a folk album in lyrical content only, not in sound". Ultimately, Collins' fierce anti-industry/pro-DIY stance would prove to be his downfall as the band flew below the radar of most people and the final album was both a critical and commercial failure, being met either with total indifference or worse; completely ignored. Collins himself likened the task of promoting His Pride. No Spear. No Friend. to "flogging a dead horse whilst banging my head against a brick wall". His exasperation was compounded by the fact that he believed the album was his finest work to date, and the pinnacle of what he'd set out to achieve with The Owl Service 10 years earlier. Also, the final record was almost entirely a one-man project, with Collins arranging, recording, mixing and mastering the audio, performing everything except the vocals, and also creating the artwork and co-ordinating the manufacture. To see the album fail proved to be the final straw and soon after the release of the album Steven Collins announced that The Owl Service would cease to exist on the band's 10th anniversary on 6 June 2016. Collins subsequently retired from making music.
- Steven Collins; electric, acoustic and bass guitars, banjo, vocals, keyboards, drones, percussion, drums, synths, recording, mixing, mastering (2006-2016)
- Diana Collier; vocals (2007-2016)
- Dom Cooper; vocals (2007-2012)
- Katie English; flute, percussion (2008-2012)
- Jo Lepine; vocals (2007-2016)
- Jason Steel; acoustic guitar, banjo, vocals (2008-2012)
- Nancy Wallace; acoustic guitar, concertina, vocals (2007-2016)
Other occasional members of the collective on record and/or as part of the live band include Alison O'Donnell, Joolie Wood, Martyn Kember-Smith, Rebsie Fairholm, Pamela Wyn Shannon, Mark Patterson, Mark Offord, Simon Green, Simon Sparrow, Adam Leonard, Laura Hulse, Michelle Bappoo, Roshi Nasehi and Magnus Dearness.
- Wake the Vaulted Echo (2006) (Hobby-Horse)
- Cine (2006) (Hobby-Horse)
- Cine (The Director's Cut) (2007) (Static Caravan)
- The Fabric of Folk (CD) (2008) (Static Caravan)
- The Bitter Night EP (2008) (Hobby-Horse)
- The Fabric of Folk (12") (2009) (Midwich)
- The Burn Comes Down (2010) (Rif Mountain)
- All Things Being Silent (2011) (Rif Mountain)
- There Used to be a Crown (2012) (Hobby-Horse)
- Bare Ghosts (2013) (Stone Tape Recordings)
- Three Inverted Nines (2014) (Horn Records)
- Jean (2015) (Horn Records)
- The Fabric of Folk (redux edition) (2015) (Horn Records)
- Tracing Patterns (2016) (Horn Records)
- A Garland of Song (original) (2007) (Hobby-Horse)
- A Garland of Song (reissue) (2008) (Southern Records)
- The View From a Hill (2010) (Rif Mountain)
- Garland Sessions (2012) (Stone Tape Recordings)
- His Pride. No Spear. No Friend. (2016) (Horn Records)
- The Petrifying Well (2008) (Midwich)
- The Pattern Beneath The Plough Parts 1 + 2 (2011) (Rif Mountain) - 2 CDs; CD 1 = The Burn Comes Down plus 7 bonus tracks; CD2 = The View From A Hill plus 2 bonus tracks
- She Wants to be Flowers But You Make Her Owls (2012) (Stone Tape Recordings) - data DVD containing every Owl Service release
- She Wants to be Flowers But You Make Her Owls (reissue) (2014) (Horn Records) - data DVD containing every Owl Service release and 17 track CD compilation
- The Wolf in Every Mind (2016) (Horn Records) - updated version of "She Wants to Be Flowers" on data DVD and download
- "The Owl Service: All Things Being Silent". normanrecords.com. Retrieved 21 February 2012.