With no warning, country born, violinist Henry Webster was straight in at the deep end with this genre-crossing trio, Tandem, when former violinist just up and left. Alongside guitarist and vocalist Dave Malkin and electronic composer Ben Corrigan this band pushes the boundaries of two completely different worlds of music, merging them together and calling it, “well whatever we like to call it on the night”.
Words by Steffi Dykes
Looking out over the timeless and ambition fueled city of London, “give me the rolling hills of Oxfordshire” Henry so aptly puts, settled in the armchair of his charming little loft apartment, mug of tea in hand. Darkness has fallen and the occasional flash of fireworks illuminate the room through the glass panes beamed across the ceiling this cold, wintery Bonfire Night.
Already touring around the country just months after joining Tandem, Henry has had a lot to take on. Their debut album, launched just months before he joined the group, had been recorded with their previous violinist, and so Henry was on task to learn all the tunes, pretty much “overnight”. As a long-term friend to band member, Dave, he admittedly had listened to the music before; not to mention the fact “it’s a really really great album” he chuckles to himself as he subtly plugs this little compilation of delights, From Good Stock. Challenges are of course inevitable but this diligent young musician takes it in his stride, “it’s all fun though” he shrugs it off as he relaxes back into his seat.
Replacing a band member isn’t about imitating their playing, but it’s about bringing a new approach and different ideas. Naturally things will change and already “the sound is different”, not just due to Henry’s addition, but also as the three experiment with new ideas together. “Ben’s completely different approach to music is such an invaluable contribution”. Henry’s favourite track on the album is Golden Harps, and with a clear hint of recognition in his voice he adds, “Ben really took this one and did his own thing, it’s really cool”. Moving forward to new material, Henry brings to the mix a former tune he composed for a band he leads, the Henry Webster Band, to perform at Oxford Folk Weekend last year. As Dave was also in this band, Henry had had ‘his influence in arranging the tune previously’, however coming back at it fresh now, with Ben’s input, really allowed the creativity of the group to rework it.
“Living with Dave is logistically easy for rehearsals” Henry articulately states. Band members Henry and Dave have been living together now for a while and playing together long before Henry became a member of Tandem, “we are used to putting up with each other”. “I can always get out and go and pump my guns” he tenses his arms and laughs with a cheeky, infectious grin; glancing down at his stripy bamboo socks, his “number 1 tour essential” he confesses.
Challenging both the audience of a scene strongly rooted in tradition, the other, a culture stimulated by synthetics and technological enhancements, Tandem are bringing in a new crowd, assuredly pushing away from the hierarchical habits of folk clubs. A mix of traditionally inspired folk music empowered by a creative electronic soundscape, that Henry describes as “Ben’s electrickery”. “Our sound is completely and utterly inappropriate for folk clubs and they’d hate it”, he says, “We are sort of eliminating ourselves from what we know, which is difficult”. A desire to inform a society of the traditional music of our country, “folk outreach” as Henry likes to call it. We certainly know which country Henry’s rooting for.
Inspired by his home stomping ground, Henry was brought up in Oxfordshire, a place that has significantly contributed to his musical appetite. A boy of 15 presented with the talented figure of John Spiers, (member of Bellowhead), when he returned to do some ceilidh workshops after having studied at the school himself years earlier, certainly “got the ball rolling”. Now touring around the country, returning to Oxford for a gig at the Old Fire Station he looks forward, in particular to this one, with great anticipation. He hopes for a good crowd of friends and family and local people to support him, giving them something in response to, “where have you been for the last four years?”
With no limitations, Tandem make plans to collaborate with a potter and a dancer, a project inspired by Dave’s hometown Lincolnshire. Although “it’s the most topographically boring place in the world”, Henry mutters and struggles to see Dave’s attraction in “endless rows of cabbages and distance for miles” it is certainly something new to engage with. For Tandem this is just the start as they dare to go beyond the constraints of what is known. The “folk police” are on to them but they are not stopping yet, as their sound spreads through the villages and towns of this country. Next year, they hope to take things further afield to the South of France and possibly to Germany. Henry adds with a twinkle in his eye, “There is a strong folk scene in Germany and they might really dig this sort of music”.
Check Tandem out now on their current winter tour, running from 1st November – 1st December 2013