5 Minutes with… Melrose Quartet

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Melrose Quartet – Photo credit: Barka Photography, Sheffield

Melrose Quartet are releasing their new album, ‘Make the World Anew’, later this month, and you’re all invited to the launch party! We’ll be livestreaming their official launch gig at St Andrew’s Church in Sheffield on 23rd September, hosted by our friends at Live At Sam’s.

Ahead of the gig, we caught up with the band to find out more about the new album and what else they have in store in the coming months.

We’re so excited to be livestreaming your album launch! The album is called ‘Make the World Anew’ – what inspired the title?

The title comes from a new song written by Jess, using an old Playford tune. She wrote it as a joint birthday present for dear friends, and it is a celebration of a return to many of the things we couldn’t do in lockdown, especially making music with and for our friends. It especially acknowledges the people behind the scenes who work so hard to keep the show on the road. 

We love your last three albums – what can we expect from this new release?

We feel like this is our most uplifting and optimistic release yet. It feels like a time when we, and our listeners, need some music to energise us, and give us the strength to act in the face of the multitude of pressures we are facing now as a species. So the repertoire is uplifting and has themes of community, dancing, and the sweet spots that we all draw on to get through.

You can also expect to hear individual strengths of each performer showcased a bit more than previous records – for example, Richard has recorded two really lovely morris tunes, in the way he would play them for dance.

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‘Make the World Anew’ by Melrose Quartet, which will be released on 22nd September.

There’s quite a breadth of material on the album – how did you choose what to include?

Each of us brought ideas of some new songs and tunes along to the table, and then we looked at the balance of who was leading which song, how many full harmony arrangements we had, and the ratio of fast and slow songs. We also really wanted to highlight the dancier aspect of our collective, hence the ceilidh band tracks with Nigel Holmes on bass, and the morris tunes.

Jess has wanted to record ‘Scarecrow’ for quite a while, and James was excited to arrange an English version of a classic Australian convict ballad, ‘The Convict’s Lamentation.’ Nancy always seems to have new songs to bring to the band too!

There are also our usual gifts to each other, like Nancy’s ‘Will to Dance’, written for Jess and Richard’s son Will, and Jess’s tune for James’s recent significant birthday.

How do you go about getting a balance between traditional and contemporary, and blurring the lines between the two?

It’s not necessarily planned, but on this album it happened very naturally. Part of the blurring you mention comes from the way Nancy and Jess go about their songwriting – both draw strongly on traditional forms, melody structures and language. For example, Jess used the Playford tune ‘Mr Issac’s Maggot’ to create her new song ‘Make the World Anew’.

Many of your songs use 4-part harmonies. What’s your approach to arranging harmonies as a group?

Some of our arrangements seem to evolve quite organically, and of course we all have our ‘zones’ we tend to sing in. On this record though, there are definite moments of considered compositional harmony. On ‘Scarecrow’, Jess wrote Richard’s part first, and then asked Nancy and James to come up with ‘more weird notes’.

The video for ‘Scarecrow’ from the new Melrose Quartet album, ‘Make the World Anew’, featuring animation by the one and only Marry Waterson.

This album was recorded and produced by our very own tech guru, Pete Ord! So, a question for Pete – what was it like for you to work on this album?

[Pete] This record was made in quite a different way to ones I’ve worked on before. We had a 6-day chunk of time to just go for it. I’d heard demos of the songs before the band arrived, so I had a feel for the sound and the general positive, forward-looking vibe the songs had. However, it’s never until the first day that I know exactly how we’re going to do things.

I try to use the first couple of hours of an artist arriving to show them the building (I’m blessed with a beautiful studio in a lovely part of the country), to let them settle in while I try and feel out the general vibe and how we might want to go about making the record. There was a palpable energy and a nervous excitement kind of rippling around everyone, a readiness and urgency to get these songs and this music out of them. That first hour or two defined the whole thing for me; I wanted to keep that feeling bubbling away across the six days as much as possible and to try and capture it in the recordings.

I really hope that listeners can hear and feel the joy and urgency in this record, because it was an absolute joy to make and every little decision in the process, from mic and room choices, to the amount of takes done, to overdubbed additions, was to try and pass on the feeling to the listeners that I think we all had making it. To say I’m proud of it is an understatement!

Thanks, Pete! We can’t wait to share the live version with everyone. Now, back to the band. You’re all busy performing, teaching, radio broadcasting and more – how do you go about juggling it all and keeping in touch?

Well, we’re not sure we could juggle all of that if we didn’t live three doors apart on the same street! It makes it much easier to fit in planning sessions and rehearsals, while our kids can all hang out together while we’re at it. The band is, at its core, a bunch of friends and neighbours who happen to like making music together.

We’re partnering with Live at Sam’s to stream your gig from St Andrew’s Church in Sheffield. Why did you choose this approach for the album launch?

We had a great experience doing a Christmas show for Live To Your Living Room a few years ago, but missed having a local live audience. So the model for this has gradually been evolving – first we did a Scalene concert, in Sam’s house, to a live audience, and also streamed it to the Live To Your Living Room audience. It was a great success, but wouldn’t have been big enough for this launch. It’s down to Sam’s innovation and determination, with help from Simon Dumpleton and the good people at St Andrew’s Church, that we can bring this bigger venue to the screen! And it’s so exciting!

What’s next for all of you in the coming months?

Once the launch has settled down, we will do a few more gigs around the country, including The Goose is Out, London, Sept 29th, and Hartlepool Folk Festival on 8th October (as ‘The Melsons’, our octet with the mighty Wilsons… what a wall of sound that is)… then we’ll polish up the Rudolph Variations for the Bright New Year tour in December!

Melrose Quartet will be joining us for the launch of their new album, ‘Make the World Anew’, on Saturday 23rd September. The gig is being hosted by Live At Sam’s at St Andrew’s Church in Sheffield, but you can tune in from wherever you are by grabbing a ticket here.

You can also pre-order the album now!