Monday, 27 August 2018

Hanterhir - The Saving of Cadan (Interview)

Receiving much admiration at moment, and with justice, is Cornish psych-folk rockers Hanterhir and their 5-sided 3-LP The Saving of Cadan on Cornwall-based label Easy Action run by industry veteran Carlton Sandercock. I've reviewed its overwhelming mass of sound - unlike anything else you'll hear this year for sure - in the current issue of Record Collector in its vinyl format, and will be writing on its 2-CD release and profiling the band elsewhere shortly, but a few weeks ago it was a particularly great pleasure to be in my local pub talking to their bass player, and old friend of mine, Grant Kellow, to catch up on past-times (we reckoned we'd not seen each other since the mid-80s), chat over how he came to be part of Hanterhir, how the record had come to fruition, and its remarkable link to Cornish language and heritage.

We started by thinking back to the old days on a Sunday night at Redruth's Penventon Hotel nightspot - then called Trumpets - with its eclectic mix of music styles; indie was downstairs on a cramped dance area filled with alternative types and the sounds of Iggy Pop, The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy et al, while the disco and soul brigade hung out on the first floor with its much bigger spaces. You could find your own identity... or wander up and down and swing both ways...

Ian Abrahams: What were you listening to back then? I guess it's a step away from what you play these days as part of Hanterhir?

Grant Kellow: I guess you’d say it was post-punk, wouldn’t you? So it was Siouxsie and the Banshees, Theatre of Hate, Southern Death Cult, Echo and the Bunnymen, New Model Army…

The downstairs at Penventon stuff...

Yes! Definitely not the upstairs stuff! God no! But then, there’s also only so many times you can hear ‘Rock Lobster’. I guess it is completely different from that, but it’s kind of the same as well. We’ve all got some common ground on stuff we like… some common ground… Peasy [guitarist of singular name] and Ben [Harris, vocals and guitar] would have common ground with Sonic Youth, with Jason  [Brown, drummer] and Ben it would be 60s music, even though Ben would say that he doesn’t like The Who and Jason is mad on them. With Mike [Hewitt, saxophonist] and myself it’s probably Bauhaus, though Mike is also a big Nik Turner fan, and Hawkwind, I think he saw them at Stonehenge in 1984. Ben and myself, it’s probably Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and The Cure, and New Model Army. Then for Lou [Louise Macchi, flute and vocals], she’s quite eclectic in what she likes and I’m not sure there is so much common ground. I’m quite narrow in what I like and don’t mind admitting it. 

You can hear the whole melting pot of sounds in the record though. And for me, and I guess this might come from the Hawkwind thing that I like, I'm writing in Record Collector asking if there has been a greater cacophony of music since Space Ritual? I'm hearing that in its density of sound, with the saxophone wailing across the top, that makes it have a bit of the feel of Hawkwind circa late '71, into '72, the relentlessly concentrated sound...

I’ve not heard Space Ritual, so from that point of view all I can say is that when I heard ‘Silver Machine’ it was because a guy up the road from me, a few years older, was playing it, and also Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’, so I always tend to think of them together, that period of time, 1972, but other than that I couldn’t tell you anything about them. We did have a guy that came up to us at a recent gig, really gravelly voice, saying “I liked that… I can hear the Hawkwind influence in there.” We’d look at each other and go, “What?” because we really don’t get that, but people say it. 

How did you come to join the band? I'd seen them support Hawklords at the Ritz in Penzance a few years back, but that was before you'd got involved with them...

I’d seen them quite a times. I was in a band called Weazledust and they supported us a couple of times, but we all of us go back quite a way. Their first bass player went travelling, I offered my services but they’d already got somebody, but he couldn’t make a gig, was in London seeing Bruce Springsteen when he should have been in Penzance, or something [laughs]. I was in another band, then that fizzled out and I was available. They were doing the surf and music festival Boardmasters in Newquay and a couple of the guys didn’t want to do that, so “can you do Boardmasters?” but I was in France doing the Lorient festival for a week because I was in a Cornish folk dance band. So I was at Lorient while they were doing Boardmasters, but came back and that was it, I was in the band. This was May 2014, turned up one night and it was, “Shall we start the rock opera now?” and I’m thinking, I’m not going to fall for this… because we take the music seriously but we are not serious people, we’re not good on self-promotion, we make everything a joke and nothing’s out of bounds. But this time it was, “No, we’re being serious.” They’d gone through a period of coming up with lots of ideas but without having someone to translate what they were coming up with. But I’d got into my favourite band, I’d just played the long game. I mean, sometimes it’s more like a dysfunctional family than a band, but it’s my favourite band.

So that review that came out on-line somewhere recently, where the reviewer was talking about the band, their followers, their hangers-on... that was something like it, really?

Yes, it was! Ben’s always had a bit of an open house policy about it all, “Why don’t you just come up and play?” so it was like with Lou, getting Lou to come in and put a few flute bits on the album and then Lou’s in the band and there’s six of us… or it could be three of us. The idea was that there would always be people around who were able to gig, if someone couldn’t make it, doesn’t matter. So that’s become the policy. When it comes to the album, if Peasy’s not around there’s probably four or five songs we can’t play without him, other than that, we can compensate, change things around, give it a different feel. It’s quite a fluid [live] band. It’s always fun, it’s never a chore, and people never quite know what they’re going to get. 

Hanterhir: 'Hello Sunshine' from The Saving of Cadan

Easy Action is a label I've long been a great fan of... how did the band get involved with them?

The first Cornwall Calling [Easy Action's compilation album of Cornish bands] had come out and they were getting ready to do the second one. There was a benefit gig in Falmouth, at Mono, and they were a band short, and [influential local journalist] Lee Trewhela suggested us, so we were the wild card for the night really. We were on before Lost Dawn, and Lee’s review of the night was something like, “What do you do you when you see a man who has been in the record business for thirty years have his jaw drop to the floor?” I think that was the first time that Carlton had heard of us. I didn’t think we did anything special that night, tiny little stage, couldn’t really hear what we were doing, but he saw something. At that point we were already halfway through doing the album… but now I’m not breaking my back carrying around to every gig a box of CDs that we might have had burnt a hundred at a time, he’s given us the ability to get it heard in the outside world. We owe him big time. There’s no game plan, so when Carlton came along it was, “Oh, wow.” 

The album's had a long gestation period...

We’d had three-quarters of the album done, then lost it, the whole lot. We practiced at the local cricket club, Peasy lived in a chapel so we’d do stuff there, but generally we'd record at the cricket club and have it set up so that their showers were a room for the guitars, the main bar would be where we had everything set-up, and we just used a proper studio for the drums. Then the laptop we used went wrong, took it in for repair and they lost everything, so we had to start again. So the bit where we say it’s taken four years, it probably took two years but then we had to do it all again. 

Hanterhir (Grant Kellow second from left)
Photo: Maddie Dickinson

That nod about Space Ritual aside, I've never really heard anything like it, that sense of Cornish identity mixed into the psych-folk thing, that huge wall of sound... it's like nothing else.

It’s like, what a crazy idea, but why not do it? Originally it was going to be ten tracks on a 10-inch, with ten people playing on it and given away to ten people. Then ‘Hello Sunshine’ grew to seven minutes long, so that idea went out the window, then it became a double vinyl, until Carlton came back and said that actually there was too much for that… but there was nothing we felt we could take off and now it’s a triple because it didn’t deserve to be cut down. Two tracks didn’t make it in the end! We had a song called ‘Mark’s Ferry Dance’ which was a guy playing a melodeon over a riff we’d come up with, an instrumental, and then also ‘Disco Funk Shit’, which was just as it sounds, us playing a very bad disco funk shit record, but it was to do with the story, Morwenna coming into Redruth for the first time in 2,000 years and going to the pub and hearing this terrible music. 

Ha! They can be on the future expanded edition! What's the story to the opera?

Morwenna fell in love with a boy, they then fell out, the boy killed himself and his mother was a witch who cursed Morwenna to the lake on Carn Marth [near Redruth, in Cornwall]. So she was the evil spirit and anyone who stepped in to the water, she’d pull them underneath. Cadan went to the lake to throw himself in, to kill himself, but because he gave himself to the lake, she then saved him. So there was this thing where she was the spirit and he was mortal, then they discovered that on a certain night there would be a lovers’ moon and things could be reversed. Cadan becomes the spirit of the lake, Morwenna is set free to go out and experience life. That’s the gist of it, a doomed love affair. The Cornish language used on the record, that's Morwenna speaking; we tried to put as much in as we could, though I don't know if we'd ever do a proper Cornish album.

It seems to me as though you belong in that contemporary psych scene, the one that stretches across Sendelica, bands at Kozfest, the Fruits Der Mer and Mega Dodo bands, Litmus... it's a scene that needs to come and find you. Not because you're like these bands, but because its a disparate scene where no two good bands are alike.

We just do what we do; we don't really have a comprehension of what's going on anywhere else. It's a constant struggle to get gigs down here if you're doing original stuff. Times are hard, and owners want to book bands into pubs if they're covers bands. You can carry on, thinking that we'll just make music and if nobody wants to hear it, that's fine. But every now and then you'll make some magic and you'll go find someone out of Cornwall wanting to hear it, or we'll do the odd trip up to London and it's interesting. But we'll literally play anywhere! Twice a year we play locally in the woods, a sort of bartering thing - you do this for free and we'll do this for free - so we play in Tehidy Woods and Treslothan Woods ... Tehidy is all solar-powered. It's just a little scene, it has to be. But we enjoy playing live, just really enjoy what we do.

Hanterhir Website