The Owl Service

Taking the name from a 60s novel by Alan Garner, and the brainchild of Blackwaterside resident Steven Collins, the collective (with vocal spars NANCY WALLACE, Jo Lepine and Diana Collier, plus percussionist Dominic Cooper) formed the Essex-based The OWL SERVICE in the summer of 2006.
Not unlike late-60s/early-70s folk icons MELLOW CANDLE, TREES or FAIRPORT CONVENTION, Collins’ wyrd-acid compositions rested effectively alongside trad pieces on two developing self-released CD-Rs. Properly issued in 2008, but actually dished-out a year previously, A GARLAND OF SONG {*8}, recreated these halcyon days of old – in spades. Sourced and beautifully re-arranged, staple “Child ballads” such as `No.49 (Or The Rolling Of The Stones)’, `No.219 (Or The Gardener Child)’, `Katie Cruel’, `The North Country Maid’, `Turpin Hero’, et al were stitched together with cinematic-like gems `Hoodening’, `The Dorset Hanging Song’ and the opening track.
To resemble MELLOW CANDLE even further, their former chanteuse Alison O’Donnell was subsequently roped in to perform on `The Fabric Of Folk’ EP; the simultaneously-released `The Bitter Night’ EP was highlighted by a PENTANGLE nugget `A Lyke Wake Dirge’ sung by Rebsie Fairholm. There were more than plenty trad-folk fare to shake your hat at through follow-ups, the “wintry” mini-set THE BURN COMES DOWN (2010) {*7} and THE VIEW FROM A HILL (2010) {*8}. As tangled and tangent as the TREES, The OWL SERVICE’s rendition of `Polly On The Shore’, `Ladies, Don’t Go A-Thieving’, `The Bold Poachers’ and `Willie O’ Winsbury’, certainly stepped back into a time when we were all a-wassailing; guest spots were filled by Joolie Wood (of CURRENT 93) and a return of-sorts by Alison O’Donnell.
For collectors of their now very rare singles/EPs, the third piece of the “Pattern Beneath The Plough” was duly delivered showcasing `The Standing Stones’ and `The Red Barn’, while the legendary TOM RAPP/PEARLS BEFORE SWINE were given full coverage (at least four cuts) on the enterprising `There Used To Be A Crown’.
Reconvening in late 2013, the trimmed-down Collins, Collier, Wallace and Fiona Radford, dished up a weird set of (Glenn DANZIG) pieces under the Halloween 2014 release of the uncoiling `Three Inverted Nines’. With Lepine back on board (Fiona left), another set of OWL SERVICE adaptations on HIS PRIDE. NO SPEAR. NO FRIEND {*7} was unleashed early 2016 thanks to Kickstarter. Featuring the serene vocals of Michelle Bappoo, `Living By The Water’ (complete with Collins’ own promo video), found its way on to the folk radio playlists, whilst the Rabbie Burns-penned `The Widow’s Lament’ (utilised on The Wicker Man soundtrack), `The False Knight’ and others that once enlightened the grooves of obscure vinyl by CAEDMON and MIDWINTER wrestled away the psych-folk cobwebs. Sadly, this set will probably wrap up the all-seeing OWL SERVICE; Collins having made it clear that on their 10th anniversary (6th June), they will disband for good.
© MC Strong 2011/GFD2 // rev-up MCS Apr2016

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