Three Cane Whale

Spellbinding multi-instrumental trio Three Cane Whale combine the influences of folk, minimalism, classical and film music to produce something “impressively original” (The Guardian) and uniquely moving. The music is intricate yet as spare, encompassing both a cinematic sweep and an intimate delicacy, evoking a diversity of landscapes, journeys and atmospheres.

The group are:

Alex Vann (mandolin, bowed psaltery, bouzouki, zither, banjo, etc) is mandolinist with Spiro (Real World Records).

Pete Judge (trumpet, harmonium, lyre, dulcitone, tenor horn, glockenspiel, etc) is trumpeter with Get The Blessing (Naim Records).

Paul Bradley (acoustic guitar, miniature harp, tin whistle) is the one-man band for Fleur Darkin’s Dance Company.

Here the group describes the creation of their new album:

Three Cane Whale’s eponymous debut album was recorded in one location and in one day. Aware that our unusual (and entirely acoustic) instrumentation suited a range of natural acoustics and ambiences, and also that a lot of our compositions are inspired by particular places and landscapes, we decided to take a different approach with our new album. So the 19 tracks and 3 short interludes were recorded in 20 different locations.

The album title reflects this. Holts are the underground dens, and hovers the overground resting-places, of otters. This album was inspired by, and recorded in, some of our own holts and hovers - in Dorset, South Wales, Somerset, London and Bristol. These include churches and chapels, kitchens and hilltops, a greenwood barn and an allotment shed, the top of a Welsh waterfall and the underside of a Bristol flyover.

Some tracks were directly inspired by a particular location (eg Issio, by tiny Partrishow Church; Nightingale Valley Halt, by the disused station in the Avon Gorge; and The Trendle, by the iron-age earthwork of the same name up a Dorset hillside), whilst others had a slightly more tangential relationship with their final recording location.

Recording equipment

All the tracks were recorded using exactly the same equipment, by this project’s ‘fourth whale’: concertina player and producer Rob Harbron.

The set-up was breathtakingly simple: a portable hard-disk recorder (the size of a paperback book), out of which were run three individual microphones on stands. The recorder itself also features built-in ambient mics, so part of Rob’s task was the careful positioning of himself to maximise the effectiveness of the latter.

Location photos show Rob in varying proximities to the band, standing or sitting, headphones clamped, but always an impressively still presence and voice of unerring wisdom.

Individual track details:

1. The Bird Flies Into The Forest To Rest

harmonium, mandolin, guitar

greenwood barn, Leigh Woods, Bristol

in memory of Alan Peck


2. The Huddling Place

guitar, mandolin, trumpet

St Catherine's Chapel, Abbotsbury, Dorset

a celebration of collective monophobia

recorded on a day of climatic extremes: the steep walk up to this ruined chapel, with its 360-degree views of sea and land, took place in a Biblical deluge. In A-Production’s film of this track (see band website), you can almost see the musicians’ clothing steaming.


3. Sudden Windows

guitar, zither, dulcitone

El Rincón, North Street, Bristol

Glimmers of hope in the darkness. “Sudden windows appear on dark buildings / small universes wheeling peacefully” (Norman MacCaig)

The band’s first public performance (in January 2010) took place in this wooden-floored tardis of a tapas bar


4. The Trendle

trumpet, guitar, Windsor Whirle banjo,

The Trendle, Cerne Abbas, Dorset

an iron-age earthwork guarded by a giant, in Alex’s old stomping-ground of Dorset. Rob’s sterling production work on this track seems unaffected by the gusting winds, chomping cattle, or occasionally passing helicopters.


5. Issio

bowed psaltery, guitar, trumpet

Partrishow Church, Black Mountains, South Wales

named after the hermit whose murder, by one of the travellers he’d been helping, prompted the building of this tiny church in the 11th-century. The band performed live here in June 2012


7. Fall Of Snow

mandolin, harmonium, guitar, trumpet

above Blaen-y-Glyn Upper Falls, near Talybont-on-Usk, South Wales

recorded near one Welsh waterfall, but named after another (Scwd-yr-Eira in the Ystradfellte valley). A version of this track was used by Bristol’s Encounters Short Film & Animation Festival for their 2012 trailer


8. The Singing Street

dulcitone, harp, zither

Greville Smyth Community Bowls Club, Ashton, Bristol

in memory of children’s street-games


9. Dayligone

guitar, bouzouki, harmonium

The Studio, Grove Villa, Craswall, Herefordshire

an elegy for the fading of daylight. ‘Dayligone’ is an old Ulster Scots word for dusk (discovered in a Michael Longley poem), and this track was recorded as dusk fell, in the lee of the Black Mountains


10. Nightingale Valley Halt

mandolin, guitar, harmonium

Nightingale Valley, Avon Gorge, Bristol

named after, and recorded at the site of, a railway station abandoned in 1932. Written for ‘The History Of An Orange’, Emma Lazenby’s Channel 4 animation about her Citroen Dyane


11. Tumbling Bay

guitar, trumpet, mandolin

Trefusis Hall, Cecil Sharp House, Camden, London

a tune for Pete’s Kentish roots (Tumbling Bay is, mysteriously, in the middle of inland Kent – see Edward Thomas’ poem “Lob”). For the Ramsgate Sollys. Recorded in the London home of English folk song and dance, in a downstairs room decorated with antlers


13. The Sweet Track

dulcitone, guitar, plucked & bowed psaltery

Puxton Church, Somerset Levels

the ‘Sweet Track’ is an ancient wooden causeway across the Somerset Levels, named after Ray Sweet, who discovered it. Puxton Church is an ancient place of worship in the same area, complete with leaning tower and oak box pews


14. The Bay Of The Alders

bouzouki, trumpet, guitar

St. Basil’s chapel, Toller Fratrum, Dorset

named after a beautiful unspoilt bay and small archipelago on the west coast of Scotland, overlooking Skye, but recorded in a tiny chapel in a remote corner of Dorset, with apples lining the pews


15. Wavering Down

mandolin & bowed mandolin, guitar, dulcitone

Pete’s kitchen, Southville, Bristol

a paean to the noble art of wavering, named after a Mendip hill (on the ridge just above the M5 through Somerset). Recorded in Pete’s kitchen in Bristol, which is where the band began and where it continues to rehearse. We recently discovered that Wavering Down is also the name of the house where Frankie Howerd lived (near to the hill, in the village of Cross)


16. Ruby And Elsie

guitar, bouzouki, lyre

Shed 44, White City allotments, Bristol

thrown off the Clifton Suspension Bridge by their poverty-stricken Victorian father in 1896, Ruby and Elsie Brown survived thanks to their billowing dresses acting as parachutes in the up-currents. Recorded within sight of the bridge, in the communal shed at White City allotments (the allotments also feature on the inside cover of the band’s first album)


17. The Vision

mandolin, tin whistle, lyre, guitar, trumpet

the kitchen, Grove Villa, Craswall, Herefordshire

a fictional isolated farmhouse on the Black Hill in the Welsh border country, recorded in a real farmhouse at the foot of the Black Hill. ‘The Vision’ appears in Bruce Chatwin’s 1982 novel “On The Black Hill”, and is the name of the farmhouse where the central characters live. Recorded in the dead of night


19. Lavender Rise

mandolin, alto glockenspiel, guitar

the bandstand, Regent's Park, London

bicycle becomes time machine halfway between Lavender Hill and Kensal Rise


20. Hobbs End

guitar, English concertina, rotary-valve tenor horn

the Kennedy Hall, Cecil Sharp House, London

alien pods discovered in a tube station (a reference to the classic 1950s sci-fi series, and later film, “Quatermass”; Hobb’s End was the fictional underground station on a fictional extension of the Central Line in “Quatermass and the Pit”). Recorded in the London home of English folk song and dance, in the lovely wood-panelled hall on the ground floor


21. Gryphonesque

mandolin, guitar, trumpet

Rose Cottage, Cerne Abbas, Dorset

shaped like a Gryphon, and recorded in the front-room of a small cottage at the foot of the Trendle
(see track 4)


22. Loomings

alto glockenspiel, chimes, guitar

under the Cumberland Basin flyover, Bristol Docks

inspired by, and named after, the first chapter of Melville’s “Moby Dick”, and recorded in one of Bristol’s most striking dockside locations: underneath the booming Cumberland Basin flyover, just across the water from the remains of Brunel’s original swing-bridge. 3CW trivia: the track “Sluice”, from the band’s first album, was inspired by Brunel’s nearby lock-gates, and was first performed in this same location during the city’s Brunel 200 celebrations


6. / 12. / 18. Interludes

1. citarra & glockenspiel
2. lyre & harp
3. bowed psaltery, guitar, glockenspiel

basement flat, Royal York Crescent, Clifton, Bristol


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