Big Eyes/Big Eyes Family Players/Big Eyes Family 1999-2022
The Big Eyes journey has finally come to an end, after 23 years. I can't believe it has been that long, but I've checked.
The band started off in 1999 just as a solo experiment when I lived in Leeds. My house-mate and friend Neil let me use his 8-track recorder to work on some musical ideas, initially influenced by the likes of Nick Drake, Tindersticks, Nico, Tom Waits and other kings/queens of melancholia. Soon after, I had 4 demos and I sent them to a few friends. I then had a phone call from my friend Penny in Sheffield asking if I wanted to play a gig at some BBC Radio 2 event she was organising there. I excitedly agreed to, then with a sudden realisation that I needed to form a band (and write some more tunes!). I did so, after asking generous and talented friends, we played the gig and the ball started rolling...
Encouraged by a good debut gig (which I still have a tape of!) The Big Eyes project/band started a series of recordings, and found a wonderful home on Pickled Egg Records, a brilliant little label run by one Nigel Turner. The label released five Big Eyes albums and one single between 2000 and 2005, and some amazing music by others such as Bablicon, Nalle, Scatter and Daniel Johnston. We played plenty of gigs around the UK (some with these artists), and were hugely proud when John Peel chose to play music from all of our releases on his Radio 1 show. I left Leeds for Sheffield in 2001, but the band continued just the same.
In 2005 it was time for a change. I wanted to work in a more collaborative manner with musicians we had come across on our travels, so the name was changed to 'The Big Eyes Family Players' to reflect this. Further albums then followed featuring artists such as Rachel Grimes, James Yorkston, Jeremy Barnes, James William Hindle, Terry Edwards and many more.
In 2008 James Yorkston approached me to ask if I'd like to work on an album together of traditional folk songs, but perhaps in a less traditional manner. This was a real challenge to me, as my knowledge of folk music was pretty limited, but it was a great challenge nevertheless! 'Folk Songs' was released on Domino Records in 2009, and we played several live shows to support it. The album also brought in further collaborators in Nancy Elizabeth, Mary Hampton, Pip Dylan, Luke Daniels and David Wrench.
After this, the band evolved again, became electric, instrumental and worked on projects reworking older Big Eyes material and live film scores, performing them at The Roundhouse in London and The Green Man Festival.
In 2014 I wanted to create a version of the band that was a more song-based entity, perhaps a more standard (guitar, bass, drums, vocals, keys) line-up and just working mainly on new material. In this phase occasional vocalist Heather Ditch became our focus, and we built the songs around her. For the first time we worked with a producer, Mr Dean Honer (of I Monster, Eccentronic Research Council +) who essentially became a Big Eye too, and we crafted two albums of odd psychedelic pop music, 'Oh!' and 'The Disappointed Chair', released on Home Assembly Music and Sonido Polifonico in 2015 and 2020 respectively.
It feels like the right time to stop, whilst on a high. I'd much rather do this than carry on for the sake of it, and just churn out diminishing returns.
I'd just like to thank everyone who has contributed to the band, put up with me, and made us create music that I'm hugely proud of! They are:
Mark Rimmer, Katherine Jackson, David Jaycock, Neil Shumsky, Elodie Ginsbourg, Andy Brown, Heather Ditch, Chris Boyd, Jerome Smith, Brian Ellis, Paul Fletcher, Ellie Dupont, Juliun Ryan, Lindsay Aitkenhead, Jeremy Barnes, James Yorkston, James William Hindle, Terry Edwards, Rachel Grimes, Jamie Crewe, Nancy Elizabeth, Emma Smith, Pip Dylan, Luke Daniels, David Wrench, Mary Hampton, Adrian Crowley, Alasdair Roberts, Elle Osborne, James Street, Sharron Kraus, Guy Whittaker, Neal Heppleston, Dean Honer, Gemma Green, Gayle Brogan.
Before I explain more about the new album, I thought you might like to see two great videos that have been made for us, by film-maker Lee Mondo and folk-musician and animator Marry Waterson.
We've changed our name. It isn't radical, but with the nature of how the band of how it has been for the last eight or so years (more of a group, less of a collaborative project), we've decided to shorten it
to 'Big Eyes Family'. I hope that is ok with you.
Four years have whizzed by since our last record (Oh!, 2016), and here is the follow-up. In a way it feels like a continuation of the same psychedelic pop project, except perhaps that the songs have become a
little more odd and the sound a little more weighted towards synths/organs than guitars. Neal Heppleston has joined on double bass/electric bass (replacing Sharron Kraus) bringing with him some off-kilter sounds.
Aside from that, the family are the same. Heather Ditch is the resident singer and wordsmith, Guy Whittaker a most creative drummer, Jim Street our organ/synth aficionado, and I play guitar and do a few other things.
We recorded the album in Sheffield at Three Galleys Studio by Jim, and at The Bowling Green with Dean Honer (of I Monster/ Eccentronic Research Council/ Moonlandingz/ International Teachers Of Pop). We were also very fortunate to again get Dean to produce the album. In the process of recording and producing he really has become a sixth member of the band, and we really enjoyed working with him.
There are ten songs. This time, the themes vary from the fate of a satellite orbiting Saturn (Cassini's Regret), Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' cousin Edie Bouvier Beale, who features in the
documentary film 'Grey Gardens' (The Disappointed Chair) and difficulties in connecting with people ((Sing Me Your) Saddest Song).
The one cover is a version of a Dusty Springfield B-Side, 'Summer Is Over'.
The vinyl album is released in an edition of 250, on the Sonido Polifonico label, home to releases by Burd Ellen, Pefkin, Emma Tricca, The Left Outsides, Dean McPhee, Alasdair Roberts/James Green and more.
The image on the cover is from a painting by a very talented artist I met in 2019 called Corrina Rothwell.
Thanks to everyone who helped us make the album. We're very grateful for time given, sometimes for free. We think it was worth the effort. We hope you do too. Enjoy!
James Green, Big Eyes Family
Released 26th February 2016, limited vinyl and digital on Home Assembly Music, distributed by Cargo.
So here it is. We've been quietly beavering away on our new album for a couple of years now. After the last album ('Folk Songs II'),
I wanted to make a change, and concentrate on creating our own music, rather than re-interpreting traditional songs. I discussed with Heather,
who has slowly become our lead singer about working on songs together, myself writing the music, and her the words, and so the process of making
'Oh!' started. I looked at finding new players for the band, which I wanted to work like a live group, rather then some of the sprawling
line-ups we'd had in the past, with 20 or so contributors on a typical album. I wanted us to sound like a 'unit', and work on these new songs
together until they felt ready and then record them for the album. Previously Big Eyes had mostly recorded pieces first, and when it came to live
work we tried to adapt them. Bit by bit, Heather and I pieced these new songs together and we found solid cohorts in Sharron Kraus (well known as
an established folk singer/solo artist) who joined as bass guitar and singing, Guy Whittaker on drums (who I'd known before from the other band he
plays in, the wonderful Magpies) and James Street, who was recommended to me as a bit of an organ-whizz. He certainly is.
Heather's lyrical subjects range from adoption gone wrong (Pendulum) to the London riots of 2011 (Reeves' Lament); from the surreal tale of Ann Boleyn
stranded in a futuristic African wilderness (Desert Queen) to the tragic tale of Joyce Vincent (Joyce), who was found dead in her flat in London
three years after she died, her TV set still on, partly-wrapped Christmas presents at her feet.
There is one cover on the album, 'Song For Thirza', a little-known song by Lal Waterson; a true-story about a girl who lived with the Waterson family,
rescued from the workhouse back in the 1950s.
We had now worked the songs into workable forms and started recordings with James Barlow at Red Cloud Studios.
Now I was curious to work with a producer, since pretty much everything we had done before was self-produced. I had Dean Honer in my sights.
He is something of a Sheffield legend, part of I Monster, Eccentronic Research Council and Moonlandingz, and someone who could potentially twist
our new songs about and heighten the atmospheres in his studio, 'The Bowling Green'. Luckily he agreed, and we are more than chuffed with what he has done.
He also played synth on a few tracks, and viola/bowed-saw player Aby Vulliamy (Bill Wells/Trembling Bells/Dark Northumbria) added some further magic.
The sleeve of the album was designed by textile artist/designer Laura Slater. I've admired her bold print work for years now,
and figured it might work well on a record sleeve.
Sorry if it sounds like blowing my/our own trumpets, but I think this is best record Big Eyes has ever made. I feel a bit like I did when we released
our first record ('Big Eyes Songs', back in 2000), except then I felt that we were creating our own 'classical music', and this time, we have created our
own 'pop music' (albeit pretty strange pop music). I really hope you enjoy the album as much as we have enjoyed making it, and I want to thank all those
who helped us make 'Oh!', the Players, Mr Barlow, Mr Honer, Jen Halse and all at Home Assembly Music.
BIG EYES FAMILYThe Disappointed Chair LP (Sonido Polifonico)
Big Eyes Family are a long-running Sheffield outfit who previously went under the names Big Eyes and The Big Eyes Family Players. This is their first release under the Big Eyes Family name. Beautifully packaged, as is the norm with Sonido Polifonico releases, the album comes in two editions, an LP with free download code, limited to 250 copies, and an ultra-limited version that comprises the LP, a lathe cut remix 7", a hand-numbered screen print by band founder James Green, a photo, two badges, a ceramic crow token by Bev Seth, and a download code; only 93 copies of this edition were made and I understand it is very close to selling out, if it hasn't already, but the LP is still available at the time of writing. This LP is the first non-lathe cut release offered by Sonido Polifonico, and comes with a printed inner sleeve with info and photos.
Sing Me Your Saddest Song is melancholic and moving indiepop that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Sarah Records, combined with additional explorations of folk, baroque psych pop, and Broadcast/Pram-style retrofuturism. I am truly astounded by the sheer beauty of this song. From the Corner of My Eye is eerie, unsettling folk-pop, with woozy, feverish use of synths and spoken word. Modern Witchery is inspired by traditional folk and ornamented with whooshing cosmic synths and beautifully haunted backing vocals. Cassini'' Regret is shimmering, soaring psychedelic pop, with a beautiful melody swathed in spacey electronics - just perfect. For Grace is gentle folk-pop giving way to experimental psychedelia, the whole piece having a soft, airy ambience. The 7" features Dean Honer's Kosmik Isolation Remix of Cassini's Regret, with electronic echo effects on the vocals and maximum retrofuturistic bleepage emphasising the spaciness of the song. Gayle Brogan (Pefkin) remixes Modern Witchery, introducing reverb-drenched vocals for a choir-of-angels effect alongside sombre violin and deep space synth experimentation. A truly superb album, I wholeheartedly recommend it. Available at Sonido Polifonico