Big Eyes / The Big Eyes Family Players Biography
Big Eyes were formed by James Green in 1999 initially as a solo experiment, a chance to mess around with acoustic sounds and to indulge his passion for soundtracks and instrumental music. The experiment soon progressed and Big Eyes added other members. Violin was added by Katherine Wood, Mark Rimmer played guitar and Harmonium, Neil Shumsky on bass and Elodie Ginsbourg offering spoken-word vocals on some songs.
This line-up created Big Eyes first record, 'Big Eyes Songs' (2000), a mini-album released on Leicester's Pickled Egg label, and recorded in various home-studios in Leeds, UK. The record was met with critical acclaim and gained fans like John Peel, who featured several of their songs on his Radio One show. The many complimentary reviews highlighted Big Eyes' love for eastern-European traditional music, folk and modern classical music.
The next year their follow-up, full-length album 'Clumsy Music' (2001) was released again on Pickled Egg. This was a darker affair and more experimental this time around. This slight change in style was met with approval by many critics and again they found their songs gaining much airplay from Peel, as well as a #2 spot in the Belgian Independent Radio end of year poll. The album featured the first of many feline-dedicated pieces in the forms of 'Sammy' and 'Tibbs' as well as two pieces featuring cellist Bela Emerson.
Around this time they gained a percussionist in Andrew Brown, whilst Mark left the band in late 2001, but not before the band shared a split 7" with Empress released on Jonathon Whiskey and finished recording their second full-length album 'Love Is Gone Mad' (2002), once again on Pickled Egg.
The album marked another progression, keeping the darker atmosphere of 'Clumsy Music' but with a more of a 'live' sound, influenced somewhat by the group playing many shows around the UK. Once again the response was positive, in particular with a feature in Sleazenation magazine as well as plentiful UK and international radio airplay.
After a short break David Jaycock joined on guitar and harmonium duties. He guested on guitar on 'Love Is Gone Mad' and after Mark's departure it seemed like a logical to bring him into the fold. In March 2003, the band released 'I See Creatures' (2003), a 3-track EP, again on Pickled Egg. Seen by some as Big Eyes' greatest work up to that point, it features the first material written by David Jaycock, in the form of 'A Death Dance'. Rather 'posthumously' Byron Coley wrote a very nice piece about the EP in The Wire about 6 months after its release.
Big Eyes continued to tour as a full band up (with highlights being the Happy Robots festival in Reading and the Pickled Pop event in London) until around late 2003, when the band decided to cease live activities. Instead Big Eyes undertook a short UK tour with a new, stripped-down line-up of just James and Dave performing on acoustic guitars, debuting new material and reworked older tracks.
In the spring of 2004 the new studio-based Big Eyes released their last album. 'We Have No Need For Voices When Our Hearts Can Sing'. The album saw the band explore more adventurous string arrangements, wordy singing and featured a collaboration with Terry Edwards of Gallon Drunk/Tindersticks.
Since then James and David have continued to work together with the slightly augmented name, 'The Big Eyes Family Players'. This name change was made to reflect the collaborative and ever-changing mode of the group from now on. 'Do the Musiking' was released in 2006. The album featuring contributions by many musicians they admired including such luminaries as James Yorkston (Domino/Fence), Jeremy Barnes (A Hawk and A Hacksaw), Rachel Grimes (Rachel's), James William Hindle (Badman/Track and Field), Suzy Mangion (George) as well as many others...
2009 was a busy year. The band released a collaboration album of British traditional material with Fife-based singer/songwriter James Yorkston. Called 'Folk Songs', the album was released on Domino Records and aside from the two James's it featured input from Nancy Elizabeth (piano/vocals), Ellie Bond (violin), Luke Daniels (melodeon), Pip Dylan (pedal steel), Paul Fletcher (drums/percussion) and David Wrench (backing vocals). It received some pretty good reviews in the Evening Standard, The Times, Uncut Magazine and others, and the band took the album on tour around the UK and to Germany.
The Big Eyes Family Players also released album 'Warm Room' in late 2009 on Pickled Egg Records. James was joined on this album by Chris Boyd (drums), as well as Ellie Bond (violin), Heather Ditch (vocals) and Gemma Green (harmoniflute). Not exactly a folk album, but perhaps the component essential parts separated and treated to a heavy dose of Big Eyes-ness.
In 2011 James decided to revisit the Big Eyes back catalogue and create a new album of reworked Big Eyes material. Using some of the original members, plus new musicians they recorded versions based on their then live set-up, in order to breathe some new life into songs that perhaps hadn't previously had been made the most of. Also on the album were two new tracks 'Bunny' and 'Lewis' and a cover of The Dirty Three's 'Three Wheels', which was a bit of a live favourite. The album 'Family Favourites' was released by Karate Body records from Louisville, USA.
In 2012, and following on from an off-the-cuff conversation with James Yorkston at the end of the 'Folk Songs' tour about what to do next, James decided to enter the folk world once again, and create a sequel to first aforementioned traditional album. This time around he asked a variety of his favourite singers to choose folk songs and James would then create the music. Luckily everyone agreed, and the album features singing/songs from Alasdair Roberts, Mary Hampton, Elle Osborne, Adrian Crowley, Nancy Elizabeth, Sharron Kraus, James William Hindle, Heather Ditch and James Yorkston. It is a trip around the UK and Eire, full of love, loss and some pretty psychedelic sounds. The album ('Folk Songs II'), released on Static Caravan, gathered some great reviews, including a 4-star one in The Guardian.
2015 sees another change. James had formed a more traditional band set-up the year before and they had been working on a new set of original songs in the studio. The band consists of James on guitar, Heather Ditch on vocals, James Street on organs, Sharron Kraus on bass guitar and vocals, and Guy Whitaker on drums. The songs are now all vocal-led, and for want of a description, a kind of psychedelic pop. Aside from the original songs, there is also a cover of Lal Waterson's 'Song For Thirza'. The group recorded the album at Red Cloud Studios and The Bowling Green in Sheffield, and it was produced by Dean Honer (Eccentronic Research Council/Moonlandingz/I Monster). Dean took the very live sound and morphed it into something quite apart from previous Big Eyes material, also adding synths. The album also featured Aby Vulliamy (National Jazz Trio of Scotland/Trembling Bells) on viola and bowed saw. The album is called 'Oh!' and is released by Home Assembly Music.
In 2018 Sharron left to band to focus on her solo music, and they brought in Neal Heppleston to play bass guitar and double bass. That year the band started to write and record the songs that were to become 'The Disappointed Chair', with Dean Honer producing again. The album featured nine original songs, plus a cover of a Dusty Springfield b-side, 'Summer Is Over'. If the album differs from the previous one it is perhaps less focussed on guitar, with more bass and drum interplay and synths/organs. The album was released (under the slightly changed name 'Big Eyes Family') in 2020 on the Sonido Polifonico label, with further remixes by Dean and Glasgow-based musician Pefkin.