I’m loving the amount of top quality new music I am hearing recently and I want to introduce you all to an acoustic folk band called ‘Tess of the Circle’ who fits this description. You may recognise the name, as they were one of my personal highlights while watching Battfest (see post Battfest 2013). It was the gentle vocal tone from the singer Tess Jones that made me pay attention. He said during the set that his voice was sore from a previous gig but it sounded good to me. The set itself had a stripped down acoustic sound that left me wanting more.
As always, I did a bit of homework on ‘Tess of the Circle’ and I found out that they recently released an album called ‘Thorns’ (which I will talk about later) and that Tess Jones had released a solo album ‘Magpie’ in 2010 (both are now part of my cd collection). ‘Magpie’ is a solid release that that is filled with great lyrics, delivered with a wonderful delicate vocal tone. I highly recommend that you listen to the tracks ‘Elliott’, ‘Save Me from Myself’ and ‘Living in a State of’ from the album as they all show the great ability Tess has to offer.
The new album ‘Thorns’ (released July 2013) demonstrates the natural development Tess has made in his songwriting ability and how he wants his music to sound. He has taken the gentile sound from his solo release ‘Magpie’ and added more musical layers by bringing in extra musicians (know as the Circle). There is something about the sound of the album that feels more confident and focused on it’s sound that it delivers.
Musically, the album has a retro folk/rock feel that is filled with great arrangements which aid the delivery of the different tempo’s needed for the emotion behind the lyrics. As for the lyrics, Tess has a wonderful ability to write captivating songs which take you on a journey and the way in which he delivers the words with great vocal tone helps to give each song it’s own unique soul. ‘Better Days’ and ‘Eyes of a Clown’ are great examples of the different sounds that this album has to offer and my highlights from this release. My favourite track ‘Lifesong’ was easy to choose as it is a well crafted song which includes amazing flamenco guitar solos (from Lee Clifron) and the best vocals from the album. Overall, a great album that needs to be heard.
Tess was kind enough to get involved with the post and answer a few question about his music.
Which musicians have been the biggest influences on your sound?
I was born in 1972 which, to this day, I feel was a great musical time to be exposed to whilst I was in my formative years. The early seventies saw Nick Drake, Colin Blunstone, The Doors, David Bowie, Creedance Clearwater. The wealth of music of that era is enough to draw from for a lifetime. However, one aspect of my songwriting that isn't often picked up on is also a love for 90's acoustic grunge. Alice In Chains, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam - this to me was a great renaissance period for rock. Intense, passionate.
Why did you choose the name ‘Tess of the Circle’?
Well there is myself Tess, a male singer songwriter from the UK. But then there are the people I want to acknowledge. Those that share this journey with me. So, the Idea of The Circle is that there are a circle of musicians and production folk that can come in, jam, evolve the music. It's a free flowing concept that allows the music to vary from me on a stage with a guitar solo or a 10 piece band with a string section!
What can fans expect from your live performances?
The album Thorns is hopefully quite polished thanks to the expertise of Chris Potter (The Verve, Richard Ashcroft) and mixer Adrian Hall (Imagine Dragons, Paper Aeroplanes) and although we look to maintain that live, my key aim for a live show is to show the emotion and the roots of the lyrics. My motto in writing is that everything has to work acoustically first. If you can't convey the song in it's purest form then no level of production is going to ultimately change that. So when we toured this summer we took it right back to two guitars and two vox.
This is your second album, what did you want to do different from your debut release?
When I wrote the debut album Magpie, I wanted it to be introspective and gentle. Although it featured other instruments, I never wanted it to stray too far from the feeling of a man with his guitar. We used string quartets to add emotion but not detract from the intimacy.
With the second album Thorns, I knew, upon the completion of writing, that it needed a bigger sound. The songs were still autobiographical but the album seemed to demand a band feel. Music often takes on a life of its own and it's your responsibility as a writer to find out where it wants to go. As I've said before, a song has to work acoustically for me before you even consider layering it. But, I could hear the arrangements in my head and the album demanded an upbeat band feel!
What is planned for Tess of the Circle over the next 12 months?
I believe we have a Radio 2 Live session with Bob Harris planned. To be broadcast in December 2013. Other than that its about spreading the word through singles and live shows. We toured extensively over the summer, taking the songs back to their acoustic roots. But now we are building a bigger live presence and bringing percussion and bass into the live mix. We are planning a Winter tour so people should get in touch if they want us to come play!
I’m hoping to catch ‘Tess of the Circle’ perform when they start their winter tour so I can hear this great music performed live. Until then, I have a feeling ‘Thorns’ will be getting played on a regular basis. I can’t recommend this album highly enough and you should grab yourself a copy today, you will not be disappointed.