In 1770, Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith (best known for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield and his play She Stoops to Conquer) wrote an epic poem - The Deserted Village - in memory of his brother. In the poem, Goldsmith uses near hallucinogenic imagery to evoke a sense of landscape and life on the land, in a time when modernization was dispossessing the land's original inhabitants and changing its character irrevocably. Fast forward to the early 21st Century, and the abiding sense of melancholy beauty conjured by Goldsmith in this work applies equally to the works of a new wave of underground Irish musicians orbiting micro-brewed labels like Deserted Village, Deadslackstring and Rusted Rail. These labels exist as a natural extension of these collectivist endeavours, because without them there would be little other way for their music to be heard. Pre-eminent among these is Deserted Village, with some 30-or-so releases to its name in a handful of year's existence.
Deserted Village started as a way to release the work of drone-improvisation outfit Murmansk, which itself grew out of an improvisation workshop conducted by the legendary Eddie Prevost-led ensemble AMM. Their complex future course was signposted by a second CD-R release, 'Music from the Deserted Village', which contained everything from drone to free jazz to lo-fi bedroom pop oddities to pristine psychedelic folk. (Go to their web site: like a number of the early Deserted Village releases you can download it for free now.) A string of releases explored these avenues; some accessible like underrated releases by Townparks Foundry and The Cosmic Nanou, and some gnarly and confronting, like releases by Amygdala, Wrecking Ball, and Weapons of Mass Destruction. And the drone continued with a second Murmansk CD-R and Agitated Radio Pilot's superbly evocative 'A Drifting Population'. Central to the label was the United Bible Studies collective concept, represented directly by the 'Stations of the Sun, Transits of the Moon', 'Airs of Sun and Stone' and the masterful 'The Shore that Fears the Sea', but also represented indirectly by nearly everything else, and most strikingly by the acoustic project Magickal Folk of the Faraway Tree, whose two CD-Rs were snapped up be fans and collectors on release. Fear not though, a compilation CD of the MFFT material is forthcoming.
As the music industry consumes itself with false prophets and manufactured scenes, labels around like Deserted Village are going to be increasingly important carriers of the torch of the underground. They are all about the music and really that's all that matters, whether the potential audience for your thing is 20 or 20,000. The handmade nature of the products gives the artists complete control over every aspect of their art, and the Internet the ideal means of promotion and sales. The Terrascope spoke to label kingpin Gavin Prior and United Bible Studies mainstay Dave Colohan about the label and its music.
T.O. Most labels start with something like a manifesto or statement of intent; basically some kind of hole that the creators feel will be filled by the label's creation and forward motion. In the case of Deserted Village, what was the imperative?
GP. At first, our motive was to get our own music out. It didn’t look like anyone else was going to do it. Initially I had a sense of us casting our music into a vast unknowing, uncaring void. Of course, we weren’t alone. It was encouraging to find more and more labels getting music out there.
T. It seems like one reason for Deserted Village to exist is to provide a conduit for the works of the United Bible Studies collective. Can you explain what the United Bible Studies concept is all about, where it got its name, and how it relates to the Deserted Village label?
DC. UBS took its name from a prayer book which belonged to one of the early members and was intended as a joke. However, he thought it was a wonderful name and in the end so did we. UBS existed before we set up Deserted Village and grew like the flesh around its bones. It absorbs all of the musics we love, mostly because there are so many people involved coming from different backgrounds. We started as a duo in Trinity College Dublin where James Rider was studying at the time...2001ish . I had just returned from living in Australia and as we had already been friends, we decided to form a band together after a well spent afternoon listening to Incredible String Band records. Our original plan was to follow in their footsteps and play as a duo, both of us loving folk music and eager to explore the myriad possibilities. However, the sheer enjoyment of playing with others led towards the group becoming the sprawling collective it is today. The Incredible String Band still loom large over the group. While live we are generally in the psychedelic rock realms - folk, jazz, noise, metal, hip hop, electronica and everything under the moon is drawn upon while we search for the white lights. Lyrically I tend to explore pagan themes: nature, mysticism and such. That said, when we are all sweating on stage like a bunch of Battle Metallers, I have my misgivings!
T. What are the benefits and
drawbacks of being primarily a CD-R label, and now you've started releasing
some things on CD, is that a natural direction for the label as it becomes
better known, or will you still release in both formats?
T. The first release on the label was by the drone/dark ambient project Murmansk. How did this project come about and how does Murmansk link to the UBS concept?
GP. The project came about during an AMM weekend in Dublin, which included an AMM gig, solo performances by the members and a workshop hosted by Eddie Prevost. My housemate Shane Cullinane got me to come along to the workshop in the afternoon. Scott and Dave had travelled there from Galway, and Scott knew Paul McGeogh, though he is no longer in Murmansk. That evening, Eddie Prevost and the workshop played support to Keith Rowe playing a solo set. Numbers were exchanged. Most of the good things that happened in my life since then can be traced back to that workshop. Personally, I think Murmansk now suffers from an identity crisis as UBS has expanded to explore murkier areas of improv which might previously have been thought of as Murmansk territory. I still think we’ve put out some fine recordings with that group though.
T. Your compilation "Music from the Deserted Village" pretty early established a label that was going to cover the span from gnarly and challenging improv-skronk to almost traditional folk. Was this the intent at the outset and how important is the ethos of improvisation to Deserted Village and UBS?
GP. When we set up the label we all had wide-ranging interests as listeners and musicians. Naturally we wanted to reflect this. Improvisation is central to the ethos of Deserted Village and UBS in particular. It allows the membership of UBS to be open-ended and flexible. As we've discussed, The Village owes its existence to an improv workshop.
T. A lot of the earlier releases on the label were either quite challenging, almost free jazz in spirit (Amygdala, Wrecking Ball, Weapons of Mass Destruction) or lo-fi pop and psychedelia (Townparks Foundry, The Cosmic Nanou). Most are characterized by a kind of haziness regarding things like personnel, instrumentation, dates (not completely, but it’s a trend for sure). It's almost as if you're removing context and encouraging the listener to create their own mythologies around the music (rather than individuals). What can you tell us about these early projects, and how they were received at the time and how you view them now?
GP. When we started nobody knew or cared who we were so there wasn't much need to list personnel. I've always thought that too much text clutters artwork especially on our minimal CD-R packaging. We've bucked the trend on our forthcoming live album 'Black Colcannon' which has exhaustive credits. Perhaps we feel that people care more nowadays. Amygdala, Wrecking Ball and Weapons of Mass Destruction are probably our three most unpopular releases and never got much reaction then or now. I played on the Amygdala and WMD releases and I think they've stood the test of time...... so far. That said, I almost never listen to recordings I've played on once they're released. The Cosmic Nanou is probably our most underrated release.
T. I guess for a lot of folks, the first Deserted Village releases they probably heard of were those by Magickal Folk of the Faraway Tree and the first United Bible Studies CD "Stations of the Sun, Transits of the Moon". Can you tell us a bit about how the Magickal Folk project came about, and also about how you feel the first UBS CD represents the UBS concept?
GP. As for a "psych-folk direction" I wouldn't read too much into that. It will always be an area of interest for us but I like to think the label will keep changing directions and head down dead-ends and diversions. In the past Ireland always seems to have lagged behind musically. We’re still a small island at the edge of Europe. There’s no underground journalism to speak of. Journalists don’t have any concept of bands who aren’t “trying to make it” I think there’s some great music coming out of Ireland (some of it psychedelic) these days but we’re not great at getting heard outside our country. In a big country like America you can tour and sell records for a month playing to 40 odd people a night. In Ireland there are still only about four towns where we can get gigs.
Back in the 60’s – 70’s it must have been even grimmer. The Irish youth were mostly into “Showbands” who worked the circuit like dogs playing cheesy, danceable rock n roll. I imagine with our small population it would be hard to build audiences for non-mainstream music. I’m pretty sure there were no clubs like the UFO where people dropped acid. Booze has always been the drug of choice here. The 70s and 80s were grim times economically. There was a severe brain drain: tens of thousands of the youngest emigrated every year. Irish Traditional music is very loaded with a sense of the past and the past would have meant poverty and grey catholic oppression to many so it probably wouldn’t have appealed to psychedelic people.
Ivan Pawle who plays in Sea Dog & UBS (Limerick Chapter) is actually the son of one of the members of Dr Strangely Strange, Ireland’s foremost Psych-folk group in their day.
T. As a collective you seem to place a premium on improvisation. The live UBS CD 'Airs of Sun and Stone' is one example of this. Is this performance representative of UBS in a live setting? I suspect they are usually more chaotic than this peaceful piece of music.
T. What's on the cards for the Deserted Village and United Bible Studies for 2007?
I would like us to release more music by Irish artists. There are some good things happening in this country that should be heard. There will be an international compilation of music by people we admire and discovered through trading. We will re-release the first two Magickal Folk records on one CD. I’m taking a long break from booking shows for other people and for UBS in order to immerse myself in recording and to live a more pleasant life in general. There will be a song-based double album from Agitated Radio Pilot on Deadslackstring as well as another Agitated Radio Pilot CD-R on Deserted Village. We’re still recording a new UBS CD. We’re also assembling a UBS lathe LP for release on Humbug. Most of the work has been done for these albums but we’re trying to reach a consensus on what should go on them. We’ve lots of recordings but it’s tricky to arrange them into coherent albums. Black Colcannon is an all-live album out soon on Ruralfaune. It has new songs as well as versions of songs from 'Shore'. We’ve a lot of live UBS recordings which will appear on CD-R on many of the fine labels who have offered to release our music.
The Deserted Village People were interviewed by Tony Dale in February 2007. © Terrascope Online 2007