Herons! perform “Cain” live in rehearsal, at Studio One, Brunel Goods Shed in Stroud.
So Long! (our debut album)
So Long! is our first album. We’re very proud of it!
Herons! began as Aidan, Anna Jacob and Ben Kritikos playing together in Dublin in 2008. They’d been playing Ben’s songs under his name, but got sick of the singer-songwriter label that gets attached to any male name, no matter what kind of music they play. They also felt it was only fair to call it a band, because Ben’s music was rubbish without the others.
Herons! sounded pretty much the same as “Ben Kritikos”, until Anna’s brother Tom Jacob got involved. Aidan, Anna and Tom together brought a whole new view to things and inspired everyone to try out different noises. Tom’s own band, Hermes, were building a studio in the Cotswolds — the Fabled Gabled Stables Studio. Tom and his musical partner at the time, Sam Slater (who also plays drums on So Long!), offered to record the album in their new studio. The group had one good microphone, a small portable recording unit, a four-track cassette recorder, various instruments, and about six days. Talk about humble beginnings!
All the songs on So Long! were arranged by the band: Anna and Aidan mostly wrote their own vocal harmonies and all of their horn parts, while Ben fumbled his way through the other instrumentation. The bulk of the songwriting duty fell on Ben; however, Anna wrote the horn melodies on “Orphans”, with Aidan contributing to the arrangement after. It was their first fully collaborative authorship. The song “Chamber Music” is a poem by James Joyce set to music of Herons!’ composition. Dead men make great collaborators!
As a labour of love, Herons! were lucky to have so much help from gifted friends. Jenny Lindfors visited the studio mid-recording and lent her vocal and guitar talents to “Neighbourhoods”. Christophe Capewell, from Harry Bird & The Rubber Wellies, played fiddle on that track too, as well as giving “Chamber Music” the airy violins that make it one of the band’s favourite recordings on the album.
When all the recording was finished, Herons! had the good fortune to work with Christophe Le Dantec, at Dublin’s Grand Canal Studio, where he mixed and mastered So Long!, taking great care to let it sound like what it was: a homespun album.
So Long! is an album about immigration and cultural identity. As an American expatriate living in Europe since 2003, Ben was really surprised to find how different a person he’d become. He thought about the reverse journey that his ancestors made in the 19th century, all in expectation of finding work, a new home, new hope, and maybe some friendlier faces. Ben also thought about the horrible racism and xenophobia so prevalent in the United States; what bitter irony that the sons and daughters of immigrants should take such a stance towards the rest of the world.
Herons! felt this theme of trans-Atlantic immigration, especially by ship, should be reflected in the album’s artwork. When the band discussed it with Liz Hall (the designer of the album’s art and layout), they had lots of ideas for the raw materials. The photo of children recently arrived to Ellis Island (the port of entry to the US throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries) featured on the back cover actually influenced a few of the songs on the album. The cover came from a picture postcard of the ocean liner Mauritania, which Anna and Ben found in Spitalfields market.
Getting a CD pressed and its sleeve printed is no small feat. Most independent musicians go for the cheapest option, which is usually a plastic jewel case. Everybody in Herons! hated jewel cases: they’re clunky, they’re a bit ugly, and they won’t biodegrade until people have evolved into hairless winged beings who communicate with the power of their minds. As climate conscious people, the band hoped desperately to find a green alternative to the over-used jewel case.
Lucky for them, they found a Sheffield-based company called Breed Media, who offer a range of printing and pressing services, including CDs, DVDs and LPs. They weren’t the cheapest thing the band found, but by no means the most expensive. Crucially, Breed offered carbon neutral CDs and digipaks, which the band like to think So Long! is a good example of! Plus, they were the friendliest, most helpful bunch the band had spoken to, and believe you me, they spoke to a fair few.