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Festival favourites dive deep to rescue a feast of old stories and superstitions

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 08, 2013

  • Underwater capers for the LP cover with Tim Ashton of 3 Daft Monkeys

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Murky mysteries of the deep and dark tales of piracy, bewitchment, murder, forbidden love and "changeling children", bubble to the surface in the enchanting new LP from Cornwall's 3 Daft Monkeys.

The 11-track Of Stones and Bones marks a fresh escapade in the musical journey of the Westcountry's favourite gypsy-esque folk rock troubadour troupe.

Over the past decade they have become renowned and loved as a good-time, toe-tapping party and festival band, driven by the compositions of guitarist, penny whistler and vocalist Tim Ashton and the fabulous fiddling and singing of his partner, on and off stage, Athene Roberts. The couple are currently traversing the country on their autumn tour – with three Westcountry dates coming up this month, including a belated album launch celebration with special guests at Falmouth on November 30. Underpinning this outing is much broader recognition from some of the tastemakers of the acoustic music world who love the new album, including BBC Radio 2's Bob Harris.

"We seem to be getting a bit more response from serious musos, rather than just being regarded as a festival band, which is really nice," says Tim. "We have loved the past 10 years on the festival scene, but it's good to feel that we are moving on a bit."

They also move on with new musical collaborators who add weight to the mix... as well as the need for a much bigger van. The latter can accommodate not only the band's driver turned bass player Lukas Drinkwater, drummer and percussionist Richie Mulryne, but also the undoubted star of the whole shebang – Tim and Athene's baby son, Arlo. And then there's a friend's daughter on a gap year who is on hand to act as nanny while his parents are on stage.

"Apart from that Arlo isn't away from us at all. He comes everywhere – he did his first Glastonbury in the summer – and we are seeing every single moment of his growth, which is wonderful. He's clearly enjoying it too," says Tim, who met Athene nearly 16 years ago at a squat at Arnhem in Holland when they were both with other bands. They have been together ever since, settling near Redruth.

The departure of their previous bass player, Jamie Waters, and the arrival of Arlo, seemed a natural time to slightly reinvent the band.

"With Lukas we have a third vocalist, so we now have three-part harmonies. Richie has worked with us in the studio before, and now he's joined the live band it's freed up my left leg and I can move around the stage a bit," adds Tim, who used to resemble a one-man band, giving percussive structure to the band's shows using a kick drum. "My chiropractic bills are a lot less, too," he laughs.

The hiatus from performing before and after Arlo's birth last New Year's Eve gave Tim the opportunity to explore and embellish some of the fascinating Cornish legends he first encountered while researching and writing the band's last album, The Antiquated and the Arcane.

"Having a baby takes a chunk of time and that allowed me to go into the Cornish Studies Library and do some investigating in the inner sanctum where the really ancient volumes of stories are kept," he explains. "Our first idea was to do some traditional songs in 3 Daft Monkeys style, and we talked to the Cornish band Dalla about old folk tunes. But in the end we decided to write our own songs from the old stories. It was a really new way of working for us – in the past a lot of the lyrics have been my own musings about life.

"For these songs I put myself as a character into the stories to make them more personal and up to date, so that people can identify with them. Everyone has been in love, and there have always been murder and rebellion throughout history. Then we like to add a little bit of magic in there... a little bit of fairy dust."

The album, with artwork by Cornish illustrator Bex Bourne, is released on the band's own 3DM record label – a move that allows them to reach iTunes and Amazon – "it entered the charts at 119 on pre-orders alone," reveals Tim.

The underwater images that feature on the inside sleeve – representing the depth of the stories they have tackled – was shot in a disused swimming pool because the sea was too "murky" to get good pictures, and there's a video still to come.

Theatrical and absorbing, the LP is a collection that's made to listen to over and over again, like the best bedtime storybooks, as ancient and modern superstitions and bizarre and macabre adventures unfold, touching the stones and bones of the Cornish landscape and its colourful inhabitants. Among them are the upbeat mischievous musings of the god of the sea, Bucca Dhu, the tragic and heart-wrenching tale of Jenny Trayer and her unfortunate child, curses inspired by a hair-raising night in the Boscastle Witch Museum and the eccentric exploits of Reverend Hawker, not to mention the witch doctors or Pellars of Zennor.

Expect to hear four or five of the new tunes in the Monkeys' set.

3 Daft Monkeys, and support Emily Howard, play the Quicksilver Mail at Yeovil tonight, South Devon Arts Centre, Totnes on Sunday; and the Princess Pavilion, Falmouth, with Wille and the Bandits and compere Ollie Oakenshield on November 30. Visit 3daftmonkeys.co.uk.

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