Trees were an English folk-rock band that existed between 1969 and 1971. The group's blend of acoustic and electric guitars journeyed between traditional songs, delivered with an often heavy and psychedelic edge, and the band’s original arcane compositions steeped in the traditional vein.
Trees formed in London in 1969, and spluttered to a halt in 1971, barely a footnote in musical history. Since then, ‘On The Shore’s legend has grown slowly underground over the decades. In the Spring of 2006, the track ‘Geordie’ was sampled by chart-topping pop group Gnarls Barkley for the title track of their album ‘St Elsewhere’, after a recommendation from the proprietor of Ladbroke Grove’s Minus Zero record store. Producer Danger Mouse’s use of lead guitarist Barry Clarke and drummer Unwin Brown’s ethereal and atmospheric playing gave Trees a renewed push back into the sunlight. Its re-emergence was timely. ‘On The Shore’s psychedelic-folk fusion was all but unprecedented, and its tone of strange, otherworldly, almost sinister ambivalence has remained impossible to counterfeit.
“A beautiful hybrid, Trees found a unique space between intimate folk and freewheeling psychedelia. Musically ambitious yet brilliantly balanced, they have left an enduring legacy for those lucky enough to be in on the secret” Edd Gibson, Friendly Fires
Trees formed through a network of friends and acquaintances. The first time the folk guitarist David Costa met the lead guitarist Barry Clarke they immediately got out their instruments, played together and, it being 1969, decided to form a band. Bassist and songwriter Bias Boshell lived in the same house as Barry, and he’d been at the famous Hampshire non-conformist school Bedales with drummer Unwin Brown. Celia Humphris, the singer, was the sister of a workmate of David’s.
“During those first few formative weeks and months we laboured to find whatever it might be that we all had to offer each other, and whatever it was we could assemble out of the disparate parts. We knew the end product lay somewhere between the smoky folk clubs of the 1960s, the browning pages of a crumpled copy of A. L. Lloyd’s Penguin Book Of English Folk Songs, and the thick cardboard jackets of the import vinyl we’d find at Simon Stable’s record store on Portobello Road.” David Costa
Their debut, ‘The Garden of Jane Delawney’, released in the spring of 1970, snuggles nicely into contemporary nu-folkies’ idea of the genre, and shares some of the pastoral-whimsy that characterised The Incredible String Band or Donovan, offset by some stunning interpretations of traditional material and Bias’ own songs, which somehow seemed to be a part of the tradition Trees had adopted. Readings of ‘Lady Margaret’, ‘Glasgerion’ and the old standard ‘She Moves Through The Fair’, and the extended fade of the group’s own Road, presage the explosive instrumental duelling that would come to characterise the follow-up and final album, ‘On The Shore’.
“If you are about to listen to ‘On The Shore’ for the first time, then you are to be envied. In an era of mass communication and commercial misappropriation, there are few genuinely lost treasures left to be discovered. Darker and more ambivalent than ‘The Garden Of Jane Delawney’ … you’re left to formulate your own response to this odd, opaque music. Like all classic records, it’s somehow so much greater than the sum of its parts…” Stewart Lee
But despite substantial critical acclaim, ‘On The Shore’, released less than a year later in February 1971, unfortunately wasn’t the breakthrough it should have been, and that the band had worked so hard for. Eighteen months later Trees limped to a close with a depleted line-up, having made no further commercially available recordings.
Over the years of exile, both albums remained constantly available and Trees were momentarily sighted in effusive fanzine profiles and in out-there versions of ‘Sally Free And Easy’ by underground acts such as Magic Hour and Flying Saucer Attack.
On the evening of Winter solstice in 2018 at London venue Café Oto, a group cautiously billed as The On The Shore Band Plays The Music Of The Trees, comprising of David Costa and Bias Boshell alongside a supporting cast drawn from contemporary groups Friendly Fires, Pattern Forms, Corinthians, Ore, Sisika and Victor Noir, and from Trees family members, appeared to reinterpret a demonstrably timeless catalogue in a celebration fans never thought they’d see.
This year on their 50th Anniversary Earth Recordings release a long thought out new Trees collection bringing together both albums. Beautifully packaged this four-disc special anniversary edition includes 12” book with liner notes from founder member David Costa and comedian Stewart Lee. It features two new discs of alternate mixes, early demos, BBC session tracks and live recordings from the London show in 2018.