The name is Dickensian, but the music carves through currents even older than that. A glorious resurrection, and fervent re-investigation, of the instincts that lay at the heart of so much of what is important about British music these days, Dodson & Fogg have released seven albums since their debut in 2012 - with the latest, And When The Light Ran Out, as enthralling a brew as any thart has rambled from the acid folk undergrowth in recent times.
Playing favorites with Dodson & Fogg’s catalog, however, is one of those hobbies best left to the statisticians. Shindig called the eponymous debut “a godsend”; The Active Listener compared 2013’s Derring Do to Donovan and Nick Drake… and yeah, you can smirk and point out that almost anyone who raises an acoustic guitar these days, and sings about something in a sadder timbre, seems to get aligned with one or other of those names.
But subsequent releases evidenced one of those rare talents who could probably hold his head up in that company… and yes, in case you didn’t already know, there is neither a Dodson not a Fogg on these albums, just the one man multi-instrumentalist Chris Wade, and a host of friends, heavyweight guests and fellow travelers.
Wade sat down with Goldmine recently, to talk through of the most remarkable careers of the decade-so-far… beginning with that name.
“They're from Dickens' Pickwick Papers. I didn't want to release things as simple old Chris Wade, as there's a few, so I looked through some Dickens characters and saw the two solicitors and thought ‘aha, those are the lads.’ I always get asked about the name, and early reviews assumed it was a jumper wearing folk duet until they read the sleeve. I like the confusion it seems to cause.”
GM: When did D&F first start... was there an initial impetus for the project?
CW: “Well, I'd been writing for a few years, doing bits and pieces and although I did some really enjoyable stuff, some of which I was really proud of, there was no real direction or reliable pattern to any of it… nothing I could imagine sticking to for years to come or anything being a proper outlet for creativity.”
GM: A lot of Goldmine readers might already know your name from your music books - a series of The Music Of… titles taking in-depth looks at the careers of the Kinks, Incredible String Band, Black Sabbath and Captain Beefheart. Or from your audio books… fiction… art… there was a lot of stuff flying out of your head already. How did you find time for the music?
CW: “I’d spent a lot of my teenage years and early twenties recording 4 track demos and eventually bits and pieces on my first PC, but I had abandoned it. I had it in my head I could become a successful fiction writer, because I did this mad audiobook called Cutey and the Sofaguard with the great Rik Mayall, but it never led to much else. I must have imagined TV and film deals flying my way, so I was a bit naive there really. So I decided to start recording again and I cut some acoustic demos, then started filling them in and asking others to add little bits and bobs.
“Before I knew it, I had an album, decided to release it myself and went ahead from there. I was really surprised by the critical praise and the people buying the music and getting in touch with so much positivity. Then I wanted to do more and more, and it snowballed from then on. I started learning about… all the boring stuff, promotion and everything that goes with it. I enjoy all of it.”
GM: You've got a great looking discography... could you introduce reader stop each of the albums, please?
“The first one is basically acoustic and vocals, with bits of electric thrown in and some guests, and that was released in November 2012. Celia Humphris from Trees does some vocals on it ,and from then on she has done something on nearly every album. Nik Turner is on there too, doing some flute. Very much the bare starting point for me really. It sells the most copies, but it isn't my personal favourite, as I was just learning and starting my own style off.
“Before I'd released it ,I started the second album, Derring Do, which kind of moved things on further, little more bits of instrumentation, more varied sounds and production, similar guests with Nik and Celia, but I think I was getting more into it. That came out in Feb 2013. In the rest of 2013 I released two more Dodson albums, Sounds of Day and Night which was all me, a kind of weird concepty thing with some instrumentals on it; and then The Call, where the sitar player Ricky Romain came on board the project. I'm proud of that album.
“In 2014 I made After the Fall, which was mostly acoustic and featured Scarlet Rivera on violin, and in the summer I released In A Strange Slumber, which had all kinds of people on it like Alison O'Donnell from Mellow Candle, Celia again, Nigel Planer narrating two short stories in between the tracks and a Canadian musician called Kevin Scott who deserves real credit for his piano and orchestration on that album.
“January this year I released And When the Light ran Out, my favourite so far, although the one I am working on now is looking pretty good so far. Also, in 2013 I released an instrumental album under the name Moonlight Banquet, an album with my brother in 2014 called Rexford Bedlo and I think that's it. Phew…..”
GM: I love the way the album covers share the music’s continuity…
CW: “Most of the covers are done by my fiance Linzi Napier, so I am lucky to have such a great artist at home with me. As she's doing a paniting, I can leer over her shoulder and whisper "be a good album cover that..." like a creepy odd ball.”
GM: You’ve had some phenomenal names guesting with you… Nik Turner, who I think everyone reading this will know from Hawkwind; Judy Dyble, who was Fairport Convention’s first singer; Celia Humphris, Alison O’Donnell, Scarlet Rivera - one of the true heroes of Dylan’s Desire and Rolling Thunder period… Where did you get that address book from?
CW: I just asked them really, a quick email to them did the trick... that and the bribes. The first one was Celia, because I had done a little email interview with her for my old PDF magazine Hound Dawg, and then two years after that I found her email and thought 'Why not?' and sent her a track. When she said ‘yes,’ I couldn't believe it. I thought she'd call me a silly sod and give me a symbolic slap across the chops, but she did it and the first one was a song called ‘All Day Long.’ She's my personal favourite singer, I love her voice.
“From then on, I just thought to give anything a try. I watched a documentary about Hawkwind, a band I had always liked but was actually quite scared of as a kid, and I saw Nik on it and I thought he looked a real character, then I heard his flute playing after doing a bit of research on him, and asked him if he'd like to appear. Then he said ‘yes,’ so the same way, he sent over his bits and I mixed them into the music.
“I asked Judy because I had her email from years ago when I had done the Celia interview. It was my way of getting in touch with Celia, because I knew she'd appeared on her album, so I thought she might be able to get in touch with her for me. I had no idea Judy Dyble was this legendary folk singer, so I felt a bit daft, and I got back in touch and she agreed to do a song for it, which she has included on her new anthology CD, Gathering The Threads, to my amazement! That's a big honor.”
GM: Okay - stupid question time. In and amidst all that, what has been the biggest thrill working and recording as D&F?
CW: “Every thing I do with Dodson and Fogg excites me. It's like a constant learning experience, every time I do a new set of tracks they all tie together with a theme and a slightly different style to the last album. It keeps fresh.
“First hearing the voice of Celia Humphris on the mix of ‘All Day Long’ was one of the biggest thrills. That voice is so pure and to me legendary too, as my dad listened to Trees a lot when I was a kid, so that was amazing. Also, getting Scarlet Rivera on board was fantastic, as again, Desire is my favorite Dylan record and her violin is so prominent on that album. I kind of put her at one side of the mix as she is on Desire. So there's some childhood dreams coming true for me, which is lovely. Kind of like tiny triumphs, personal stuff you are really happy with that might mean very little to anyone else. That's the stuff that pleases me.
“Also, recording the short stories with Nigel Planer in London was great, the freedom of going down there on the coach and recording them with such a great actor, and we've stayed in touch since, so it's all positive for me. I may not be a very well known musician, but I get to do whatever I fancy and release it whenever I like, total freedom in some ways, so everyday is a thrill. Learning I could do that and get by is a thrill in itself too.
“But there are always highlights for me. It's like as a kid, I used to collect Black Sabbath vinyl and dream about one day making "proper" music and releasing albums that people might actually buy, I used to sit there making up song titles, writing them on this weird ice cream tub guitar I made myself and writing lyrics and pretend album covers. It was an early obsession.
“So it's as simple as when I first release an album, I look at it in the CD case and think 'I have my own album', and it brings back those lovely feelings and hopes from twenty years ago.
“I just like the fact that there are some people out there waiting for a new album, these songs I record in my office/dining room and the fact they take the music seriously, and that reviewers seem to get it too.”
Visit Dodson & Fogg (and buy the albums and more besides) here.