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Big Eyes / The Big Eyes Family Players

Big Eyes was started in 1999 by James Green as an experiment in playing (or attempting to play) classical music with little knowledge of the genre or classical theory.  Eventually James recorded a bunch of songs, with the help of some friends, sent off some demo tapes, one of which arrived at the hq of Pickled Egg Records. Shortly afterwards Pickled Egg offered to put out the demo as a mini-album, entitled 'Big Eyes Songs'. Around the same time, the first line-up of the band was formed, primarily to play live. In 2002 Mark left the band, and David Jaycock joined to take over his role.

Many gigs came and went (highlights included supporting Daniel Johnston on his first UK show), as did 3 full length albums; 'Clumsy Music', 'Love is Gone Mad' and 'We Have No Need For Voices When Our Hearts Can Sing' as well as the EP 'I See Creatures' (all on Pickled Egg). The last Big Eyes album featured a collaboration with Terry Edwards ('Bugle Junior') and was a sign of things to come with regards to the future of the band.  In 2004 the the live set-up folded in order to concentrate on studio-based activities.

James and David continued to write and record and decided to put together a collaborations album. The next 2 years were taken up with this project, and the results were released in May 2006 as 'Do the Musiking' under the new moniker of The Big Eyes Family Players.  This 29-track album featured contributions/collaborations with such luminaries as James Yorkston, Jeremy Barnes (A Hawk and A Hacksaw/Bablicon), Rachel Grimes (Rachel's), Suzy Mangion (George), as well as many others.  The album is a heady orchestral spin through klezmer, drone, balladry, folk and modern composition and comes in a lovely cd-digipack.  The Yorkston-collaboration 'Sunday Jacket' featured on the flip-side of the 7-inch version of his single 'Woozy With Cider' in 2007 (on Domino Records).

In 2008 the Family Players released an 8-track album, 'Donkeysongs' on Irish label Rusted Rail. It was put together by James, David and Chris Boyd (of Chora), each member playing lots of instruments (not all at the same time). Perhaps the most psychedelic of the Big Eyes-related releases?

Forthcoming Gigs

Check the live page for details.

Discography

The Big Eyes Family Players 'Warm Room' CD
(Pickled Egg Records Egg 72CD)

‘Warm Room’ is the fourth album from The Big Eyes Family Players, after ‘Do The Musiking’ (Pickled Egg 2006), Donkeysongs (Rusted Rail 2008) and ‘Folk Songs’ - by James Yorkston & The Big Eyes Family Players (Domino 2009). The album was conceived initially as an ‘ode’ to folk music. Those perhaps expecting an album of string-led polkas and klezmer-styled pieces may be a little surprised.

On this occasion, the Players have yet again taken another shape. As ever, led by captain James Green (vocals, guitar, piano, harmonium, cello, percussion, shahi baja, loops, organ, harp, zither), the album features Ellie Bond on violin, Gemma Green on harmonium, Chris Boyd on drums and Heather Ditch on vocals.

Rather than necessarily being an album of folk material, ‘Warm Room’ is an attempt to dissect the genre, albeit through the Big Eyes filter and focuses in on those individual elements. There are ‘songs’, in the form of the traditional pieces (the despairing ‘False True Love’) and original numbers (the dream-story ‘White Bones’ and bloody Spanish lament ‘Rojo’), but elsewhere the focus is on texture, the landscape and the mood of the traditional folk form, and is reflected in pieces such as the love-song-raga ‘A Lick and A Promise’, the pastoral ecstasy of ‘Galapagos’, the chaotic skip of ‘The Great Pin Dance’ and closer ‘Song for Newborough Warren’ (inspired by the great sand dunes of the nature reserve on Anglesey, Wales).

Listen to Warm Room on Last.fm

UK: £10.00


EU: €15.00


US: $18.00

The Big Eyes Family Players 'Do The Musiking' CD
(Pickled Egg Records Egg 61CD)

'Do the Musiking' is an album curated and created by Big Eyes captain James Green, along with his co-pilot David Jaycock over the past 3 years. After the last Big Eyes album, 'We Have No Need for Voices...', they decided to call it a day with the 'group' dynamic, and plough their interests into experimenting with classical/folk arrangements and collaborating with artists they admire. The new album, under the moniker 'The Big Eyes Family Players', is a 29-track album, featuring contributions from numerous musical talents including James Yorkston, James William Hindle, Rachel Grimes (Rachel’s), Jeremy Barnes (A Hawk and A Hacksaw, Bablicon) and Suzy Mangion (George, and occasionally Piano Magic).

"This pool of talent allows the songs to really take-off and become fully realised, often taking on a classical persona, no more so than on 'Die Nacht' which is a gorgeous piece of music that makes you listen, and is followed by the brief but lovely 'Shanty For Darty'. An almost hallucinatory feel is conjured up by the drone-folk of 'A Dream Of Fires', which at 3 minutes 20 seconds is one of only three tracks to break the three minute barrier, meaning that the songs pass by like dreams half remembered, something which gives the album a magical feel, the sound of woodlands on a summer day" [The Ptolemaic Terrascope]

"With this 29 song/78 minute album it seems like Big Eyes - now The Big Eyes Family Players - set out to quietly astound and perhaps confound. An album so sprawling, it makes the Beatles 'White Album' sound downright cohesive; but it’s also got something else in common with that album - it’s almost all excellent. Woozy Gypsy laments for sleepwalkers, the perfect theme to a remake of The Third Man, an almost lo-fi gauzy indie-folk pop squeezing sunshine out of eternity through acts of melodic compassion. One track sorta reminds me of Alasdair Roberts. There are some of Cluster's miniature universe theories, and a moment or two reminiscent of Neu, icicle windchimes, and warm cool softspoken intimacy. Lots of old European sorrow, nocturnal jazz grooves, a dash of discordant angst, and some surrealistic lullabies slowly passing like elevated Fahey extrapolations meandering down a glacial riverbed. Some haunted hallucinatory personal folk songs, and an expansive sense of mystery, of something only partially revealed, perhaps glimpsed only in passing" [George Parsons, Dream Magazine]

'For Cognac' (MP3)
'Die Nacht' (MP3)
'The Printmaker's Dilemmas' (MP3)

Download Do the Musiking from eMusic
Listen to Do the Musiking on Last.fm


UK: £10.00


EU: €15.00


US: $18.00

'We Have No Need for Voices when Our Hearts Can Sing' CD
(Pickled Egg Records Egg 49CD)

Perhaps the most musically varied of all their releases, ‘WHNNFVWOHCS’ sees Big Eyes loosening their belts somewhat, with a collection of full-on chamber pieces, country mules, polkas and plainsongs. There are the precise baroque arrangements of ‘Spidersong’ and ‘On Twigs’, the American folk of ‘David’s Lovesong’ and ‘At Claydon Point’, the graceful string fugues of ‘Podsley’s Lullaby’ and ‘A Second Heavy Heart’, and the atonal meanderings of ‘Wash Me Upstream’ and ‘Drunken Ghost Dance’. The album also includes a collaboration with the multi-instrumentalist Terry Edwards (ex-Tindersticks, Gallon Drunk), in the form of ‘Bugle Junior’, on which he plays flugelhorns.

'David's Love Song' (MP3)
'Bugle Junior' (MP3)
'Podsley's Lullaby' (MP3)

Download We Have No Need For Voices When Our Hearts Can Sing from eMusic


UK: £10.00


EU: €15.00


US: $18.00

'I See Creatures' 7" EP
(Pickled Egg Records Egg 45)

"A really stark and swirly instrumental blend of psychedelic influences held in check, as they might have been on a classic Elektra LP (or maybe a Nick Nicely 45). The way they weave the acoustic guitar into the arrangements, really reminds me of mid-period Love (if they had been into doing movie soundtracks), but not in a way that I could easily explain" [Byron Coley, The Wire]

'Gentle Neck' (MP3)


UK: £3.00


EU: €5.00


US: $7.00

'Love is Gone Mad' CD
(Pickled Egg Records Egg 36CD)

Second full-length album from the Leeds/Sheffield ensemble, explores the theme of love songs in all their many manifestations. Perhaps less experimental than its predecessors, but more visceral. "Big Eyes make music that's perfect to smudge your mascara to: velvety instrumentals streaked with unfurling string glassandos, droplets of Spanish guitar and the tears of a million broken hearts.

"Love Is Gone Mad comes on like a morphined-up Ennio Morricone, yet charms it's way into the inner ear with a beguiling beauty all it's own" [Amber Cowan, Sleazenation]

'Fast, Loose & Lovely' (MP3)
'Lament for the Lost Ones' (MP3)

Download Love is Gone Mad from eMusic


UK: £10.00


EU: €15.00


US: $18.00

'Love is Gone Mad' LP
(Pickled Egg Records Egg 36LP)

"This 3rd album (though the first could have been called an EP), finds this string, acoustic (or turned down low) multi-instrumental band growing in their own singularly lovely, mostly instrumental (one track features spoken narrative, and there are wordless vocals on others) way; into something more soundtrack-like as they mature. Richly emotional, like folk songs played by an empathetic orchestra. Insular too, with circular costructions that spiral inward like the chambers of a nautilus. 16 songs that sound as good with breakfast as they do at 3:AM. Bright watercolors that feel like fresh air, or the darkest night of the year depending upon the mood. There’s a lot of Morricone in the air, but there’s easily as much mid-Euro folk, and the atmospheres are as vivid as any dream in real life or sleeping. I want to resist; but I must insist, this is the best Big Eyes effort yet" [George Parsons, Dream Magazine]

'Fast, Loose & Lovely' (MP3)
'Lament for the Lost Ones' (MP3)

Download Love is Gone Mad from eMusic


UK: £9.00


EU: €15.50


US: $21.00

'Clumsy Music' CD
(Pickled Egg Records Egg 29CD)

Big Eyes first full-length offering takes a darker direction than the debut mini album, 'Big Eyes Songs', treading a peculiar path through modern classical, eastern European traditional music, surf-sleaze, country, noise, experimentation and folk.

"This is a wonderful album, running down a path of great beauty" [Steve Hanson, Ptolemaic Terrascope].

'Threeleftfeet' (MP3)
'Sleep' (MP3)

Download Clumsy Music from eMusic


UK: £10.00


EU: €15.00


US: $18.00

'Clumsy Music' LP
(Pickled Egg Records Egg 29LP)

"Clumsy music? This is anything but. In a complete reversal of the titular accuracy of Big Eyes Songs, Clumsy Music deceives to flatter. James Green, the Big Eye, reckons that Clumsy Music is more grown-up than Big Eyes Songs which was naively short and sweet. Does that mean we should expect cynically long and sour? It's certainly longer - about twice - but the basic template is the same; to take the very essence of a tune, the heart of the hook, wrap it in the merest wisps of gentle music and set it free on the breeze from your speakers. Green brings classical instruments and unusual arrangements to pop music, with the spirit early Wire had (innovation, minimalism) but without all that shouting. 'The Chattering Lady' is slow gypsy folk, 'Samba Sedation' more of a lazy brass seduction and 'Don’t Be Shy' a weird fleeting nightmare that could be The Black Swan Network. Just as a book of short stories never quite sates the reader's curiosity, so 'Clumsy Music' leaves the listener wanting more, unsatisfied by the teasing beauty of the tunes. That's not clumsy, that's a great skill" [Jimmy Possession, Robots & Electronic Brains]

'Threeleftfeet' (MP3)
'Sleep' (MP3)

Download Clumsy Music from eMusic


UK: £9.00


EU: €15.50


US: $21.00

'Big Eyes Songs' CD
(Pickled Egg Records Egg 21CD)

Debut release from Leeds/Sheffield-based quartet. Twelve short, achingly beautiful pieces of naïve, classically-influenced music, featuring guitar, accordion, violin, bass and spoken vocals.

"A dozen tracks in less than 19 minutes: starts out with 'Red Tricycle', all hauntinggypsy violin and bouncy folkish mystery. 'The Boo Girl' is like a sadder Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Dog Eared is like a more concise Rachels doing an instrumental Tindersticks. Mostly it's like a series of bittersweetly evocative instrumental sketches in acoustic guitar, violin, accordion, auto-harp and bass. Entirely dreamy and excellent, without trying too hard at all. Maybe next time they could stay a bit longer?" [George Parsons, Dream Magazine]

'Gin Head' (MP3)
'Feathers' (MP3)

Download Big Eyes Songs from eMusic


UK: £6.50


EU: €10.75


US: $14.00

'Big Eyes Songs' 10" mini LP
(Pickled Egg Records Egg 21LP)

"Twelve tracks and 18 minutes in length, so criminally short and each song so brief that if you dare to pause for breath they’re gone in a flash. An irresistible melange of violins and accordions give this at times a feel of L'Augmentation's Bergerac-like soirees, especially on 'Boo Girl' and 'Dog Eared'. 'Big Eyes', the first of only two vocal tracks has a cinematic flavour with Francophile whispers that are strangely 'Allo 'Allo. Traces of God Speed You Black Emperor can be found being cajoled within 'Ginhead', the track producing a haunting melody that wouldn't be lost on Morricone's Once Upon a Time in the West soundtrack. 'Brain Cell' stretches the influences further with it's love for 60's TV spy themology, distantly reminiscent of Vendetta, and always threatening to go all out surf without a moments notice. The deadpan tragi-comedy tale of Albert the daydreamer in 'Curled Lip' adding a touch of comic pathos to the proceedings" [Mark Barton, Losing Today]

'Gin Head' (MP3)
'Feathers' (MP3)

Download Big Eyes Songs from eMusic


UK: £6.50


EU: €10.75


US: $14.00

James Green 'Tempers' CD
(Early Winter Recordings EWR1)

Delicate and gentle as a passing breeze, the first solo record from James Green is a graceful assemblage of instrumental sketches that will appeal to all who appreciate the plaintive beauty of the classical guitar. Those familiar with Big Eyes' discography will recognise James' unmistakeable grasp for simple, affecting melody, here presented with an honest, confessional simplicity, which commands attention. All pieces are first or second take and are either solo guitar or two tracks maximum. By consciously limiting himself to this instrument and these techniques, James has developed a sound that might complement the New Folk troubadours currently emerging from the US such as Jack Rose or Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance), but with a lightness of touch almost absent in any of those guitarists' work. Let it be said that this is closer to the work of Mick Turner (Dirty Three), John Williams, Bert Jansch, Eric Satie or Debussy than Fahey, Kottke, Basho or other names so often paraded but rarely equalled. Packaged in a tasteful hand-printed slip case and limited to 250 copies, this release serves a beautiful companion piece to the most recent Big Eyes album 'We have no need for voices when our hearts can sing'.

Track 2 (MP3)

UK: £6.85

   

EU: €11.50

   

US: $14.50

   

The Broken Blackbird Ensemble 'Gadzooks!' CD
(Early Winter Recordings EWR2)

‘Gadzooks!’ is the first album by new 6-piece experimental group ‘The Broken Blackbird Ensemble’. It features James and David from Big Eyes, but there the comparison ends. TBBE feature players previously and currently immersed in noise/sound experimentation, klezmer, folk, classical and acid-rock, but this, their first album, contain nothing that could be specifically classified under any of these ‘categories’.

The album was recorded and improvised in one day (in September 2004), with some tracks from the vaguest principle, others conceived from scratch. Theirs is the sound of creaking wood, gothic ragas, horrored drones, a choir of pipes and oh-so hushed melody. Is’ free-folk’ the right term? Who knows, but there is definitely some music common ground between the ‘New Weird America’ artists and TBBE.

Bambino (MP3)

UK: £6.85

   

EU: €11.50

   

US: $14.50

   

Reviews

Ptolemaic Terrascope
Pitchfork Media
Pop News 'Do the Musiking' (in French)
Splendidezine 'We Have no Need for Voices'
Pop News 'We Have no Need for Voices' (in French)
Splendidezine 'Love is Gone Mad'

Links

Big Eyes Home Page
Big Eyes Myspace
Early Winter Recordings
Interview in Sandman Magazine



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