Spotlight on UK Country/ Folk band Pig Earth
New To You….Pig Earth
Fresh from their recent appearance at The International Festival of Country Music Country Routes News Blog shines the spotlight on this UK band and talks to front man Neil Keveren about the experience of playing at the Wembley Arena.
About Pig Earth
They are a 5-piece Acoustic/Alternative Folk/ Americana band having an eclectic stylish acoustic sound and hail from Middlesex in South East England.
They comprise Neil Keveren (acoustic guitar, lead vocals – see photo), Emma Steele (piano, melodeon #, vocals – see photo – photo – photo), Craig Stratton (violin, banjo, mandolin – see photo), Mat Heighway ( double bass – see photo ) and Dave Rowlands (drums – see photo)
# Note – A melodeon is a type of diatonic button accordion used mainly for playing popular music and traditional folk music, and modern offshoots of these genres. (see image)
The nucleus of the songwriting comes from Neil and Emma who draw on life experiences, travel, love and home. Emma, a multi-instrumentalist, teaches at a primary school in Slough – “Its music all day and music all evening” she says and modestly claims – “I don’t count myself as a virtuoso on the melodeon, I only started learning it 4 or 5 years ago”. She is a pianist by trade having learnt the piano from early childhood and she also plays the French horn.
Where does the name Pig Earth derive from?
Pig Earth is the name of a novel by London born John Berger and was the first in the Into Their Labours trilogy. Berger went to live in a small village with peasants in the French Alps and it’s about hardships that you have to endure when living a breadline existence. Pig Earth, describes the traditional life of poor French peasants from the Savoy region. It is a series of stories and poems showing the seasonal routine of labour, the close relationship of other aspects of peasant life to seasonal labours, and relatively closed nature of these communities. (Amazon Link)
For Neil he first read it at Art College when he returned to college as a mature student. When the band first came together they wrote a song called “No Third Runway”. The village where Neil was born was being demolished and he had a photograph of his Grandfather on a tractor, planting leeks (photo) – “Pig Earth is homespun and that is why we made the album the way we did”
About their music
They currently have a six-song mini album available called 14’ x 12’ which is the dimensions of the lounge where the recording sessions took place. It is not a studio layered approach (see photo) ,with sparse overdubbing, and its concept is that the listener sits at the heart of the performance. They describe the setup on their, website – “This is our humble abode and quite often we have a child passing through between takes to make toast”
The opening ‘All Smoke And Mirrors’ track with its Celtic-folk vibe was penned in France which represents an analogy of lost love allowing a pretty lady to slip through the fingers and no magical tricks are going to win her back. Down the road they hope to make a circus-big-top-themed video for it. One can picture a café scene along the Champs-Élysées with playful dancing in the tree lined avenue.
‘Paint The Town Red’ has been released as a promotional single in February. It debuted at #40 on the Hot Disc Top 40 Chart and currently stands at #36. The song reflects on being complacent with love. Its protagonist makes the effort by buying his girlfriend a new dress and plans a romantic night to hopefully brighten her day and make her smile once more. The skiffle-like track has a beautiful musicality with violin and washboard percussion and reminds me of music sequences in the film soundtrack Fly Away Home.
The autobiographical song ‘Everything’ with its delightful melodies, speaks of two people in love making a home together. In the lyrics it contains the line: “In the box is a tin of old pale green”, which is the colour of their front door. It was composed by Neil and Emma on a late summers evening putting together photo albums at places the band have played whilst observing their kids playing. It’s a song looking back to halcyon days which plays on the simple things in life that bring forth pleasure.
‘Here With You’ which features Emma on lead vocal tells of being close to someone at a moment in time, be it embracing a lover, partner or parents. It is a particular poignant song to Steele after losing her father in the summer of 2011. He enjoyed the track and was able to hear the final recording. Mickey Burn plays a weeping pedal steel on this engaging loving song and Emma delivers a truly beautiful vocal. It’s a song, which would not have been out of place on the back catalogue from The Carpenters.
Pig Earth their story to date
Pig Earth formed in 2008, their current line-up have been together for 2 years with Mat Heighway joining them at the time of the Americana Festival in Newark in 2010. They first started playing small folk stages but the feedback they received was that they weren’t “very folk”. With Neil attending the country festivals for many years seeing the likes of Don Williams, Charley Pride and Willie Nelson their influences came out in the songwriting – “The country stage is where we feel most at home” Neil relates.
In 2011 Pig Earth played many UK festivals: Wolvestock, Broken Spoke, Norfolk Country Music Festival and Americana International. They recently played at the Southern Country Magazine awards at The Lakeside club in Frimley Green (The home of world darts). They hope to take their brand of country to venues in Southern England and beyond.
In October 2011 they won the Horizon Act Of The Year at The BCMAwards (Sponsored by CMR Nashville). Due to his likeness (hair and build) Neil has twice been confused at the awards for British guitar god Albert Lee! – “They never make that mistake when I have a guitar in my hand and I’m playing” jokes Neil.
In February after an invitation Pig Earth found themselves on the line up for The International Festival of Country Music at Wembley Arena – “I’m sure some people will be a bit surprised but we were in the right place at the right time, it’s an opportunity that can’t be missed “Neil shared with CMR Nashville listeners.
It’s an event Neil attended with his parents in his childhood seeing stars like Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn.
Their Wembley Dream
CountryRoutesNews Blog conducted this interview with Neil Keveren (email communication, 28 Feb 2012)
How long was your Wembley set and which songs did you perform?
We played 15 minutes, four songs; “All Smoke And Mirrors” is our usual opening song so we went with this first. Then with minimal chat we played “Paint The Town Red”, the Hot Disc track. Emma then took over the vocals and we played “1800 Miles, On A Very Slow Train”. Final song before being able to say “Good night Wembley”, every musicians dream, was “Big American Cars”.
Mervyn Conn [Wembley Festival promoter] came round and personally thanked us for playing and also found us afterwards to say he enjoyed it. Whilst chatting he said that the reduced length arena, big black curtains hung 2 thirds back, had 5000 seated.
What was the experience and crowd reaction like, did you do a meet and greet and do well with merchandise sales?
The crowd were very receptive and appreciative; we sold a good few CD’s so we were pleased. Many said they would go to our site and play the samples before buying on line and we signed so many programmes, we were made to feel very much at home. During the day we often found ourselves waiting for sound checks etc with George Hamilton the IV and Narvel Felts, both are true gents and I told George that I had seen him there as a boy in 1969. In the morning we had to put our gear in office 3. This then became the rehearsal venue for many of the solo acts with a common backing band. This meant our gear was trapped and we had to crash their rehearsal to get it back. Quite embarrassing but they were all very
How did your Wembley invite come about?
A series of events, ask any promoter Mt Allan, Jim Duncan, Chris and Bev Jackson, Adge Appleton etc I am very persistent. If I ever got a “no” from them I will call again later with another bit of good news. Things like, being on the cover of a magazine, or getting a live session at BBC Radio Cambridge [Sue Marchant Show] etc. Eventually they allowed me to showcase. This way we have played many of the major festivals in Britain. Then amazingly we won the BCMAward for best Horizon Act. Looking back at our reviews and C.V last year Pig Earth looked pretty good I am pleased to say. The Hotdisc timing and getting airplay on CMR Nashville all contributed to making us look like we were an act that could please a crowd.
Were you pleased with your stage sound and did you get to see any of the other acts perform?
Yes, we were pretty pleased. The sound crews have a nightmare of a job and are up all of the previous night getting things up and running. There will always be surprises and having played a good number of big stages now we are getting much better at coping with minor technical failure or imbalances. If I were being modest I would say we did good! For me personally, and I know Emma would agree, it felt brilliant. We certainly rose to the occasion and left the crowd happy. Many kind folk came to tell us as much, and this was much appreciated. The day was truly a fantastic experience and one I pray I can repeat in years to come. I don’t know about in financial terms for Mervyn, but this gig will be confirmed I am sure as a great success. Those unfortunate folk not able to attend missed a great day. I could not see all of the other acts as I was trying to spread the ‘Pig Earth’ word in the exhibition area. The acts I did see though and thought were brilliant were Will Banister, Jo-el Sonnier and Lonestar.
Check out these superb images taken by XTF (www.xthefrog.com ) who photographed the landmark event at Wembley. They relished the opportunity to capture the acts performing at their very best for their good friends down at 2country.net. A selection of the event’s photos are on the XTF Facebook page
Neil Keveren – Photo
Craig Stratton (banjo) – Photo
Mat Heighway – Photo
WATCH – A compilation of Pig Earth song extracts recorded live in concert (Sept 2009) – YouTube
WEBSITE – http://www.pigearth.com/
Pig Earth Music – http://www.pigearth.com/music.html
MYSPACE – http://www.myspace.com/pigearth