Introducing Arch Garrison

Arch Garrison live - photo (c) Ashley Jones, The Chaos Engineers

I have to say it feels like a particular privilege to have Craig Fortnam – the man behind Arch Garrison – playing at one of the first Buds & Spawn gigs. I’ve been a fan of his work since seeing him play with the glorious but shortlived Lake of Puppies alongside William D Drake back in the 1990s, and took huge pleasure in seeing his talent blossom and receive critical acclaim with North Sea Radio Orchestra. I discovered the Arch Garrison project relatively recently but was absolutely hooked after watching this quite wonderful performance, recorded for Visual Radio Arts in Somerset. Since then, the Arch Garrison albums have been a mainstay of my listening and never fail to both calm me and move me profoundly.

I caught up with Craig for a quick chat ahead of his gig for us at the Dorothy Pax on 14th December.

You’re well known for your work with North Sea Radio Orchestra, but you clearly felt that the songs that became King of the Down needed to be released under a different name. What led to the birth of Arch Garrison?

One day I sat down to write and record some instrumental guitar music in a half-arsed attempt at producing some library music to earn some money. I just couldn’t help myself and started writing songs instead which became the first AG record. However with hindsight the timing wasn’t accidental; I had just spent seven years working hard on NSRO and needed to do something different and easier to gig. By this stage I really wanted to produce/record my own music which was something I was not confident about. The first AG record was where I ‘cut my teeth’ as a ‘self-recordist’.

The ‘Thames Fluvius’ comes up many times in your lyrics, what is it and why is it so interesting to you?

Thames Fluvius is the River Thames…..the Mighty Thames….a watery thoroughfare that has figured large in my life and imagination.

Have you got a recent musical discovery that you’d like to encourage Buds & Spawn listeners to check out?

Rob Crow (and his many bands: Heavy Vegetable/Thingy/Pinback/his many solo records). I had heard his stuff for years and always thought it sounded amazing but I never fully explored it. Then I was lucky enough to play bass for him when he came to the UK a couple of years ago to headline the Alphabet Business Convention. The guy is totally fantastic and unique. The second Thingy record ‘Morbid Curiosity’ is amazing! This is GREAT too:

Which artist has been most pivotal to your development as a musician? Which track would you recommend to people as their first listen?

It would have to be Cardiacs…. ‘main man’ Tim Smith and keyboard player William D Drake. Both opened up a life-changing musical universe for me. Also Bill rescued me from the jazz cul-de-sac I found myself in (mid 1990’s) when he asked me to join his amazing ‘Lake Of Puppies’, which set me on the true path. Both Bill and Tim have produced the ABSOLUTE GOODS in terms of harmony and melody and everything else really. Lucky me to have worked so closely with both of them and to be able to count them as friends/compadres/brothers….
It is IMPOSSIBLE to explain just how moving and all-consuming their live shows were….but here is a flavour:

Tell us about your tour plans – where are you visiting and is there anywhere you are particularly looking forward to going or visiting for the first time?

I’m absolutely looking forward to all the shows: Weston-Super-Mare / Hereford / Hexham / Sheffield / Oxford / Londinium / Salisbury…..most are ‘solo’. James Larcombe is joining me in London on organ and monosynth. But fear not – the solo shows will be different but great. I’m looking forward to playing some new songs for the first time – if I can finish the DAMN WORDS!

Joining you on this tour is Emily Jones – how would you describe Emily’s music to the uninitiated? What is your favourite track of hers and why?

Emily’s music is perhaps the most psychedelic music a voice and guitar can produce…I don’t know how she does it. Maybe it’s because she comes from a weird and spooky place (Cornwall….)
I love ‘Pieces of People’ but the song about honey really does it for me.

The most recent North Sea Radio Orchestra project has been your collaboration with John Greaves and Annie Barbazza covering Robert Wyatt‘s seminal album ‘Rock Bottom’. Can you tell us a bit more about that project and the upcoming internet radio performance?

In 2014 I was asked by the ‘Nuits de Fourvieres’ Festival Lyon to direct and do all the arrangements for a 40th anniversary concert of Wyatt’s ‘Rock Bottom’ – one of the GREAT RECORDS. I was asked to bring North Sea Radio Orchestra along to perform alongside John Greaves (Henry Cow/National Health) and several French singers. That is why NSRO’s singer Sharron Fortnam is not on this particular project. I also asked Bill Drake to play piano and sing as he knows that album really well and is a beast on the piano! After that nothing really happened until a couple of years ago when the Italian label Dark Companion picked up on it and asked us to perform in Piacenza (this time with singer and regular Greaves collaborator Annie Barbazza), with a view to producing a live record. This was a great success and earlier this year we released ‘Folly Bololey‘ – our version of ‘Rock Bottom’ (plus some additional Robert Wyatt songs), recorded live in the amazing Elfo Studio Piacenza. Gong’s drummer Cheb Nettles is on the record as well – boy can he play them drums…..

We are doing a live performance for Radio France on Weds Dec 4th at 8:30 (French time) preceded by an interview with Robert Wyatt himself.

North Sea Radio Orchestra - Rock Bottom Radio France

Arch Garrison play at The Dorothy Pax on Saturday 14th December 2019 along with Emily Jones and little robots. More details here.

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