INTERVIEW: Winter Isle | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Line-up changes are pretty straightforward for the most part, yet some force bands into major rethinks; whether recalibrating members’ roles or completely uprooting their sound. This is the type of crossroad Newcastle-based instrumentalists Winter Isle have faced in recent times, having lost half their number with the simultaneous departures of drummer Paul Hawdon and guitarist John Aspinall.

“Paul was based in down in Sheffield, so when we did practise we had to re-learn everything and couldn’t be productive,” explains Graham Bayne. “It got to a point where it was exhausting and expensive, and at the same time John’s business was taking off,” recalls fellow multi-instrumentalist Eugene Davies. “This band has been driven by friendship more than anything else, and we always knew there would come a day when they couldn’t do it any more.”

To readdress the balance, the remaining pair have enlisted their friend Mark Copper – the expressive free percussionist underpinning experimental local duo Ten Sticks, as well as the newest release from Eugene’s solo project Heat Death of the Sun. “I could have picked out a few other drummers who could have just done the job, but with Mark the different varieties of music he’s interested in help him throw up stuff; interesting synths, layers and textures. He brings a lot more than drums,” Eugene reveals. “Poz was a groove drummer, whereas with Mark that groove sometimes isn’t there any more,” expounds Graham. “I’ll often have to change what I play around it, but he’ll also fill what’s missing, which is nice. It might be the case that we bring in a further member, but for now we’re enjoying it.”

Soaring yet digestible, it’s an engrossing archive of a group whose post-pandemic re-emergence promises to be wrought with surprises.

While settling into this fresh guise, this month sees the band offer a superb document of their previous incarnation with new self-released record Nothing But Whispers And White Horizons. “It’s a snapshot of what we were doing at the time,” says Graham. “We spent a couple of years working on the material, fleshing it all out and these were the songs which came along and sat together the best.”

Having previously adopted a determinedly DIY approach to recording, (“We tried to do it in Graham’s house – I remember sitting in the loft trying to record violin and having an absolute nightmare!” says Eugene), this compact yet epic four-tracker carries a polish which does their sweeping, mythical post-rock justice, having spawned from sessions at Newcastle’s go-to recording hub, Blank Studios.

“We did [first record] Eilean entirely ourselves in the Off Quay Building – I think we spent about £40 renting some mics. It came out okay for what it was, but the quality here is unreal by comparison,” Graham enthuses. “In Chris McManus we had somebody from the outside who was able to say ‘do what you’re doing, but do it like this. I know this is going to sound good.’ We’ve been so insular previously, but since we were paying a decent chunk for the recording time we thought we might as well be more receptive to help. For the title track for instance Mac had us record these massive swells, and that’s probably ended up being my favourite part of the record.”

Soaring yet digestible, it’s an engrossing archive of a group whose post-pandemic re-emergence promises to be wrought with surprises.

Nothing But Whispers and White Horizons is out now


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