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Words, Music & Wardrobes: The Story Behind Kellyann’s Debut Album

Fresh Manna - A Testimony Through Song: Vicky Reid, Kellyann Lea, Daniel J. Logan, Joe Topping, Lara Simpson & Lesley-Ann Geary
Clockwise from top left: Vicky Reid, Kellyann Lea, Daniel J. Logan, Joe Topping, Lara Simpson & Lesley-Ann Geary

Having performed in the same session band a few years previously, Daniel J. Logan teamed up with Kellyann Lea in the summer of 2020 to record and produce her debut album, Fresh Manna.

Besides being a collection of Kellyann’s music and lyrics, Fresh Manna presented an opportunity to also support and raise money for a local food bank in Liverpool during the COVID-19 pandemic. A successful crowdfunding campaign via GoFundMe set the groundwork for the project to launch.

During pre-production, it was decided to keep all instrumentation authentic, avoiding the use of MIDI and samples, and so Dan and Kellyann soon made their way over to Edge Studio in Cheshire to begin recording (with the help of engineer Gaz Dupes), drawn by a beautiful upright piano and the lively acoustic of the space.

Joe Topping, who joined the Oak Tree Music roster towards the end of last year, played expressive, deep guitar parts (as well as mandolin and baritone guitar), adding weight to the music and giving it a strong foundation to build on. Sessions with Joe were staggered to work around his busy schedule, as he was in the process of competing in the televised finals of The Voice UK. After the guitar parts had been recorded, Oak Tree Music’s virtuoso violinist Lara Simpson and cellist Vicky Reid were brought in to help support the strong melodies and vocal sound. They added a rich string layer to many of the songs and, between them, created a sound that was large and full, belying the fact that there were only two instruments producing it.

Lara tells us, “I really enjoyed playing on Kellyann’s album. The songs were really beautiful, and we found it very easy and natural to add strings to the tunes. We came up with the arrangements mainly on the day with the help of Kellyann and producer Dan, who were both very helpful and easy to work with”.

“A nice thing about working at Edge is their collection of outboard gear,” says Dan. “For example, one of the fun parts for me was when we recorded the Hammond organ played by Lesley-Ann Geary. I got the sound by running the signal through Edge’s Distressor compressor to get it nicely overdriven — I may have gotten a bit carried away, but it sounded great in the mix!”

Although the album was produced almost entirely in the studio, there was one exception. When it came to vocals, Kellyann preferred the familiarity of home surroundings, and so Dan travelled up to Liverpool, and the pair set about building what became dubbed as ‘Narnia Studios’, as half of it was in her wardrobe!

“Working within my artist’s budget and requirements always needs thought and careful planning, but the results, if done properly, can be fantastic,” Dan notes. “And ‘Narnia Studios’ did afford me a beautiful view across the Liverpool skyline whilst we were recording!”

The album was mixed under Dan’s hybrid approach of using digital and select analogue equipment before being sent off to Mike Cave for mastering.

But the process of getting Fresh Manna out into the world was not yet complete! Oak Tree Music helped guide Kellyann through the administrative minefield of the release, involving registering her work with the PRS and PPL as well as their US counterparts. This tailored service is available to anyone who feels they would benefit from release support and advice, and further information can be found here.

Fresh Manna is out now, sounding fantastic, and we’re thrilled to see Kellyann’s songs being heard and enjoyed by so many! Make sure you grab a copy of the album here — and treat yourself to some merch while you’re at it!

Joe Topping ‘Does a Turn’ on The Voice

Joe Topping on The Voice

Like many musicians in 2020, Joe Topping found himself with more time on his hands than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Again, like quite a few of his peers, he took the opportunity to finally start teaching himself how to record and make videos at home to post online. However, what doesn’t happen quite so much is getting a call from a researcher at ITV suggesting he audition for their prime time talent show…

“Applying for The Voice is not something I ever thought I’d do, but seeing as I had no work, I figured I’d give it a go, not thinking I’d ever actually make it to the TV show,” says Joe. However, three auditions later (two by Zoom and one in London between lockdowns), he found himself playing to the back of four chairs sat on by Olly Murs, Sir Tom Jones, Anne-Marie and will.i.am!

One extra bonus for Joe was the opportunity to play with a live band for the first time since the start of the pandemic, although he has been in the studio recording with Daniel J. Logan and played a couple of Christmas gigs with Lara Simpson that Oak Tree Music organised for him.

“Rehearsing and playing with the live band has been a treat … and they are of course top class musicians.”

As you’d expect, this series of The Voice isn’t immune to coronavirus restrictions, and so the audition was a little different, with Joe performing in a big, empty TV studio without an audience. Although this was a little nerve-wracking, the production team were brilliant at preparing him for it. “Everyone who works on the show is so nice and genuinely seems to want you to do well,” says Joe.

And it seems Joe’s performance was very well prepared too, as he impressed Olly Murs enough for him to turn his chair and have him on his team! Being able to celebrate this success with his wife and kids, who were backstage in the studio, was a particular highlight for Joe!

The next stop is the battle rounds, where he’ll be pitted against another of the singers on Olly’s team. We at Oak Tree Music wish him the best of luck and send good vibes! 🤞

Find out more about Joe here.

Watch Joe’s blind audition below.

Holly Fitzgerald Releases New Single

Artwork by Tillie Stevenson

“Weight of the World”, Holly Fitzgerald’s third single, was released yesterday! Inspired in part by her own experiences of being “in a dark place” but working through it, this new track takes a metaphorical look at mental health and is intended to remind people that, with help and support, tough times can be made better.

The song, recorded at Oxygen Rooms in Birmingham and produced by Tom Brookhouse, gives a nod to many of Holly’s influences, such as Florence + the Machine and Beirut, and features Holly on guitar, vocals as well as programming, along with performances by producer Tom.

Holly has been busy collaborating with other artists throughout 2019 and plans on releasing more singles and a new EP in 2020.

Listen to “Weight of the World” on the following platforms:
Spotify
Apple Music
Amazon Music
Google Play
Deezer

Interview: Naomi Campbell from Motel Sundown

From left: Karen Turley, Naomi Campbell and Rob Johnson

Having recently returned from playing at Melodica Reykjavik in Iceland, and with new music in the offing, we sat down with Naomi Campbell from Motel Sundown to talk about the band and their trip to the frozen north…

Oak Tree Music: How did you meet your bandmates?

Naomi Campbell: That’s a funny story because there’s three of us: myself, Karen and Rob. Rob’s from London. He came to Liverpool for uni, as did Karen, but me and Karen are actually from the same town back in Northern Ireland. We met over here in Liverpool, which is weird; we didn’t know each other back home. We met via a mutual friend, and we started singing together. Rob’s been floating around for a few years or so, playing gigs with different people, so we all started jamming together.

OTM: Was Motel Sundown a covers band first or have you always played original music?

NC: Yeah, we did covers first. Me and Karen did a lot of duo gigs together, and then we got into writing as a duo, and then Rob brought his songs to us too.

OTM: How would you describe your style?

NC: I think we’d say we’re mostly Americana, and I’d say Rob brings a bit of folk to it. Me and Karen are obviously quite country, so the good thing is that we all have different styles. Rob has a bit of a 90s thing to his writing, kind of like Cheryl Crow, and myself and Karen love Dolly Parton!

OTM: What is your line up? Do you all play?

NC: Rob plays electric guitar. Me and Karen both play acoustic guitar, and we all sing together. Having three-part harmonies is quite nice!

OTM: Tell us about your recent trip to Iceland.

NC: That was fun! I met a guy in Nashville last year who is from Iceland. Every year, he runs a festival called Melodica over in Reykjavik. We applied and got accepted to play this year. It was really fun, and they took really good care of us. They put us in a house, and every night of the festival they had soup and beer for everyone! Everyone listened to everyone else’s set. There was no talking during performances and everyone supported everyone else, which was really nice.

OTM: Was this your first time in Iceland or had any you been there before?

NC: No, it was the first time for all of us, and we all loved it!

OTM: What’s the country like?

NC: It’s really cold, but the thing you notice is how clean it is as well. The streets seem so clean, and it’s literally like a breath of fresh air. There’s no litter or graffiti anywhere; there’s lovely murals on the walls… And they do nice fish and chips as well!

OTM: Did you play just one set while you were there? 

NC: They put on an open mic session for us to all get to know each other on the first night. That was probably more intimidating than the festival itself! Even then, they were listening really intently, so it was kind of nerve-wracking! But by the time we played our set on the Saturday night, we were relaxed, as we already knew everyone. And the rest of the time, it was karaoke at the local bar!

OTM: You’d go back then?

NC: Yes! We’d love to play again next year!

OTM: What’s your favourite song to play live?

NC: Well, at the minute there’s one called “One More For The Road”, and we like that one because we play it at the end of the set. It started off as a slow ballad that Karen wrote, and she brought it to Rob, and the more we played it live, the more it sped up! It’s like Fleetwood Mac double time towards the end.

OTM: Now you’re with the band, are you still playing as Naomi Campbell solo?

NC: I’ve not done original stuff by myself for ages, unless I’m asked to. It’s fun doing it with the band!

OTM: What’s next for Motel Sundown?

NC: We’ve got a single launch coming up for a song called “Chicago”. That will be exciting, as it will be our first release as a band!

Check out Naomi Campbell‘s and Motel Sundown‘s profiles to find out more, and drop us a line to book.

Anna Silvers and Daniel J. Logan Go Boating

The Narrowboat Sessions – videos of acoustic performers playing original music on board a narrowboat that travels up and down the country, raising money for Cancer Research – have attracted quite a cult status over the last five years.

It’s a simple premise. Mark Holdsworth records the performances (sometimes solo, occasionally up to as many as seven musicians) on his boat, the Cariad IV, and releases the footage on YouTube and his website.

The Narrowboat Sessions have proven extremely popular and many hundreds of recordings have taken place since 2014 when Mark launched the project. Joining the ever-increasing list of performers, which includes the likes of Henry Priestman (The Christians), Nick Harper and Rob Vincent, Oak Tree Music artist Anna Silvers took to the water and recorded three songs alongside percussionist Daniel J. Logan and bassist Cameron Williams.

“Mark is fantastic and has a great platform to promote singer-songwriters like myself. The canal is a beautiful setting and it was a wonderful experience,” says Anna. The first of her videos, “Get Lost (Without You)”, will go online in mid-October, with the other two following over the coming months to help kickstart the crowdfunding campaign for Anna’s debut album, which will launch at the beginning of next year.

This is not, however, where the narrowboat story ends. In 2015, Mark enlisted the help of Daniel J. Logan to mix some of 2014’s recordings (pulled out of a hat at random) into an album. The result, a 2-CD box set, was picked up by BBC Radio’s Genevieve Tudor and played across several regional stations. This began a snowball effect that has helped make the Narrowboat Sessions a major part of the UK folk and acoustic music scene.

Songs from the subsequent albums (2015 and 2016) have been played out on BBC Radio 2 and continue to garner attention from other media outlets. “I’m amazed at the reaction we get from the albums,” says Dan, who mixes Mark’s multi-track boat recordings at Orchard Studios in Cheshire. “I always enjoy working on those releases, as I get to hear some fantastic music that I may otherwise have missed,” he adds.

Mark is continuing to record this year’s sessions, live on the boat, and will be setting sail once again next year. Click here to see the latest videos and visit Mark’s website to find out more about the Narrowboat Sessions.

Scott Edwards Crowdfunds New Record

Scott Edwards is launching a crowdfunding campaign for his new record, Without Being Where We Are Now, We Can’t Be There.

Having released his debut single, “Where the People Smile”, earlier this year, Scott is back with a new 5-track EP that builds on his increasing live reputation for writing catchy, feel-good melodies over upbeat and cheerful arrangements, influenced by the likes of Oasis and Stereophonics.

Working again with producer Daniel J. Logan, the pair are planning on taking over Orchard Studios in Cheshire later in the year to record the new material. Bringing together the same band as on the debut single (plus some extra Oak Tree Music session players), this new release is set to sound as airy, open and toe-tapping as “Where the People Smile”. Look out in particular for “We’ll Catch the Sun”, one of our favourites of Scott’s new tracks, which goes down a storm at gigs!

Scott’s gig listing is ever increasing and, as his music starts to penetrate the scene, he is asking for his new-found fans to help in the making of the new recordings. Click here to access his crowdfunding site, where from as little as a few pounds, you can help Scott gather together what he needs to bring his songs to life. The campaign lasts for 60 days, with Scott hoping to start recording in the autumn.

To book Scott and get a taste of his new EP, click here!

Chris Howarth Releasing New Music

Oak Tree Music artist Chris Howarth’s fourth record, Another Northern Day, is out today!

Produced by Daniel J. Logan, this latest offering continues Chris’ trend of catchy hooks and engaging lyrics, with fellow Oak Tree Music performer Lara Simpson’s violin providing stand-out moments in the tracks ‘Worlds Collide’ and ‘How It Ends’.

Lara is not our only session player to feature on this record – Guitarist Jon Fellowes, drummer Daniel J. Logan and singer Laura-Jane Boardman are also performing!

There’s a wide collection of styles throughout the EP, all linked together by the imagery in Chris’ lyrics and Laura-Jane’s sublime backing vocals. From the gentle and contemplative ‘Burning Bridges’ to the rocking ‘Fragile’ via ‘Another Northern Town’, which, according to producer Dan, “was inspired by the synth sounds of the 80s, although we made our sound using electric violin”.

Chris’ new record also features the track ‘Soldier of the Queen’ (previously released as a single), which was written about the hardships of life for returning British soldiers and received extremely well upon its original release, with proceeds from sales going to the Armed Forces charity SSAFA.

This EP is the first of Chris’ to have been recorded at the newly rebuilt Orchard Studios in Cheshire. Having completed his first three records in the original studio complex, Chris told us that “the experience in the new studios was even better – Everything about the place is top notch”.

Another Northern Day is now available on Spotify.

To get in touch and book Chris for live performances, click here!

Vicky Thornton’s Musical Moments

Oak Tree Music’s Vicky Thornton is not only a superb session singer but also the proud franchisee of Musical Moments Stoke, Crewe & Nantwich – an organisation dedicated to delivering inclusive music therapy-based sessions in care homes and community groups. We asked Vicky to tell us more about her work and the powerful effects of music on elderly and memory-impaired audiences…

“Musical Moments was established in the North West in 2011 and provides award-winning, interactive music sessions in care and community settings for the elderly and people with additional needs.

We specialise in working with people who live with dementia and we find that this particular group of people responds incredibly well to our music sessions. The model was franchised at the end of 2017 and we now have twelve Musical Moments franchises operating across the UK. I am the proud owner of Musical Moments Stoke, Crewe & Nantwich and I’m also one of the original team members from before the franchise network was established.

Our sessions are carefully planned to comprise of therapeutic and stimulating activities that enhance cognitive and communicative skills amongst participants. All activities are set to a mix of live and recorded music from the 1940s to the present day, and also provide the opportunity for individuals to get involved with music-making themselves. Activities are singing-based and use a range of props, instruments and gentle seated exercises for a multi-sensory experience. These musical activities encourage participants to reminisce, converse and communicate with each other, unlocking long-lost memories and experiences, which miraculously seem to be refreshed when a certain song is played. At times, we also work one-to-one with people who are on end-of-life care or who are unable to join in group sessions due to poor health.

It’s such a rewarding job to see the joy on someone’s face when they remember the words to a song they’ve not heard for decades. To see a relative shed a tear at the surprise of their loved one’s alertness and ability to interact musically. For some participants – in the later stages of dementia in particular – the ability to communicate verbally becomes greatly impaired. Our music sessions help to break down this communication barrier and we often find that participants begin to talk or find creative ways of conversing during the session – copying rhythmic patterns on percussion instruments, for example.

Music certainly is the way forward when it comes to promoting our mental and physical well-being, regardless of age or ability.”

Lara Simpson Gigging on Board the Carnival Conquest

Oak Tree Music’s violin supremo Lara Simpson is currently on a 6-month tour around the Caribbean, playing on board the Carnival Conquest. We asked her to describe her time there so far (and we weren’t jealous at all)…

“Being a cruise ship musician is a weird and wonderful existence! We’ve been here for 7 weeks now and it finally feels like normal life for us (even though we know it’s far from it).

After spending a few weeks at Carnival Studios in Fort Lauderdale rehearsing every day, we signed on as the new electric string trio on the Carnival Conquest on the 30th March. We had a day of meetings and enrolments before being told we had half an hour to navigate ourselves around this giant floating maze to find our instruments, our luggage, our cabins, get ready and make it to soundcheck. We didn’t even know front from back, right from left, up from down. It was crazy but we made it, probably looking like startled rabbits in the headlights on stage, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, I guess!

Since then, everything has become progressively easier. On average, we play 3 sets a day, occasionally 4, which are either 45 minutes or an hour long. We play about half our music with backing tracks and half without. It’s a mixture of pop, rock, jazz and film.

It was an adjustment getting used to gigging every day, as back home I’d usually have 2 or 3 gigs a week, but it’s become normal so quickly! We don’t start until around 4pm, which means we are allowed to get off and explore the ports whenever we have the chance, as long as we don’t get lost in the backstreets of the island somewhere and join a cult or miss our gig.

So far, we have been to lots of places: Grand Turk, San Juan, Half Moon Cay, St. Maarten, Curaçao, Aruba, Nassau and Amber Cove! Sunbathing prizes go to Grand Turk and Half Moon Cay. Coolest and most colourful architecture goes to Curaçao and San Juan. Most exciting was St. Maarten, as we saw a plane beach, where the planes land a few metres above your head! We changed home ports to Miami recently, so now get to see lots of new places, such as Mexico and Jamaica. 

The music is going well. Our audience in the daytime is mainly elderly couples and families. We tend to play jazz, easy listening and tangos for them to ballroom dance to, which is lovely. As the sets get later, the audience gets younger and the drinks start flowing, so we tend to play more pop and rock with backing tracks. The biggest hits of the cruise have been The Devil Goes Down to Georgia (someone actually threw their shoe on stage in excitement when we first played it) and rock music in general – People love AC/DC on violins!

Working out how to use the desk has been a challenge, as there’s only one sound technician on the entire ship, who has a function band, horn trio, theatre show, Latin duo and Caribbean soloist to attend to, as well as us! We were pretty much left to our own devices, but it was a learning curve. We still get the balance slightly wrong sometimes, but we will get there by September! We are continuing to arrange new songs and do tiny miniature cabin rehearsals, so we can add new music to the set, as playing the same music for 5 months would numb the brain slightly.

I’m constantly amazed at the beautiful sunsets and the views of the open ocean every time I walk around the ship. We always remind ourselves how lucky we are to do this crazy job and play music for a living every day. I’ve met some hilarious and lovely friends, who I’m very happy to be spending the remaining 4 months on this crazy, isolated, floating hotel with (come back and ask me how I feel in August and you might get a different story). Fingers crossed we make it to September!”

Anna Silvers Recording Live in Wolverhampton

Oak Tree Music artist Anna Silvers was recently invited to the University of Wolverhampton to film a live performance for a group of media students. Joined by bass and cajon player Cameron Williams and pianist David Griffiths, Anna recorded three of her original songs ‘as live’. The project was organised by Sophia Sands, who has been following Anna’s music career closely for some time.

The session is soon to be followed by another live video, this time recording Anna’s track “Through the Years” for Telford College, where she will be joined by fellow Oak Tree Music performer Daniel J. Logan on drums.