Band About Town: The Pagans

first_imgMore often spotted balancing his cello on the back of a bike, softly-spoken music student Duncan Strachan is lesser known as the front-man of this nine piece indie-folk collective, based at Catz during term time and found touring the highlands and islands of Scotland in the Vac. Bringing together endowed feminists, hippie mothers, maths lovers, ex-choristers and prospective poets, The Pagans are, in folkloric terms, a witches’ brew of magical musical potions. And collectively, they’ve stuck their greedy little fingers in every kind of musical pie that Oxford has to offer – from running a regular club night “Indulgence” to playing for the Oxford University Orchestra. The line-up – nine people, twelve opinions, according to Strachan – features a core of guitars and the bell-like tones of the Fender Rhodes piano, balanced with more traditional acoustic instruments such as fiddles, saxophone and clarinet. The similarity of forces begs comparision with the quasi-theatrical instrumentals of chamber pop bands such as Arcade Fire or Broken Social Scene but The Pagans sit just as easily with acid/freak-folk like Animal Collective or Joanna Newsom. Cruising atop the instrumental forces, vocals from Siobhan Wilson and Strachan on Standing on the Threshold take the tenderness of Vashti Bunyan or Newsom but forgo child-like fragility in favour of an edgy intensity, pushing their ranges to the limit.I’m keen to understand how Strachan squares his tutorials in baroque counterpoint and techniques of composition with song-writing for a completely different genre. He’s keen to explain that although borrowing tone rows from the second Viennese school can help to create a structure for an album which links the sound-world of each piece – less an explanation than a further layer of bafflement – these sort of techniques are only used to guide and not to restrict the creative process, which places equal emphasis on composition and improvisation. With four composers contributing songs, they’re not above using themes to create an overall character. The Pagans’ forthcoming album ‘Witches,’ which will be released on their own fledgling record label ‘Heretical,’ is a concept album based on Celtic Folkore. Reminiscent of Fairport Convention’s ‘Tam Lin,’ ‘Witches’ goes beyond old-style folk narratives by underlining ballads with Debussyian modal harmonies layered with footstomping drums. Whether it’s the effect of quality library time with books on post-modern musicology or not, The Pagans aren’t content to be just a band about town. Duncan fills me in on their forays into film, politics and amateur music therapy. “Using Shostakovich’s 8th quartet, symbolic of a voice speaking out from under Soviet oppression, we made it into the local papers for performing outside the Chinese Embassy in Edinburgh in protest against their treatment of the Falun Gong.” Nice. Other projects include an album investigating environmentalism and performing in a Nativity play with autistic children.Having supported Scotland’s leading exponents of Celtic fusion, The Peatbog Faeries, and post-punk London scensters Revere, who are soon to be featured in an MTV documentary, The Pagans’ potential fans seem to sit amongst crossover-classical, jazz, folk-indie or alternative pop listeners. However, what really drives them is the spirit of Prog-rock; the will to experiment and fuse ideas together melded with social ambition. Strachan claims that “Even when we’ve got a sound we love, we don’t want to stay in the same place.” Ottwell Bablast_img read more