Freedom & the Dream Penguin is a bunch of songs and tunes by Colin Harper. The Field Mouse Conspiracy is the collective assembled to make a record of them. Yes, it’s a band, but it’s an odd kind of band: 50 members, one vision, no plans for any live performance bar a launch party at a Belfast free trade café (with guaranteed sales of at least 50 cappuccinos!).
Among the key collaborators are a number of recording artists in their own right: venerable folk-rock legends Judy Dyble (ex-Fairport Convention) and Alison O’Donnell (ex-Mellow Candle); Celtic soulsters Paul Casey and Sarah McQuaid; alt-rock vaudevillian Peter Wilson (aka Duke Special); white R&B/gospel diva Susie Young; Northern Irish ‘Americana’ troubadours Brian Houston and Janet Holmes; ‘rock god’ in waiting Joe Echo; and Irish trad icon Tina McSherry (ex-Tamalin).
Among the players are Woodstock veteran Henry McCullough on lead guitar (ex-Grease Band, Wings), Van Morrison sidemen Liam Bradley (drums), Brian Connor (piano) and Linley Hamilton (trumpet), and Irish trad fiddle messiah Martin Hayes. And some string quartets…
Colin Harper’s background is this…Based in Northern Ireland, he wrote about music for the UK and Irish media for many years - contributing regularly to Q, Mojo, The Independent, Irish Times and others - and wrote two well-regarded books: Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British folk and blues revival (Bloomsbury, 2000; revised 2006) and, with Trevor Hodgett, Irish Folk, Trad & Blues: A Secret History (Collins Press, 2004). He was the organiser and guarantor of two nationally released UK wildlife charity compilations - The Wildlife Album (2005) and Live In Hope: The Wildlife Album Vol.2 (2006) - and also compiled and annotated many CD retrospectives for many labels, not least the Pentangle’s widely acclaimed box set The Time Has Come (Sanctuary, 2007).
Harper decided to retire from writing about music in June 2007. “It was, like everything in life, a combination of factors,” he says. “But the short version is, I woke up one morning and figured that 15 years chronicling the adventures of various people from the ‘60s and ‘70s was quite enough of a ‘public service’ contribution!”
“The curious thing was, I didn’t plan to switch from ‘music writing’ to ‘writing music’ but during the Summer of 2007 ‘the muse’ started flowing and songs just kept appearing. I decided to roll with it and record them, bringing on board a load of willing friends involved in music, meticulously matching their talents to appropriate material (I hope!). And thus we became The Field Mouse Conspiracy. The name and the album title just came in a flash, and why reinvent a wheel that‘s just rolled through your door? The cover picture, from a beautiful children‘s book, My Penguin Osbert, came to mind immediately and I‘m hugely grateful we were able to use it - it captures the spirit of the whole thing in one simple image.”
“Am I whimsical? Yes. Because I’ve seen the alternative at close range for years, which is an industry based on one-upmanship and increasingly vacuous celebrity, and I much prefer to deal in friendship and harmony. None of which means the music is any good, of course… but it might be!”
Tracks 1-8 are brand new 2007-2008 pop/rock/soul recordings, brimming with strength-in-adversity as a recurring theme.
Tracks 9-17 are a kind of ’best of’ previous Harper & co recordings spanning 1996-2007, including several acoustic-based pieces, and featuring many of the same collaborators as the new works.
Tracks 18-21 are string quartet pieces, some with vocals, recorded 2006-2007.