It’s open source music: In conversation with Communion Records

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Communion Records was born in 2006, from three musically minded individuals – Ben Lovett, from a band that you may have heard of (Mumford and Sons), Kevin Jones (of Cherbourg fame) and esteemed producer Ian Grimble. The Line Of Best Fit caught up with Ben and Kev from Communion on a gorgeously sunny afternoon in Kensington to discuss the spirit of Communion, where the idea for the new compilation, The Flowerpot Sessions came from and what they were doing with a tortoise in a pub at 4am on a school night.

Ben: We were playing in a band together and there were a lot of young musicians and bands and songwriters who were playing really poorly promoted nights. The best place that anyone had played up until that point was at the Bosun’s Locker which is now deceased, which our friend Winston put on. Then that was closed down because of underage drinking, and the fact that it was an 80 capacity room and the bands were getting so popular that 200 people would turn up on King’s Road, in a residential area…it wasn’t good! So that all got closed down, and then there was a little hiatus. And we were sitting around and had this idea to start up an evolution of that, and that was where the Communion idea came from. We’d have 5 or 6 bands a night at the Notting Hill Arts Club, always on a Sunday because we reasoned that the type of people who go out on a Sunday are a very specific type of crowd – you don’t get many suits, you don’t get people going out just to get drunk, you get the listeners.

The Communion nights quickly grew in not only size, but influence and had soon travelled to such destinations as Brighton, Bristol, Dublin and even Sydney and New York.

Ben: We kept doing that for a few years and it got better and better. The night started reliably selling out with a whole bunch of bands that no-one had heard. Then it went beyond friends, it became friends of friends and recommendations of friends, and then it expanded to Brighton and really started picking up steam. And then about…I’m starting to lose track of time now, but I think 18 months ago, the label started. We realised that the night was a great way to support people on the live side, but then we found that some of these artists were hitting a wall because they had no way to release records.

Kev: And we’d started to become very heavily involved in producing records at that time as well, so it seemed to be a logical step from putting bands on to making records.

Ben: The label has been doing really well. We didn’t think it would, we still have no idea what we’re doing. We’ve had to get some help from some people who have got better ideas – we’ve teamed up with Island for this Flowerpot release, because there’s a mutual respect. They trust our instincts when it comes to music, we’ve done things with artists and recordings that would be too much of a gamble for major labels to take, but then we sometimes think that perhaps we’re too naïve to do these artists justice.

The Flowerpot Sessions were recorded over a particularly boozy week in the sadly now defunct Kentish Town venue. So was the idea always to release a week’s worth of live recordings?

Kev: Yeah, that was the idea – to start recording first thing Monday morning, and stop recording last thing Sunday night and that’s that. Whatever we’ve got, we put out.

Ben: No overdubs, nothing from outside of it – what happens, happens. It was up to you how drunk you got while you were recording and you had 6 hours during the day to collaborate with an artist who you may or may not have heard of or met before.

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Having so many musicians in a room with so much alcohol and creativity flowing must have led to some memorable moments…

Ben: What was that tortoise story?

Kev: I must admit, on a non musical level, the tortoise was basically the most fun thing that happened that week. We had this tortoise there the whole time – a real tortoise who was really fun. It was nice because some of the artists that were playing together knew each other, but quite a few of them didn’t and we found that if you stick a tortoise in the middle of the room, everyone makes friends pretty quickly! So every day, something different happened to the tortoise, or we’d lose it for a while, or it’d be crawling on the bar and get stuck on this gel that the lighting guys were using. He stayed there for a month after we left because everyone fell in love with him! So the tortoise was pretty fun – feeding it lettuce at 4 in the morning – some bizarrely magical moments!

Ben: The most impromptu musical surprise, I guess, was with Angus and Julia Stone who came to collaborate on the Tuesday. They came and had a lovely time and then went and played a show at Latitude. Afterwards, they were hanging out with Damien Rice and obviously explained what was happening and believed in it to the point that they came back from Latitude, directly to the venue with Damien to perform. It wasn’t a collaboration we put together and there was space in the evening for it to happen. It’s great when something naturally takes off from an initial idea – obviously people were hungry for it.

Kev: I think the other thing is that I’m proud of the songs that were written and performed on the day, of which there are about 4 or 5. If people are working on stuff, you just step out and leave them to it. I think it’s nice because it’s such a personal, delicate thing to be doing, and for us to be able to create an environment for that to happen is spot on. It’s something that we obviously hoped would happen, but you can’t predict.

Featuring collaborations and tracks from artists such as Lissie, Marcus Foster, Pete Roe and Kyla La Grange, The Flowerpot Sessions is a presentation of music at its most intimate and organic. This compilation is not only a fond farewell to a dear venue where the label and artists spent a week working on this project, but is also a triumphant overview of the Communion ethos and spirit.

Ben: There was a sense on impetus about everyone, that they wanted to have a genuinely good time without any pretence. It’s a particular style of socialising and hanging out. Very positive, without being hippy or folky, it’s just inclusive. You didn’t even need to be a musician to have a good time there. It’s really exciting to be involved in what we’re doing. We just find our way through. We don’t really know what line we’re trying to walk down, we just constantly, everyday rewrite the rule book. Fortunately, The Flowerpot Sessions turned out really well and is something that we can now proudly promote and share with the world to help us reach more musicians and find more people that want to go to gigs and listen to music. It’s kind of like open source music.

The Flowerpot Sessions is out now via Communion Records/Island.

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