Milkweed are a self-styled, “slacker trad” duo, who appeared from nowhere last December with their debut EP, Milkweed Sings Carols, a collection of obscure folk carols they’d mined from a variety of traditional sources. Back in September, the band shared their debut album, Myths And Legends Of Wales, a concept album inspired by Tony Roberts’ book of the same name, which they’d found in a Hertfordshire charity shop. Released via the Leeds-based tape label, Devil Town Tapes, the whole album was recorded in a single day on the boat the pair call home, recorded live with no overdubs and no demos prior to recording.
Originally published in 1984, Myths And Legends of Wales was Tony Robert’s attempt to shine a light onto the traditional beliefs of the Pagan people who inhabited Wales in the medieval ages, as he puts it, “a world now largely forgotten but firmly believed by our ancestors not so long ago”. Milkweed’s re-interpretation walks a similarly open-minded path through tales of The Wild Red Men, a robber clan killed by the baron who then took their revenge via, “a shower of arrows” or Helig, who when given the choice damned his descendants to vengeance for his actions rather than face his own comeuppance. Musically, Milkweed’s sound is delightfully lo-fi folk, as vocals reminiscent of the likes of Lisa/Liza or Coco Rosie sing out atop a minimal backing of stringed instruments, possibly a mandolin or a sitar, or based on the feel of the piece, perhaps some sort of ancient lute. The fact they’re occasionally backed by the sound of a train rumbling by in the distance just adds to the atmosphere and sense of spontaneity. A particular highlight, and one worryingly relevant to the last few years, is the gently haunting Yellow Plague, the tale of a Welsh king who tried to hide from a mysterious plague striking down his people, only to be caught out by a spy hole he used to keep an eye on his subjects. By the time the record reaches the closing track, The Teachings Of Rhys, not just a song, but a sort of moral code to be followed else you be struck down by, “a devil, holding a big knife in his hand”, Milkweed haven’t just entertained they’ve reminded us to look back as well as forward for answers, in the myths and legends there’s plenty of method tucked away in the madness.
FTR: For those who don’t know who are Milkweed?
Milkweed are a slacker trad project, we source esoteric material to make songs, with a current focus on books.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
There was a woman on the floor wrapping a squeeze box around herself like a snake. Not while we played, she was another act. It was an alt-folk festival, they’re full of that sort of thing.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
Music is social, I’d never meet anyone without it.
FTR: What can people expect from the Milkweed live show?
All the Myths and Legends of Wales! Merlin unearthing two sleeping dragons, Manawyddan hanging a pregnant mouse for theft, the decapitation and resurrection of St.Winifred. Though to be honest there’s plenty I couldn’t fit in, no cursing wells or corpse candles at all.
FTR: What’s next for Milkweed?
Have to find a new book for the next album. A friend recently gave me a tote bag full of old Folklore Society journals. We’ll see. Always up for suggestions and donations.
They Listen To…
All the songs are from the Rosaleen Gregory album Serpent’s Knee. Was doing a folk deep dive a year ago and it’s the best thing I found. I love a woman pursing her dreams later in life and the whole album is classic! I might sometimes think I’ve heard enough Child Ballads albums, but then I hear a good one and the songs are new all over again.
Dowie Dens of Yarrow
The Fair Flower of Northumberland
The Lass of Lochroyan
Myths And Legends Of Wales is out now via Devil Town Tapes. For more information on Milkweed visit https://milkweedfolk.bandcamp.com/.