A Hawk and A Hacksaw

Listening to ‘The Way the Wind Blows’ is like taking a meandering journey through a world of traditional music. Its strange, driving rhythms and peculiar sounds seem at first odd to the Western ear. But the music slowly wraps itself around you with swirls of hypnotic trumpets, wistful accordion breaths and melancholy vocals and you find yourself in another place entirely, a place where this Gypsy music is the most natural, moving thing in the world.

This music is itself the product of many a journey. I capture Jeremy Barnes, one half of A Hawk and A Hacksaw, the duo who created ‘The Way The Wind Blows’ as he is heading across the UK to another gig. Travelling is something Barnes is well used to, having lived and recorded everywhere from his native Albuquerque to France, New York and even a stint in Leicester, where he found work as a postman. “It was horrible,” he recalls. “But I’m still proud to have the Royal Mail uniform.”

This letter delivering was in between work as a drummer with cult acts Neutral Milk Hotel and Broadcast. In 2002 however, Barnes decided to go his own way, decamping to France to record A Hawk and A Hacksaw’s self-tilted debut. A record made up of rollicking accordion, delicate plucked strings and blustering Kazoos, recalling everything from Kurt Weil to silent movie piano compositions. Essentially a one-man band, Barnes was toe-dipping in waters that would soon run much deeper.

Follow up ‘A Darkness at Noon’ was recorded in Prague before Jeremy journeyed on, this time back to Albuquerque for the first time in ten years. He explains that his movements have always been in the search for music and new horizons: “Being a travelling musician was always intriguing for me. But it was important not to feel like a travelling salesman going bus/hotel/venue/bus. I wanted to meet and work with local musicians, make it more of an adventure.”

Once back in Albuquerque he met the person that would form the other half of A Hawk and A Hacksaw, violinist Heather Trost. Heather was a member of a local Klezmer orchestra – A group of musicians who perform a transplanted version of a traditional Jewish music native to Eastern Europe pre-WWII. Barnes and Trost were obviously made for each other.

How has becoming part of a duo changed things? “Well it’s made things a lot easier. Heather is a great musician to work with and it’s made recording and composing better. The first tour was quite lonely too and I don’t have to worry about that anymore I guess.”

In further pursuit of musical adventure, Jeremy tracked down the manger of legendary Gypsy brass band Fanfare Ciocarlia, who he’d been enamoured with since first hearing them 10 tears ago. Managing to arrange a meeting with him with their manager in Bucharest, Jeremy took out some money and headed over with no guarantees on anything.

The two met and, after discussions over drinks, the manager agreed to take Jeremy to the Romanian village of Zece Prajini where Fanfare Ciocarlia are based – a place of dirt roads and no plumbing that is so remote it appears on no official maps. He set up a studio in the front room of a local house and worked with Fanfare Ciocarlia to create the songs that make up ‘The Way the Wind Blows’. Jeremy says it was a magical experience for him: “I’d always been fascinated with Romanian music and culture and I’d always wanted to see a traditional village. They were so friendly and welcoming too. But I think it worked both ways, they were equally intrigued to have an American amongst them.”

‘A Hawk and A Hacksaw’ is an old phrase that in appears in differing forms in both Hamlet and Don Quixote. Basically you’re defined as mad if you can’t tell the difference between a Hawk and a hacksaw.  It’s a peculiar turn of phrase, but one that seems oddly appropriate for their music. “It’s a mad, ridiculous thing that we love doing,” says Jeremy. “And we hope it carries on.” Ends

By Kenn Taylor

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