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Copenhagen - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 13 / 1 / 2002

Copenhagen - Interview


Copenhagen are one of the most distinctive sounding and unusual new bands on the current British independent music scene. The group, which first formed in London in February 1999, are a sprawling eig

Copenhagen are one of the most distinctive sounding and unusual new bands on the current British independent music scene. The group, which first formed in London in February 1999, are a sprawling eight piece, but have no guitar player and instead augment their sound with trumpets, violins, a double bass and a vibraphone. There are three vocalists, two of these , Jacqui and Pauline Cuff, whom are identical twins and whose sugar sweet, tenor vocals act as a both a Greek chorus and a theatrical foil to the world weary, gravel-voiced singing of the band’s frontman and lyricist, Neil G. Henderson. The group’s music has drawn comparisions with that of Cousteau, Tindersticks and Scott Walker, and combines together the structured, textural pop jazz sound of the first with the others’ tortured romanticism. Copenhagen first formed when Sunderland-born Henderson, who has played in the past with various punk bands, began to write songs with his friend, Kirsa Wilkenschildt. Both were working at the time in London as band managers for the Danish label, Cloudland. “It all started off with me being invited up on stage to sing a few songs with some of the bands we were working with” Henderson tells Pennyblackmusic in an exclusive interview. “And that got it back into my blood . I thought “I’ve got to go for this again”, and then shortly after that Kirsa and I decided that we wanted to play music together and to form a band. She plays piano and wanted to play the vibraphone, so we found her one of those and basically built it up from there.” The pair, wanting a name for the band that had a European feel to it, settled on Copenhagen, choosing it because the Danish capital is both Wilkenscheidt and Cloudland’s home city, and also as a tribute to the award-winning Michael Frayn play of the same name which, just released at the time, both had been to see. Each one of Copenhagen’s songs are written jointly by Henderson and Wilkenschildt , with Henderson contributing the lyrics, and both musicians collaborating together to compose the tunes, often writing the core of them on a computer before taking them to the other members of the band to develop and to expand. "I usually start the songs" explains Henderson. "I can't play the piano particulary well. but I normally pick out the original melody for each tune on one and then Kirsa and myself will sit down and work on it from there. We also write songs from scratch together, or sometimes Kirsa will write something, but it usually starts from that and then we'll build on it from there, often to gargantuan proportions, so that we have to cut it all back again. At one stage, when we were first getting the band together, we were thinking of using full orchestration. It was all getting a bit over the top, so we thought "Okay ! If we have one trumpet player and one violinist, we'll have a mini orchestra instead”. The Cuffs were amongst the first to join the band. Both the sisters are long-term friends of Henderson and had worked previously, along with Copenhagen’s regular producer Tim London, in the early nineties trip hop group Soho, which had a British Top Ten hit with the single ‘Hippy Chick’ in February 1991, and also released three albums. Alongside the Cuffs, Henderson and Wilkenschiedt also recruited into the line-up double bassist John Emmerson, a friend of Henderson’s from Sunderland who had moved as well to London , and drummer Andy Thompson, who they invited to join the band after they met him playing live session work with a Danish group Port Friendly. The other members of the band are John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson, a classically trained trumpeter who Henderson and Wilkenschildt enrolled after they advertised for a trumpet player in local colleges, and violinist Ruth Gottlieb, a session musician and a former member of Jack who wanted also to be involved with a group again. Copenhagen played its first gig in London, a month after it formed, in March 1999, and followed this a month later with another local gig , before landing its first radio slot in May, playing a session on an early morning show on the Greater London Radio station. Amongst those listening were Mike Targett and Allison Thompson, the owners of a small London label, Super 8 Recordings, who, after attending Copenhagen's next gig a few weeks later , promptly offered the band a deal. Targett and Thompson are also members of the cinematic and orchestrally-influenced group Heist (the subject of a recent Pennyblackmusic interview) . They had originally set up Super 8 primarily as a vehicle for it, but were now looking for a second band in a similar mould, which was again neither guitar or dance-orientated, to add to their roster. Copenhagen have since released two EPS through Super 8 Recordings. The first, ‘Raining Again’ came out in July 2000, a year after they joined the label, and the second ‘Home’ came out in January of this year. Both EPs have been released on CD with an edition of 1000, and there is also a vinyl version of each recording which has a limited edition of 500. "The great thing about Super 8 is that there is no pressure" reflects Henderson . "We can do exactly as want. We help each other out as well. There's no egos or anything like that involved. It's a really nice and relaxing atmosphere to work in. They're like-minded people. It’s been really great !" ‘Raining Again’, which won a Single of the Month award in ‘Mojo’ magazine, is soft and melancholic with a smoky fifties style jazz feel, and finds Henderson on his own in the rain mourning a lost love while the Cuffs, onlooking, offer him unwanted and unheard comfort. ‘Home’ in contrast is louder and more orchestral in sound, with Emmerson’s plucked double bass and Hutchinson’s sultry trumpet in particular being used to striking effect, and is about, as Henderson describes it, “the breakdown of a relationship, but you’re never really sure which of the two people involved is doing the breaking down”. ‘Home’ has as its B sides ‘Caroline’s Wedding’ and ‘Afterstorm’. The former is up-tempo and strident, and set at a society wedding, has Henderson as a reluctant groom, about to get married, realising that he is in love with the bridesmaid, the part of which is played jointly by both the Cuffs. ‘Afterstorm’ features Henderson and Wilkenschildt without the rest of the band and about the after effects of a relationship once it has gone wrong, has Wilkenschildt on the electric piano and was recorded live at home in Henderson’s living room. The first B-side of ‘Raining Again’ is the emotionally fraught ‘Call Your Name’, which has Henderson, amidst both peals of trumpet and also trombone from guest musician Trevor Mires, demanding love from the Cuffs. The second ‘Holy Grail’ again makes a strident use of brass and exotic in tone and interspersed with hand claps, is a humorous ode to both gambling and alcohol. The band are now currently working on their first album, which they are recording in Tim London’s small home studio. Running to either twelve or thirteen tracks, it will be released on Super 8 in the early summer and has the provisional working title of ‘A View from the Forest’. “That’s because there’s a few songs on there about my childhood on it” Henderson explains. “I spent a lot of my childhood wandering around the local forest on my own. There’s also a very large forest near to where Kirsa lives or where she used to live in Copenhagen. We were talking about the album the last time we were there, and it, therefore, seemed apt to call it that.” “Three of the songs on the album will be instrumental” he continues. “There’s also going to be some very sparse stuff, just vocals, double bass and piano, but very thought provoking with lots of vibes. We’re not going to put anything on the album from the EPs, but we are going to be doing a different version of “Afterstorm’, which we are going to build up with brass and strings, and which will, therefore, be the real version rather than the half done version.” Copenhagen have also recorded dub versions of several of their songs. At the end of ‘Raining Again’, there appears a dub version of ‘Holy Grail’ called ‘Holy Dub’, while ‘Home’ features a remixed version of ‘Caroline’s Wedding’ entitled ‘The Reception’. As well as ‘A View from the Forest’, the band also intend to self-release at the same time ‘Copenhagen-London’, an extra album of dub tracks, which they will sell at budget price exclusively at gigs and on their website (www.copenhagen-uk.co.uk). The album will consist entirely of remixes of the songs from the EPs. “Tim London, our producer, is very reggae orientated.” says Henderson. “And I’m quite into that stuff too , so we’ve played around with the tapes and that is what has come out of them. We’ve gathered loads of stuff now. A lot of people have said that they really like what we have put out at the end of the EPs, so we thought that rather than release them only as a token thing, we would make things a bit more special and bang them out over the website.” The group toured Europe for the first time in October, playing co-headlining shows in Denmark, Germany and Belgium with Jansen, a German group of electronic experimentalists, and intend to return there to play a second series of dates later this year. They will also be playing more shows in and around London, some perhaps as a stripped down three piece featuring just Henderson, Wilkenschildt and Emmerson. Copenhagen have had a remarkably active two years, formatting their unique sound and membership , and finding a label and releasing the two EPS. With the twin albums both coming out in the next few months, this year promises to be their busiest one to date and their most important yet.

Copenhagen - Interview

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Interview (2005)
Copenhagen - Interview
Evocative and haunting, Copenhagen are one of the more unorthodox bands based in London. Dominic Simpson speaks to members Neil Henderson and Kirsa Wilkenschildt about the group's confessional, orchestral baroque sound and their new album, 'Sweet Dreams'


Tales from the Forest (2001)
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