Seas of Mirth Talk Music and Festivals

19 September 16 words: Bridie Squires
"We've definitely been one of those bands that you discover wandering round at 3am. You can't remember anything apart from that one bonkers moment"
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photo: Louise Clutterbuck
 

It’s not every day you get to drink pints with pirates. The cafe was quietly buzzing with regulars, peaceful ripples appearing and disappearing on the water’s surface, when top marauder Al Judders landed with a smile, wearing an octopus t-shirt, alongside fellow members Zorba the Blowfish and Glen Fingle – the blow-up doll-besotted star of the band’s music video for Esmerelda.

“Glen Fingle’s character is based on those sad men you see playing the same clubs for years with five pints of stout next to him... and a puddle of urine,” says Glen. I ask Zorba the Blowfish what he plays.

“Bouzouki,” he replies. “So cliche, I know.”

There is now a solid crew of nine in Seas of Mirth, but Al counts about thirty who’ve dipped in and out at different stages. With instruments ranging from accordions and organs to violins and cellos, the sound is as eclectic as it gets. And with members like Sally Squidbusiness, Piss-in-the-Wind Mindy, and Rear Admiral Arse Beard, to name but a few, you’d be forgiven for thinking they have a laugh in creating it.

It all started when Al Judders moved in with fellow founder Cannonball Paul during university. “Two days later I was in a band with him,” says Al. “I didn’t even know him. It was a random student house so we’d just met. Within two nights, we were glugging loads of rum and making pirate songs like ‘Arrrr!’. It was ridiculous. Then a fiddle player [Mackerel Boy] moved in two days later and it was like ‘Well, whaddya know?’”

Zorba the Blowfish – aka Emilios, the lead singer of Hallouminati – recalls OP and lead guitarist Cannonball Paul’s inspiration, “He was doing an open mic night, and he had to write four or five joke songs. One of them happened to be pirate themed, and it was the only one that got a chuckle, so he rolled with it... He’s always so funny, always on point. He could lift an eyebrow and it’d make you laugh.”

The first ever Seas of Mirth gig was at the Rose of England, and from there an unsteady collective developed, different members coming and going interchangeably for about three years. “They were terrible gigs. Dreadful, awful. But great fun, a good laugh,” says Zorba.

“Years ago, we could have just set up a gig here if we wanted to,” says Al. “Now we’re taking it a bit more seriously.”

“Well…” says Glen Fingle. Everyone falls about laughing.

“Back then, members were the most generic, reprobate hippies you could imagine,” says Zorba. “They had tin whistles, flutes and harmoniums, and would turn up seconds before the gig. Al would have to quickly teach them the melody, and whoever happened to be there would be there.”

The band have lovingly created an alternative band name – Seas of Faff. “You’ll go nowhere with the Seas of Faff,” sings Al, in a bassy pirate jingle. “It can be [stressful] if say we’re going to Bristol, we’re playing at 9pm, it’s 7pm and we haven’t even left yet. It’s always OK at the end of the day, we’ve never missed a gig.”

“Or killed each other,” says Glen.

Glen Fingle and Zorba champion Al and Paul for keeping the whole thing afloat, citing Paul as an intense worker and Al as an organisational champion. “Between them, they’re like dads,” says Glen. “Paul is like John Lennon and Al is like George Martin.

“We’ve become a lot more professional, but we’ve managed to keep it as ramshackle as possible in certain areas. We’ve got cheap equipment that’s bound to break, cases with things falling out... You’ve gotta keep it authentic.”

“We don’t have clipboard monitors,” says Zorba. “We have chilled-out lefties who do things at their own pace. Festivals are a nightmare cos everyone goes wandering off.”

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photo: Louise Clutterbuck
 

It was around 2010 when the band decided to start shaping up. Falmouth University had asked them to play and the crew were struggling for a lift, but ended up bundling into a van thanks to a friend, Smit. Seas of Mirth were acoustic at the time, and Smit decided to jump in as a drummer after listening to a few tunes on the way down.

“We’d only played to about fifty people before, and suddenly there was this huge queue snaking around the building. It was like headlining Rock City or something,” says Zorba. “Sometimes I wake up at 3am thinking ‘God, can you imagine if we’d played to that many people without a drummer?’”

“We thought we’d get a full rhythm section and make it sound bigger and tighter,” says Al.

“Then we learned different scales to A minor,” laughs Zorba.

“In the beginning it was definitely borrowing sounds from Fleet Foxes, a bit of Flogging Molly. It’s taken a lot of other influences now. Paul discovered Goat in 2013 – a psychedelic, Afrobeat band. It went up from there.”

“It’s still folk instruments, but we’re not playing by those guidelines,” says Al. With the music taking twists and turns in every direction, the theatrical performance the band put on for gigs and festivals has followed suit. They’ve had tug o’ war, giant crab wrestling, and now Sally Squidbusiness has made a massive octopus for the crowd to play with. “When you’re watching a band at a festival on a Saturday night you’re in this complete otherworldly state, an escape from reality, with so many things to see," says Al.

“You never get to see who you really wanna see cos you’re waiting for your mate to buy falafel or something,” says Zorba. “We’ve definitely been one of those bands that you discover wandering round at 3am. You can’t remember anything apart from that one bonkers moment.”

Their festival track record is ridiculous – Glastonbury, Secret Garden Party, Boomtown, and all the places in between, including a Pirate Punk Festival on an island off the north coast of Germany, only accessible by small boat. But how have their festival antics compared to getting stuck in to the studio?

“It’s difficult,” says Zorba. “Visually, it’s amazing live, but it’s hard to translate that onto an album. Al was a machine on that point, I’ve never seen so much attention to detail.”

“You’ve gotta keep it loose as well,” says Al. “Phil Booth at JT Soar is an amazing man. He let us record every potential thing and he let us keep our 150-year-old pump organ in the studio, just in case. We recorded slapping our thighs, shouting into a sink full of water, blowing bottles, smashing bottles, screaming. In fact, we had a whole day dedicated to screaming.”

The laughter that rises from the three buccaneers is very telling of their hunger for a good shenanigan. “It’s been a series of ridiculous events,” says Glen. “When I look back on this I’m gonna say ‘You know what, we had a great time.’”

Seas of Mirth are currently touring the UK. Hark! The Headland Approacheth is available on I’m Not From London Records.

Seas of Mirth website

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