Tale of Two: a musical torch for dark times and dark places
Tale of Two are a dark folk duo: Alfie Jackson (ex-Holloways frontman turned songwriter/producer) and multi-talented writer and performer Gemma Rogers. Think broken-hearted lyrics citing famous poets meets eerie music with classical leanings to create a rich and intoxicating soundscape. Mark Wincott finds out what’s behind the name.
Afternoon, how did Tale of Two begin, where did you meet and what was the first session together like?
G: Afternoon Mark, thanks for having us. We met at a gig in Islington several years ago now, watched each other play, went for chips and a cider and, after chats and maybe a second cider, decided we wanted to work together. Alfie now lives in Austria and I’m in London so a lot of our writing is done remotely.
A: Yeah, we met at The Old Queen’s Head near Angel. Clicked straight away. First session we wrote ‘Broken’ and the next day ‘Angels’… so pretty good.
Describe your music. What makes you unique?
A: Our music is dark folk. We sing together man and woman and we sing against each other man and woman. We make an internal and external critique of the world and its inhabitants with a strong sense of right and wrong, diluted with determination and hope.
Your debut EP is out, tell us the story behind the creative process, where was it recorded?
G: We wrote the first two tracks of Angels and Demons from the same room when Alfie was in London and the next two when he was back in Austria and I was here. The ideas were bandied back and forth via Googledrive and Evernote. Alfie lays down the music at his home studio and then I lay down my vocals with whoever of my pals with recording facilities I can rope in. I send that back to Alfie who then weaves in the magic and Bob’s your uncle.
A: The creative process just means us getting together and writing freely with the guitar, on the street and in the pub and over faceskypetime app.
We never question what we do. We feel and think something and carve it out very quickly. Most of it has been recorded in our bedrooms.
What can we expect from this EP and where can we buy it?
G: Four tracks: ‘Angels’, ‘Broken’, ‘Lovelust’ and ‘Demons’. Listeners might journey with us on a lyrical path via relationship dissections and painful truths. But there is a possible light in the moody darkness. It’s a sort of aural equivalent of a succulent peach at the end of a very stodgy risotto. You can buy it on Bandcamp.
A: Yeah, Bandcamp needs your money. You can expect sadness, despair, imagery, atmosphere, warnings, twisting haunting melodies, hopeful outcomes, strength and resolve.
Who directed the music video for ‘Demons’ and why was it the last single released from the EP?
G: Alfie actually put the montage together for ‘Demons’. He is the clever lad – with the patience of a saint, I might add. It’s the last track of this EP because we felt it had the same foundations as the previous three tracks. The next four are different; we wrote them with changed mindsets.
A: Like most things we do – not planned as such but we just follow our heart.
Do you have any particular lyrical themes?
G: We pontificate about our relationships, love, lust and hate and all the grey areas in between. We talk about our place on Earth, we write about clinging on to the right and the wrong but also about how hard that is sometimes. Hope is a recurring theme too.
A: Honesty. Life. Death. Depression and despair. Climate. Politics and its lack of soul. Gambling. Poetry references. Historical references. Mythology. Infidelity. War. Secrets. The city.
Favourite lyric you have written and also by someone else?
A: “if we leave our lovers, then we’ll leave each other too” – ‘Lovelust’ – Tale of Two
“At my most beautiful, I count your eyelashes secretly” – ‘At My Most Beautiful’ – REM
G: “You follow the piper but he’s turned his back, the captain jumped shipped long before all the rats.” ‘Demons’ – Tale of Two
“What makes a house grand, oh, it ain’t the roof or the doors, If there’s love in a house, it’s a palace for sure.” ‘House Where Nobody Lives’ – Tom Waits
It’s just true isn’t it? I’ve lived in many different homes but I can honestly say that where I am now is the best I’ve been in and I feel very grateful.
What is the first song you both remember as a child?
G: Got to be something by The Carpenters or Cat Stevens. ‘Top of the world’ or ‘Peace Train’. Both immediately transport me back.
A: One I started singing that I made up when I was old enough to stand – ‘singing round the mushroom tree’.
Who are you both influenced by, in music and life?
A: Music – Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Bowie, Beach Boys, Smiths, Cure, Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, Supergrass, Strokes
G: Musically I’m into energy, the feeling you get off the artist. I like lyrics that tell you stories, I like poetic writers. I’m into Patti Smith and Tom Waits and Ian Dury and Leonard Cohen. I’m listening to The Idles at the moment, discovered them at Glastonbury 2019. They remind me of my teenage years and it gives me this nostalgic adrenaline I dig. I’m influenced by loads of things.
What is the hardest part of being a musician…and the best?
A: The wages are the hardest part and the fact that people take music for granted and don’t want to pay for something that brings them joy everyday but they’ll happily pay £5 a pint.
The best? Writing songs. Music is pure magic.
G: The best thing is that there’s no right or wrong. I love being able to combine satisfying melodies with lyrical themes that are relevant and ending up with something I feel proud of. Music and writing lyrics help me to make sense of what I’m feeling. Hardest thing I suppose is that, if you’re not gigging and you’re just putting music out without being able to see the whites of people’s eyes, you don’t get that instant response which helps drive the energy into new projects.
What have you both learned about yourself during this time, also what are you doing to keep sane during these isolation periods?
A: I am darker than I thought. I have experienced worse than I let on. I am lucky I can address my dark side for art and communication of necessary messages but remain happy.
G: I can spend entire days doing not much at all but the minutes and hours still pass by. I’ve been reading and listening to podcasts and tackling a piece of writing I’ve been working at for four years which is very satisfying. I’ve set up online workshops for kids, which is helping me to maintain some sort of routine. I’ve also learnt that I can easily sleep 12 hours a night, but I think I knew that anyway to be honest.
In physical life you played Sofa Sounds a few times, what’s the experience like?
G: They’re great gigs. Quiet and intimate, which I think adds to the intensity of some of our themes.
A: Amazing. Superb. A dream. I just wish the love on the night carried over into people becoming addicted fans on our socials.
Any plans to do an online gig?
G: I did a solo gig recently that I live streamed through Facebook for the Strummerville Foundation. That was cool but Alfie and I live in different countries, so a bit harder without all the software in place, however. Did you see Alfie’s clever ‘transnational pre-recorded live performance’ he did for ‘Demons’? Go watch it – it’s the closest thing we have so far. We do plan to do more so watch this space.
Favourite East London music venue and your go-to place for food?
G: I enjoyed a night out at EartH on the Stokey road before the shutdown and for food I’ve got to say Tayyabs – easily the best curry house in East London.
A: I live in Austria now. I’d say Macbeth for nostalgia. Food… hmmm… I get pissed first and go to that chicken and burger place between Old Street and the Kingsland Road.
G: I’d just like to add that I’m NEVER with him when he frequents that fast food establishment
A: World domination. Release more music and album. Tour. Be recognised for the great act that we are, making original and challenging music, and being two very honest performers.
G: Our second EP has four brand new tracks we’re very excited about, so we’ll put that out this year and we’ve started working on a musical we discussed when we first met. With more time on our hands, we figured it was time to start exploring what that might look like.
Spotify: Search for Tale of Two
Main image: Ben Donoghue
Mark Wincott is a born and bred East Londoner. A recovering grunger, music gives him peace of mind. He’s a lover of pie mash liquor, likes the smell of rain and has written articles on music, MMA, Pro Wrestling and dealing with anxiety. “I’m unique and different just like everyone else”.