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Album’s anniversary release serves as fitting tribute to maverick Welsh genius

11 Apr 2021 7 minute read
Little Arrow.

David Owens

Music has the ability to evoke magic and memories.

Many is the time I have felt the pull on my heartstrings of a song’s ability to take you out of yourself, to lose your inhibitions amongst an intimate congregation.

I know this to be true on the many occasions it has happened, but especially on witnessing Little Arrow live at Green Man Festival in 2013.

The sun was setting over the Green Man Rising Stage, casting long shadows across the Black Mountains, as the Pembrokeshire band struck up their monumental set closer ‘Poetically Diseased’, it’s stirring refrain of ‘Here it is embrace your freedom’ sweeping us along in its heady undertow.

The merging of nature’s surrounding beauty, an outbreak of feverish dancing and the song’s words sung back at the band on stage, made for one of those unforgettable occasions when magic happens and you lose yourself to the moment.

It remains my most treasured memory of a band whose frontman, William Hughes, was cruelly taken from us in 2018 after battling cancer.

Will was a creative colossus, one of those polymath geniuses who excelled at everything – a keen artist as well as hugely talented musician, he was equally versed in creating tender reveries as he was in the production of stratospheric anthems.

The common denominator of the mesmerising music that he made with Little Arrow was that it was life-affirming and soul stirring – some of the most bountiful and beauteous sounds to ever caress your ears.

He shared the same sense of scale and ambition for his songs as fellow musical envelope pushing collectives Arcade Fire and Flaming Lips. He was very much cut from the same idiosyncratic cloth as their respective songwriters, Win Butler and Wayne Coyne.

Possessing of a deeply rich voice that could stop you in your tracks with its haunting timbre, he will forever be much missed, but leaves behind a stunning legacy, in a collection of albums that will forever stand the test of time.

It’s been 10 years since Little Arrow emerged with their debut album, ‘Music, Masks & Poems’ back in 2011.

To mark this milestone, Will’s friend, Little Arrow drummer and owner of Cardiff-based record label Bubblewrap Collective, Rich Chitty, is to celebrate Will’s life and music with a beautifully created reissue of the band’s debut album on May 21.

Available for the first time on vinyl, and accompanied by a raft of bonus digital tracks, ‘Music, Masks & Poems’ completes the collection of existing fans, but also acts as the perfect introduction to a stellar, much-missed song-writing talent. Brimming with themes of hope, love and community, the album remains an expansive, airy and understated folk-tinged gem.

The release charts some of the many aspects of Will’s artistic life with a ‘Words & Art’ booklet showcasing his sculptures and lyrics; all accompanying the heavyweight, marbled blue vinyl of music.

The digital reissue will also include bonus live recordings spanning Little Arrow’s career alongside interpretations of the album tracks re-recorded by some of Will’s closest friends. The first of these bonus tracks to be released is a live performance of ‘Poetically Diseased’ from Four Bars, Cardiff, in 2014, which is available now.

For Rich, the release of the album, has been a labour of love to celebrate the life of a man who left such a profound effect on him after their first meeting in 2009.

“It was a cold winter night in Cardiff, late 2009, and we were celebrating the sixth Bubblewrap release at Thé Pot Cafe with Barefoot Dance Of The Sea and Evening Chorus,” recalls Rich.

“Will was there with a makeshift copy of ‘Music, Masks & Poems’. It had a metre long fold-out sleeve filled with his own psychedelic artwork and hand-drawn notes. Little did I know that this encounter would be a significant milestone in my life.”

Listening to the album with label co-founder Josef Prygodzicz, Rich remembers it felt like something special we wanted to be part of.

‘Taken aback’

“I was taken aback by Will’s song-writing. From the tranquil opening of ‘Bitten Blues’ to the vivid imagery in ‘Aeroplane’; the lyrics felt old-worldly but familiar. Full of hope, but tragic. It was intimate, strange and personal yet somehow relatable, as though it talked of your pain and your joy, all through metaphors nearly lost to time. Above all else, I felt an inspiring craftsmanship in the music.”

Bubblewrap released ‘Music, Masks & Poems’ in May 2011. The band started gigging across South Wales and began work on their follow-up, ‘Wild Wishes’. It was then Rich joined the band as they searched for a bigger sound.

Tregydd Farm, St David’s became the band’s regular haunt as they escaped the city and chased the westward setting sun.

“The memories forged with Will and Little Arrow during these times are some of my fondest; whether it was huddled around a roaring fire in the barn making music, or managing Will’s erratic behaviour as it inevitably unfurled in the build-up to a gig,” recalls Rich.

For the rest of us, the weight and importance he would attribute to such performances always seemed to far exceed the task itself. It still never stopped him, though. And from my position behind the drums, every performance felt stratospheric with him and his voice in front of me.

“These fluctuations were just another in-built dimension of Will’s expansively eccentric personality. A strange fellow to some, and all the better for it, and a best friend to many others, including me. We had years of adventures together, within and without the band, and recorded and released two more albums.”

Little Arrow

Losing Will to cancer in December 2018 hit everybody hard. It was the loss of an immense talent.

Rich remembers the enormous emotional connection he shared with his bandmate.

“Will was the most extraordinary soul I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing,” he says.

“I am indebted to him for letting me into his world and allowing me, as a label and a band member, to share his music. I’d played in a few bands over the years, but only with Little Arrow did I feel truly connected to the creation of something really special. What we did as a band was different and, in some ways, miles away from the early days of Little Arrow.”

Rich hopes the reissue of “Music, Masks & Poems will stand as a fitting epitaph to his friend. Putting the album together has certainly served as a cathartic process for the label owner.

“There’s a simpleness, a rawness to ‘Music, Masks & Poems’ and, as it has now reached a ripe age of ten, I felt it right to take some time and, in my own way, honour the man and the music with this special release. To this day, it remains my favourite part of Will’s back catalogue.

“Listening to Will’s music today is a difficult thing for me,” he adds. “With his vocals front and centre, I can almost feel him in the room. It’s heart-breaking. It’s cathartic. It’s just overwhelmingly emotional. The words seem to take on new meanings since his passing – beautiful whispers from another world. And as hard as they sometimes are to hear, there’s comfort in them, too.

“It’s a love letter. A celebration. A chance to say goodbye. A fitting obituary. A pièce de résistance. It’s everything to me.”

Pre-order Music, Masks And Poems here. 

Discover Little Arrow’s back catalogue here.

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3 years ago

Fantastic talents glint iridescent within. Stand out, Stand out and gleam.
Everytime you press play on this work it is clear a timeless classic is ringing out. Rare in quality and impossible to overlisten. The layers keep beckoning and there’s still more glinting glowing inside.

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