Ontario singer-violinist Miranda Mulholland has been called many things. A musician, naturally, but also founder-director of the Muskoka Music Festival, artist advocate, owner of Roaring Girl Records and red-haired half of the roots duo Harrow Fair. As of last month, we can throw in the descriptor “Juno-nominated” in the front of her many job titles. Mulholland is up for a trophy in the traditional roots category for By Appointment or Chance. How did what Mulholland describes as “my little English album” come together? Well, more by chance than appointment, she told The Globe and Mail. The story of a record made in the picture-postcard Hampshire town of Twyford involves badgers, bunker-dwelling pub people and cat-sitting holidays with a green-eyed scratcher named Poppy.
IN HER WORDS
While in England with the Great Lake Swimmers five years ago, I was staying with the promoters, a husband and wife. The show was in Winchester, but they lived nearby in the village of Twyford. Staying at a promoter’s house can be quite dodgy. Sometimes you get the daughter’s bedroom, with Beanie Babies everywhere. But the house in Twyford was lovely, and the promoters, the Grays, were great.
At breakfast, they said they’d just purchased a camper van and were going on a trip in the spring. They needed someone to look after their cat, Poppy. It was September, and I didn’t know what I was going to be doing in May. So, I volunteered and they said okay.
When I returned in the spring to cat sit, I fell in love with the village. The cat, Poppy? She’s ornery. You can pet her for five seconds, maybe. But I’ve been cat sitting for the Grays for four springs now. Poppy and I have worked out our kinks. She respects me; I respect her.
The village is like being in a BBC mystery drama. Everybody has a story. One morning after a night of wine at one of the town’s two pubs, I received a text message from someone named Rosie saying, “Let me know when you want to come to the bunker.” I thought, “Who is Rosie, and what is the bunker?” When I texted her back those questions, she said, “Not to worry, Beardy Dave will come get you.”
Turns out Rosie and Beardy Dave had bought a 1980s Cold War bunker that was set in the hill. It’s a bit of a trot up to it, on a path. When I was leaving the bunker, they warned me about the badgers that come out at night. After I got back to my house, I texted them to let them know I had made it home safely.
The fourth year cat-sitting, I decided to make use of my time and make a solo album, By Appointment or Chance. The Grays have a beautiful wooden structure in their yard, where they host intimate house concerts. I brought in microphones and gear and talented musician-friends from around the world. The villagers didn’t know we were professional musicians. A woman who asked us to play a garden party was shocked at how well we played. She wanted to give us something, so she gave us fresh eggs from her chickens. We got paid in eggs.
For the first two years, I found it a bit difficult living in the country. I wasn’t used to it. But I was content to sit in the discomfort. I began to give myself little missions. I would walk the 60 minutes into Winchester, do some shopping, take the train back and cook an elaborate dinner for myself. That would be a day.
Setting these little tasks created space for creativity to come in. During a walk I would sing into my iPhone. The hikers thought I was crazy. But ideas come when you least expect them. You just have to make sure the soil is overturned and rested a little bit. And then things come.
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