"Mystery Train'', "Route 66" and "Eight Miles High" – travel by almost every conceivable means has long had a pull on songwriters' imaginations. One exception seems to have been the leisurely, anachronistic narrowboat, until, that is, an unlikely duo set out to navigate a canal, compose music inspired by their journey and perform en route.
John Burton, aka Leafcutter John, is an idiosyncratic artist working not only as a folktronica pioneer, but also as a member of Mercury-shortlisted jazz outfit Polar Bear. Folk star Lisa Knapp is an exemplary fiddle player (among other instruments) and spellbinding vocalist. They would probably both agree, though, the star of their project is the Chiswick, a lovingly restored 1930s canal boat.
Together, Burton and Knapp are touring the Grand Union waterway between London and Birmingham, wherever possible using their craft as a floating stage with a specially built platform for their group. They take in a wide variety of surroundings along the way: Hatton Locks is one of the leafier, more unspoilt locales of Warwickshire, while they finish up outside the Flapper & Firkin. The pub is right in Brum's centre, with views of the flight of locks known as Farmer's Bridge.
The pair have unearthed boat songs from folk resource the Vaughan Williams Library, at Cecil Sharp House, and sampled sounds from today's waterway – Burton has fashioned his own hydrophone to record underwater noises. "Water music" is about to get a strange new meaning.
Canal Music play Hatton Locks, 27 September, and Birmingham, 30 SeptemberReuse content