Below is an interview with Celia, comprised of two separate Q and As (2010 and 2015), which I have put together to give a history and feel for Trees, one of the best bands of the 1970s in my view. They only made two albums, but both are classics...
What year did you join Trees?
1969, my sister Sue worked at Philips Records at the time as did David Costa (founder and guitarist of Trees). He asked her if she could sing as he'd formed a folk band and needed a female singer. She said no, but her sister had a nice voice...
What was the band going for sound wise? Many compared you guys to Fairport Convention?
A fair comparison. We were influenced by just about everything we heard in the very early days, and our 'sound' gradually evolved during the first recording sessions, which started before the gigs. It was pretty much defined by the various abilities and playing preferences of the individual members - everyone liked to play lead all at the same time, including the drummer.
The two albums Garden of Jane Delawney and On the Shore were both released in 1970 weren’t they? Were they made quite close together?
Released in 1970? Can't actually remember but very likely. JD was recorded in 1969 and released early 1970, On the Shore was recorded in spring / early summer, I think. No particular reason to be so close, except that we were ready.
Did you have much commercial success at the time, or a large live following?
No to the first in terms of actual album sales or being paid, although we were fortunate enough to appear on BBC radio several times and TV too. I think it's correct to say we did have a large live following and were certainly on the main concert hall and festival circuit.
Why did the band split?
I think it was probably our lack of financial success that caused us to stop being so productive, and gradually bits of us fell away until only Barry Clarke who played lead guitar and I were left. We recruited replacement members and played on for some time but again financial problems caused the final break. Barry and David Costa formed Casablanca and made 2 albums. Bias wrote the hit song Music in Me and joined the Kiki Dee Band, and in more recent years toured extensively with the Moody Blues. Unwin Brown, the drummer, played with Capricorn who were big in Japan before becoming a teacher at a private school in Kensington, London. Sadly, he left this world 2 years ago, he's greatly missed.
What did I do? I became a housewife and mother, and went back to my roots – acting, dancing etc. I still do voice overs, although I gave up teaching dance some time ago. I now sell luxury houses in the St Tropez area and live coincidently only a couple of miles from Barry. France is a big place - what's the likelihood of that?! Neither of us were aware the other was there...
The last couple of years has seen a kind of revival of interest for Trees. Gnarls Barkley sampled you and a few people have covered Garden of Jane Delawney. Why do you think people have started to have more of an interest in the group?
No idea. It's wonderful! Although the interest in Trees has never lessened (there have been several re-releases of our 2 albums and even some bootleg live sessions over the years) it's true that Gnarls Barkley were responsible for the high level of this recent renewal of interest. We thank him, it's been a marvellous ride; Sony emailed me and asked that we allow the sampling of our track 'Geordie' to appear on the GB album. It was due to be the title track and was therefore rather important to them.
I turned it over to David who has remained in the business, albeit on the artistic side, and he negotiated some very advantageous provisos for us, namely the tracking down and being paid the past publishing royalties we'd never received, providing the original recording tracks (those that still existed) so that we could remix them, the re-recording of certain parts and re-release of both albums, and best of all organizing a reunion for us at the Chelsea Arts Club. It was the first time we'd been together, all 5 of us, for 35 years. And the years just fell away...
From the Garden of Jane Delawney, the title song, The Great Silkie, all the versions, particularly the BBC recording for Folk on Sunday. And Sally Free and Easy, bar the out of tune guitar, from On the Shore. And for the record, I hated Glasgerion, Little Sadie and Soldiers 3.
If you could go back again and change any tracks which ones would you take on?
I added harmonies to Silkie and Jane Delawney prior to the re-release a few years ago. It was something that had been screaming out for me to do and I was so glad of the chance. I’d redo Glasgerion: slow it right down and probably drop an octave.
Your Trees touring schedule was intense. What were some of the best gigs you remember and the best bands you played on the bill with?
That was a long time ago Chris! A few stand out, the Colston Hall in Bristol, the Scottish tour with Fleetwood Mac and another with Yes, a few gigs with Fotheringay who were lovely people. We even supported the Faces, I don’t remember how the gigs went. It was a certain era, we played with just about everyone there was on the circuit, including Pink Floyd.
I think your voice has got even better over time, this usually doesn't happen with a lot of singers.
How do you feel your voice has gone over time?
Naturally with age I’ve lost the purity of the higher range, but have more in the lower range now. Apart from singing with you, I’m really rather out of practice!
You think you've learned how to get the best harmony out of a track?
I was always fascinated with harmony. It was ever a disappointment that none of the band would sing with me onstage. I love having the freedom to create what I want on your tracks, thank you for having faith in me.
What work did you do right after Trees, in the 70s, voice wise?
I tried this and that, Nick Mason wanted to use me on something or other but it didn’t materialise. Roger Bunn tried me out for some of his music, another friend wanted me to sing Dolly Parton songs and paid for a session – but none of it worked out and I couldn’t find another suitable or interesting band to sing with. I sang for a while on a BBC show called the Sequence, the producer chose 3 musicians a week to segway (sp?) two pieces of music together. We had about 10 seconds to start on the end key of the last track and progress to the starting key of the next piece of music. Bizarre, but fun, it was all to do with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop run by Paddy Kingsland.
Which Dodson and Fogg songs have you enjoyed singing on?
All of them to be honest, otherwise I wouldn't have attempted them. But there are a couple I really had fun with, like Too Bright and Time. The latter was very me!
What does it feel like singing these parts and kind of being able to flex your voice and do interesting things with it?
I guess it's pretty much the same as you feel when you let your guitar rip! I'm frustrated though by the quality of my voice, it's not nearly as strong as it used to be perhaps from lack of practice, so I can't do what I feel I'd like to with it. Usually a singer has or is given a part which evolves as the band rehearse together prior to recording, whereas you just send me the almost completed track and I find a way to fit in somehow! I've never really worked like this before, except on a Phil Trainer album on which Trees were his backing band very many years ago. I loved Nigel Planer's harmonies, by the way. As to anything else, I just want to thank you for "bringing me back" as it were. As I said, I love the music, or I wouldn't do it.