Ruth Graham, Spring 2008

n the beginning, Scarlet’s Well was Bid (of Monochrome Set fame) accompanied by a fluctuating cast of girlish singers, esoteric musicians and random collaborators. It was a beautiful but primarily solo vision. Lavishly illustrated albums emerged quietly, all set in the vicinity of a place called Mousseron, “a sickly village situated somewhere east of the Azores and only slightly north of the Styx” populated by howling wolves, seductive mermaids and a bawdy captain with his crew of beer-swilling pirates and off-kilter animals with disturbingly human characteristics.

Seven albums have now been released and with the most recent two: Black Tulip Wings (2006) and Gatekeeper (2008), Scarlet’s Well has evolved into a band in its own right, with live gigs, collaborative song writing, luscious merchandise, tantrums and uncorroborated suggestions of bizarre fantasies. A sense of band empathy and the benefits of varied influences are evident in both these albums but there is still a thematic consistency.

Although there is a conceptual thread that runs through the albums, the songs still function as pop in the sweetest sense, i.e. they are catchy, you can sing along (if you must) and most are dance friendly. What makes them special is their unpredictability and the dizzying range of musical genres combined with an essence that is simply ‘Scarlet’s Well’. It’s Whirling Dervish meets gypsy troubadour with the crack of a whip on the rump of a unicorn…then it gets fey and funky.

Lyrics leap from cryptic literary allusions to pert whimsy and although there is a certain obscure quality there is also an air of familiarity: a morphic memory thing bringing on a parallel universe that reveals itself to those who are open to getting lost with new acquaintances down strange cobbled streets, wooded glades, uncharted waters or the dark tunnels of the underworld.

Bid describes it better in November Night from Gatekeeper:

Strange songs playing, so darkly chanted
With words that I feel but don’t understand

While Peter Momtchiloff emphasises the benefits of collaboration with New Friends:

We are your new friends, if the night ever ends
It will feel as if we’ve always been here

This is a big band – eight members in all – but the sound, although rich and multi-layered, is surprisingly light and charming. Each new album leaves you with the desire for just a little bit more. It’s a light lunch thing – although there have been songs about “sausages standing to attention”, “Belladonna cooking in her frilly bloomers” and “liver like it used to be”, you are never left bloated.

The Monochrome Set were a more manly outfit – all black and white with staccato beats and a cowboy swagger. With Scarlet’s Well, Bid has gone technicolour and connected with his feminine side aptly complemented by the virgin/vixen vocals of Alice Healey. The rest of the impressive line-up consists of Deb van der Geugten: bass, Sian Chaffer: keyboards, Jennifer Dennito: drums, Helena Johansson: violin & mandolin, Peter Momtchiloff: lead guitar and Martin White: accordion.

Scarlet’s Well is a band of eccentrics for eccentrics, dandies, grannies, choir boys, mariners, twee poppers and indefatigable travellers. The music should ideally be experienced under a flickering light with a glass of fine mead in the company of fey maidens and prattling moles...alternatively, go and see them live…you will come out with naughty little fairies nibbling at the musical bits of your brain!

Ethelred The Unseemly, Spring 2004

riginally conceived as a studio project in 1998, Scarlet's Well is less a pop band than an exotic secret world, a walled garden whose ivy-covered door implores the curious to try its handle. From within, three lavishly-packaged albums have emerged, released on the Siesta label: "Strange Letters" (1999), "The Isle Of The Blue Flowers" (2000), and "Alice In The Underworld" (2002). Word-of-mouth recommendations have abounded, and Drowned In declared "Isle..." as a bona fide Classic Album.

2004, however, sees the first tentative raising of the Scarlet's Well profile in The Real World, determined to reveal the band's existence to the thousands who might adore them if they only knew they existed. As well as the release of a fourth album in May, "The Dream Spider Of The Laughing Horse", a live band has been put together and the first Scarlet's Well concerts are starting to be booked around the world. Finally, the secret is out.

On paper, they're the musical incarnation of Bid, the handsome, enigmatic, quietly legendary London singer-songwriter, accomplished fop-pop pioneer and former front man of cult New Wave dandies The Monochrome Set.

"I didn't really intend Scarlet's Well to be a band. I wanted this to be an Atmosphere, created by any method available, and I thought that I would have greater freedom by using a variety of different singers, musicians and writers."

Bid's Scarlet's Well collaborators have included living modern rock star Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand and dead Victorian poet Christina Rossetti, constantly in church services with the hymn "In The Bleak Midwinter". All of which is very Scarlet's Well.

"I wanted the feeling of an open-ended musical with a partly ever-changing cast. The identity of the albums had to be strong enough to allow these changes, without them seeming like compilations. I like the variety, and it gives me more leeway as to the subject matter of the lyrics."

And what lyrics. Archaic and arcane, literate and witty, cinematic and surreal tales of doomed pirate crews, ghostly parrots, lusty werewolves lurking in leafy glades, flirty jellyfish, water-shrew shuffles, demons and cobbled streets. Lead vocals are approached like roles in a story, with Bid's voice taking turns with a diverse cast of girlish young ladies, mostly recruited from local school musicals.

The music, meanwhile, is a gorgeous, intoxicating form of defiantly non-rocking, timeless and folkish fop-pop. Stunning, ornately-crafted melodies arranged for accordions, mandolins, brushed drums, summer guitars, smoky pianos, banjos, fiddles, ukuleles, and bouzoukis, most of which are played on the records by Bid himself.

The Scarlet's Well songs are so classic-sounding, so infectious, and so unlike everything else around the musical firmament right now, that they could well appeal to small children and old ladies alike. The group remains defiantly anti-fashion and anti-rock. Pro-vocabulary, pro-creativity, pro-wit, pro-beauty. A band led by one of the greatest British singer-songwriters in the English language alive, at the peak of his creative powers.

"I envisaged a village somewhere in the South-West of England. I called this little place "Mousseron" (a particular type of French mushroom), and further imagined a nearby magical well, called "Scarlet's Well". About a year after the release of the first album, I heard about a real Scarlet's Well near Bodmin in Cornwall. I seem to also recall that nearby Boscastle used to house the only witch's museum in the country. I am irritated by the fact that Real Life continually strives to emulate my twisted and bizarre psyche.

"In making these albums, I am walking through a thick fog, lit here and there by fireflies, and have little idea of where I'm going. Storylines develop between songs and albums, and I sometimes make an effort to guide them, but mostly end up following some silly sprite into a puddle.

"Some may think that this is a little excursion; far from it. I can't see myself doing anything else for the foreseeable future. I can't help it."