Real World Sessions: Owen Spafford & Louis Campbell, 5 December 2023

The musical pairing of fiddle player Owen Spafford and guitarist Louis Campbell brings together English traditional and contemporary experimental music in visceral and disarmingly emotional performances which have rapidly made these instrumentalists the talk of the folk scene.

Their delivery sweeps the full dynamic spectrum: often beginning with the gentlest of notes, beckoning the listeners to lean forward as the story begins, and then rising to incredible peaks played out with raging intention. Each musical piece tells a different tale through a unique musical language the pair have created together which manages to orbit many different sound worlds, from the English folk dance tune to chamber music and post-rock, blurring the lines between what is traditional, composed and improvised.

It was at one of these captivating shows — an unamplified, wholly acoustic performance at Christ Church in Bath some months ago — where Owen and Louis received an invitation to come and record at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Wiltshire. A chance to capture the essence of their live performances in one of the world’s most revered recording spaces, it was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

The duo arrived at the studios in the village of Box on a wintery December morning and began to tune up in the legendary Wood Room, between the four walls of which classic recordings by some of their favourite artists had been made — the likes of The Gloaming, Spiro, Elbow and Bjork. With studio engineer Katie May on the sound console and York Tillyer behind the camera, a twenty-minute long pristine recording was captured of these two young musicians doing what they do best, uninterrupted, at what may be a pivotal moment in their blossoming career.

Recently the band have found themselves sharing the stage with legendary Irish fiddler Martin Hayes, and supporting new jazz pioneers Mammal Hands at The Barbican in London. They’ve even been invited to perform in Seoul, South Korea. Clearly, word of their unique sound is spreading.

Watch the entire recording session on YouTube

Louis Campbell on recording at Real World Studios:

“We sat down to play as we would on stage or at home, extremely close to one and other, without any headphones or barriers, while the engineer, Katie May, artfully set up microphones to naturally capture the beautiful acoustics of The Wood Room. By lunchtime we already had the takes of ‘102 Metres East’ and ‘Curlew’ completed, before returning to record ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’. The professionalism of the engineers and the ease of the atmosphere allowed us to record the EP very quickly, which we feel has given the recordings a real sense of honesty, a character we really value. Capturing a singular moment in time.”

Session Notes

Recorded on 5 December, 2023 in The Wood Room, Real World Studios

Recording / Mix Engineer Katie May, assisted by Ben Koch

Musicians Owen Spafford: fiddle; Louis Campbell: acoustic guitar

Recording setup acoustic guitar: AKG C12 & 414 mid-side; fiddle: DPA clip-on, Schoeps MK4; room: stereo Blumlein Extinct BM9 pair (audience position), DPA 4006 pair (ambient above)

Recording engineer, Katie May:

“For Owen and Louis the main thing I wanted to capture was their natural chemistry, which was super evident as soon as I saw them rehearse the songs together at the back of the studio. For this reason it made loads of sense to put them where they feel most comfortable— right next to each other. While this is normally not conducive to a ‘good’ recording, since you get lots of spill in each of the mics, it was certainly conducive to a beautiful performance, which is by far the thing that translates best to listeners.

“I chose a mid-side mic’ing approach for the acoustic so add a natural sense of stereo space, using an AKG C12 for the mid mic and an AKG 414 for the side mic. The C12 captured all of the really warm and rich tones of Louis’ beautiful guitar while the 414 just added that bit of stereo bloom. For Owen, I chose to mic his fiddle with a clip on DPA to capture the body and attack of the bow along with a higher up Schoeps MK4 for some air and natural space. To finish it all off I had two pairs of room mics— a stereo Blumlein Extinct BM9 pair in the ‘audience’ position and a spaced stereo pair of DPA 4006s on the top of the mezzanine to capture the ambient sound of the Wood Room.”

Real World Sessions: Totó la Momposina, 18 August 1991

A look back on The Wood Room session with producer Phil Ramone and mix engineer Richard Blair.



“Since the release of our debut album last year, we have spent a lot of time as a duo exploring what being ‘English folk musicians’ means to us and our backgrounds,” says Louis. “Owen, who grew up in Leeds, has a strong sense of cultural identity while I am a little more confused, with a more mobile sense of ‘home’. Therefore, with the music we recorded at Real World we have been trying to incorporate a more pluralised and contemporary sense of cultural Englishness, relying more on original material and the unbroken aural tradition than we had previously. The aim is to be as authentic to our own backgrounds as possible, as opposed to a forgotten pastoral England we have no real connection to.”

The EP takes its name from one of Owen and Louis’ original compositions, ‘102 Metres East’ — a reference to the movement of the global meridian line from the original ‘Airy line’ across the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, to a new point 102 metres east of this, through some unassuming woodland, grass and public bins. Initiated by technological advances in how we measure the earth’s shape, the relocation was a kind of reconsideration of tradition in a contemporary context that made for a quirky analogy of the duo’s musical modus operandi.

102 Metres East by Owen Spafford & Louis Campbell is out on Wednesday 6 March 2024 digitally via Real World X, an imprint of Real World Records. They have a series of shows this April in the UK with further dates to be announced later in the year.

Download / listen to the EP

By Oran Mullan

Main image: Owen Spafford & Louis Campbell in The Wood Room. Photo credit: York Tillyer.

Published on Tue, 05 March 24

Further reading

Real World Sessions: Remmy Ongala & Super Matimila, 17 August 1991

Rupert Hine and Stephen W Tayler look back on the 1991 session which yielded Remmy Ongala's 'Mambo'.

Real World Sessions: Totó la Momposina, 18 August 1991

A look back on The Wood Room session with producer Phil Ramone and mix engineer Richard Blair.