More about: Bear's Den
Andrew Davie’s schnauzer/poodle cross Nelson is sneezing and yawning on his owner as he talks. “He’s not finding me very exciting” the Bear’s Den songwriter laughs, presumably petting his Schnoodle as he speaks. It’s just one day before the release of ‘Christmas, Hopefully’, a festive single to precede an EP of the same name, and both Davie and Gigwise are feeling apprehensive as Christmas approaches.
“The way that film and TV portrays [Christmas] create this obscene expectation that reality struggles to deliver,” he says of the holiday. “Unfortunately, I associate Christmas with some tricky moments in my family. It became alarmingly obvious quite early in my life that our family wasn’t going to be able to enjoy that moment in the same way.”
His lived experiences reflect the statistics: in 2018, Samaritans received 300,000 calls over the festive period (1 December-1 January), while A&E admissions always soar and cases of domestic abuse dramatically increase. Basically, “Christmas is laced with all this other stuff that makes it a bit more complex, and I wanted to write a song that got that across. I know so many people find it hard.”
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The result is ‘Christmas, Hopefully’, a candid, vulnerable and beautifully-composed piece of music that makes up some of the best work Bear’s Den have ever released. The “Christmas, Hopefully” line has come up before for Davie, who has written a prequel to the song you hear today: “it’s just clearly something that every year is in the back of my mind, like hopefully this year this won’t happen or whatever it is. 'Hopefully he won’t say that'; 'hopefully she won’t do this'.”
As a child of an alcoholic mother (a subject Davie has previously touched on in his songs), Christmas has often been tough for the singer. “It’s such a nostalgic and reflective time of year: if it has been tricky ever then you can’t help but be transported somewhat to [those] bits. I’m one of those people who’s often a stray at Christmas an I’m relying on pals to let me hang out at theirs.”
Thankfully, the last couple of years have been kinder to Davie, who has spent the festive period with his fiancée and her family. “Those Christmases are so fantastic. They get me out of my own head and [allow me to] fall in love with it again,” he smiles.
It’s not that he all-out hates Christmas at the best of times, either. Fans will know that Davie has penned several songs about the time of year, to be joined in 2020 by three new compositions: ‘Christmas, Hopefully’ will sit alongside a mega-hit sequel ‘Berlin pt II’ and the first Bear’s Den song Davie has ever played piano on: ‘Favourite Patient.’ “I can’t help but be drawn to how not quite perfect it is” he admits. “We did 3 [Christmas songs] last year and 3 this year, and there’s a song called ‘Berlin’ that was hanging around before. One day hopefully we can put out all of these wintery Christmassy songs on one record.”
It’s a welcome prospect: the collection that is Christmas, Hopefully is, on its own, a blinding contribution to the festive canon. There’s a place for your Slades and your Mariah Careys, sure, but melancholy at Christmas somehow feels right - comfortable, even.
This year, the proportion of those coming over to this nuanced way of thinking about the season will likely increase. Many will be away from their friends and families, or at the least not be able to embrace each other without worry. In many ways then, this is the perfect year for the Bear’s Den EP. “This Christmas is going to be tough for new reasons,” Davie agrees, “but there’s a lot of hope.”
“This year’s been so hard and it’s scary” he sings on ‘Berlin pt II’, putting that simple, ever-repeated fact into the context of gentle finger-plucked strings and shivering programmed hi-hats. “I can’t change anything that’s happened, all I can offer is a hand to hold” he sings, putting into words what Bear’s Den’s music has been doing for the past seven years, pandemic or no.
It’s been a hard and scary year for Davie too, if you were wondering, though he did at least live on the same road as bandmate and multi-instrumentalist Kevin Jones for most of lockdown making it easy to stay in touch. “Even when we could only hang out outside, we would meet up with our dogs in my front garden and put the world to rights,” he remembers, “Kev and I reconnected as friends within and outside of music.”
Now living outside of London after a recent move, Davie lives further from Kevin and his “enormous” Bernese Mountain Dog Gizmo, but hopes “we’re through the worst of it and it’s easier to see each other next year.” It’s a hope shared by Davie’s fiancée, who, as a GP-in-training, has been on the frontline of the pandemic all year. Though some of ‘Favourite Patient’ was penned after the titular patient passed away in A&E last year, it took on its current form during the day-to-day struggle Davie saw his partner go through as she bounced from placement to placement in PPE. “You think doctors are superhero robots…but one of the things she’s really taught me about the profession is how much care and detail [is taken] about who the person is. I don’t think doctors get credit for the emotional toll that goes into really looking after a patient.”
“I can’t help but think what the hell am I even doing here?” he sings on ‘Favourite Patient’, existential crisis peaking as he considers his own worth in the world. It's a sentiment he reiterates as we talk: “I think this whole year has been an eye opener of what she’s going through. It made me feel I could do a lot more to help. Being a musician, it’s quite easy to become self absorbed.”
“I hope I can help in some way” he sings atop tentative keys on the song, not understanding, perhaps, just how much much he does help those in pain and suffering. Through their music, Davie and Jones prop up the weary and the frightened, giving hope and camaraderie through the medium of sound.
It’ll be no secret to anyone who listens to Bear’s Den that Andrew Davie is a sensitive soul. “110%” more sensitive than his partner, Davie is the one to cry at films while she implores him to “pull yourself together”. Thank God he is that way.
Vulnerability has been a part of their writing since the beginning, and even when handing the keys over to composer Paul Frith for the reimagined orchestral landscape of Fragments, the touching earnesty of Bear’s Den is always at the forefront. “It can be the silliest piece of music or the saddest piece of music: either can be as powerful,” Davie muses, “but for me I’m drawn to writing things when I don’t know how to communicate my own reality. I struggle with being able to articulate myself and that’s lead over the years to me feeling quite down and depressed at times. For me, songwriting is a way to organise my thoughts and own whatever I need to own or tell the story in my head.” He pauses, then adds: “by virtue of doing that [the songs] end up being quite sad quite often.”
It’s the same story on the Christmas, Hopefully EP, which Davie wrote, as he so often does, by “starting with a line that might feel quite difficult to say and then working my way back to why that’s difficult.” The result, as you will soon hear, is resplendent. As with Fragments, which had a tour pulled before it was even announced as the pandemic set in, the songs will see the stage sometime, joined by Frith himself. “The dream is that [Paul] becomes a strand of what we do,” Davie says, “maybe in a couple records time we can collaborate on kind of the same thing again. There’s something really incredible about playing with an orchestra. One day we will get the whole gang together.”
One day soon, hopefully.
Christmas, Hopefully EP arrives 1 December via Communion Records.
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More about: Bear's Den