2020 has hit the entertainment world hard. With the Covid-19 pandemic affecting everyone on the planet, people have been mostly relegated to staying home since mid-March. This “new normal” has especially burdened musicians—who found themselves without any open venues to perform shows.
While some musicians have been able to secure socially distant gigs, most have had no opportunities in their area. Many players have been live-streaming to keep going and making some revenue with tips. But for some, it’s not just about the money, but rather keeping the creative juices flowing. One such group that has gone above and beyond in The Horse Puppets.
As a full band, The Horse Puppets were playing mostly original music at their shows in and around their home of Manchester, England pre-Covid. But when the pandemic hit, Singer Helen Bytheway and guitarist Paul Bytheway immediately jumped on the opportunity to live stream.
With a solid fan base of over 2,500 on their Facebook Page—affectionately known as the “Puppeteers”—song requests started pouring in during the live broadcasts and through messenger on a daily basis. They got so many that they decided to dedicate one of their live streams to only requests. With so much enthusiasm and support from the fans, the idea was born to embark on a highly ambitious project.
Now, to do anything for one hundred days in a row is difficult to say the least. Some people might feel all gung-ho in the beginning of embarking on such a challenge, but many will peter out before too long. To learn, perform, record, edit, and upload a new song every day for that long is basically unheard of. But this husband and wife team did just that, and it certainly deserves recognition.
Paul and Helen started their 3+ month long journey on June 21, 2020. The pair began with cover songs that they already knew—making it a little easier to get the ball rolling. But after a week or so, the more difficult task of learning new material was upon them.
“We’d go from not knowing a song in the morning, to have it perfect where we’re not even reading from a chart in the afternoon” states Paul. “Then by the evening we’ve turned it into an immortalized video.
Above: Video #1 of 100 from June 21, 2020
As you could probably imagine, simply coming up with 100 song ideas is a difficult task. Helen and Paul had already had the fans’ requests for inspiration, but they combined that with songs they wanted to do themselves in the selection process to keep things interesting. Either way, it was still a challenge.
Helen explains, “Some of the suggestions people gave us…you’d quickly figure out…this isn’t working. Or the complete opposite…people gave us suggestions of songs and we be like…”I’m not sure about that.” But then we’d really get into it and it worked. For some reason it worked.”
The approach of song selection for this kind of project is vastly different from playing out in clubs. Paul explains:
“When we were gigging, the main objective was usually to get people dancing, so we had a very clear song selection process. But when you’re on your own, and there’s no audience there, it’s almost better to have something that’s a bit more ambient or a bit more thoughtful.”
One of the more intelligent moves this duo made was focusing on what people wanted to hear:
“We want to get as many people watching these as possible…so we’ll go on Spotify and have a look at the songs that are getting [the most] streams and we’ll cover those for a bit,” says Paul.
With no sign of live gigs coming back in sight, the two sold some of the gear they would usually be using for liveshows and invested in more equipment to enhance the challenge…including upgrading to a three camera shoot for each video…adding to the professional look, as well as the workload. But Paul says that after some time, he got the whole editing process down to about an hour.
Paul and Helen didn’t just record covers. They mixed in some of their originals along the way. However, they did do a lot of re-working of popular songs, even changing the entire chord progressions, which truly made some of the songs their own.
Along the way, fans were prodding the duo to perform Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a tall order for any musician. But as a treat to those fans, and a challenge for themselves, they decided to tackle it as song #100.
Some of the songs they were able to nail in just a couple of runs through, but the Queen epic took them 14 takes, “the most by a long stretch compared to the others,” states Paul.
Embarking on such a monumental project is not something that many would even attempt, much less complete. There’s no doubt that any challenge that one gives to themselves will result in growth, learning, and ultimitely triumph.
Paul says, “The best thing out of it is we now know 100 songs that we actually really like playing.” Helen adds, “Doing something for a hundred days…it really makes you hone your craft. It’s made me really think about how songs are arranged, and it’s really made me fall back in love with playing the piano again.”
Be sure to check out all of the videos on The Horse Puppets’ You Tube channel, and watch the full interview with the duo below.