Wolfen Mill – Self Organised Retreat

Member Blog Post by Ian Fryer

Hi everyone – a few weeks ago a number of us from TisT went on our own ‘Songwriters Retreat’. The friendships forged through previous TisT events allowed us to come together and spend a fantastic week writing, recording, performing and generally sharing an amazing experience. 

This all started because of a conversation between attendees at the TisT October Chesterfield songwriting retreat with Saskia and Boo. I remember the conversation going something like this…

Attendee 1 “Wouldn’t it be great if we could just live in a commune grow veg and play music all day”

Attendee 2 “Well I’ve booked accommodation for family and friends before now that can hold upwards of 10 to 12 people”

Attendee 3 “ Well I’m in, let’s see what we can find”

And so the story begins. We found what looked on paper to be the perfect location. Located in the North West of England we found Wolfen Mill. The accommodation had 9 ‘suites’ (7 double suites, a studio room and a family suite) each with their own individual lounge area, and cooking facilities, ideal if you wanted to get away from the rest of the group to collect your thoughts and have a bit of down time. Once we had arrived we quickly discovered the accommodation exceeded our expectations, it was perfect. The accommodation also came with a hot tub, outside bar area, courtyard and decking which overlooked a small lake. To be honest these outdoor facilities were not really used as it rained almost continuously while we were there. To be honest I doubt they would have seen much use had it been a ‘scorcher’, (apart from the outside bar!) there was way too much music to be made.

Arriving on Friday afternoon/evening can be challenging for many with the increase in traffic, and arrival times would vary depending on what part of the country people were travelling from so we decided a welcome pizza party was the best catering option for our first night together. Basically everyone brought their own pizzas which were cooked in the mills ‘industrial’ kitchen. The dining area was so vast that we were able to rearranged the tables into one large square table where we could easily hold a conversation and share our food and drink. The advantage of reconfiguring the area meant this opened up a space large enough for a PA and ‘demo’ area at the opposite end of the room; more on that later. The owners of Wolfen Mill had recommended a team of outside caterers, which most of us took advantage of. Our ‘Head of Catering’ organised us weeks in advance taking our orders and generally whipping us into shape. We used the caterers for four evenings and the food was of a good calibre with hearty portions…safe to say no one went hungry. We had also pre booked one of the local pubs for Sunday lunch which was amazing, with a varied menu and local ales it was a real find.

When we were organising the event there were a lot of discussions regarding the format of the week, so we decided to put a very loose structure in place where people could dip in and out as they wished. After breakfast we held ‘tutorial’ sessions. We have an amazing community who have vast experience in many different areas/aspects of music so why not tap into this knowledge bank? Throughout the week the guest gave presentations/demonstration on, Music Theory, Band in Box, Sense Writing, Performance and Pre-Performance preparation, Lightworks video editing, Alternate Tunings, and Marketing. I think I can safely say we all learnt something that will prove useful to us in our musical endeavours.

The afternoons were spent either following up from the morning session, or songwriting and of course recording. Three of our party had brought along their recording equipment. We had three mobile studios going the whole time we were at the mill, our ‘recording engineers’ were so generous with their time and each have the patience of a saint. So gentlemen…thank you. During our week we recorded a total of 16 ‘demos’. I’m sure you will be hearing a number of them on Facebook, and on the TisT site in the weeks to come.

The evenings were all about performance. The mill was blessed with an extremely large upstairs lounge full of comfy sofas which opening up onto a beautiful lake ! (I know, how lucky were we to find such a perfect venue!) The evenings were a mixture of good old group singalongs and individual performances, it was all very relaxed where people could dip in and out as they wished; the majority dipped in and stayed in…

On the Wednesday evening after the meal and before retiring to the lounge for more musical shenanigans, the group were rounded up in the dining area for choir/backing vocal duties. Fuelled by a hearty meal and a not insignificant amount of alcohol we provided additional vocals on three different songs.

The week absolutely flew by. We were still all running around on Thursday putting the finishing touches to our creations. People we dashing from suite to suite adding guitar, bass, keyboard and vocal parts to various songs, it was a beautiful thing to see how everyone pitched in and gave their all to help others.

Being away with a bunch of like minded and talented people is both humbling and inspiring in equal measure. Oh and did I mention it was a real laugh too. With some gentle ribbing of ‘Mr. Abbey Road’, and a bag of something unmentionable (if you know, you know) it was a week to remember. It’s safe to say we all ‘put in a shift’ but I’d do it all again tomorrow; in fact every single person who attended has immediately rebooked for next year. It was that good. Friendships were formed, that I have no doubt will last a lifetime. 

I’ll leave you with a quote from one of the attendees. I was sat in the lounge one evening, people were playing, singing and thoroughly enjoying themselves and the individual turned to me and said ‘I’ve found my people’. I could not have summed it up any better than that.

Wolfen Mill – Self Organised Retreat




  1. How wonderful, Ian! Thank you for sharing more details of the retreat. What a fantastic idea and environment to develop. Having heard some of the music that’s emerged as a result, I’m impressed.