The line-up (which is so impressive it deserves its own paragraph) – Matt McGrath (Vocals/Violin/Guitar), Paul Budgen (Guitar/Vocals/Bass Drum/Tambourine), Al Smythe (Double Bass/Vocals), Christian Coelho (Keys/Vocals), Sam Woolner (Percussion, Cajon and Symbols) We watched these guys getting set up and it's not everyday that you see a band with a line-up like that! I went over to chat to them before they started, firstly, because as a musician I was very interested in all the instrument you don't often see in any band. It turns out that this was their first gig as a quintet. Normally, they are trio, consisting of Matt, Paul and Al.
Right! Onto the music! Even the sound check was awesome, everyone of the five bursting into their own musical poses, bashing out sound from every corner of their instruments. The second the sound graced the hall everyone was in tune with them. I, myself, was so caught up in the sound check that when they stopped, it took me a minute to get my head around the face that it was just a sound check.
The music they play is variety of originals and covers, taken and played with an interesting lilt. They call themselves a contemporary folk band; I just think they're awesome. (I know that the second time I've used that word) For the majority, Matt takes the lead with the vocals, as well as playing beautiful melodies on the violin. His vocal work is strong and true, and he rarely misses a note. He was apparently disappointed with his new electric violin – not really sure why, it sounded pretty damn good to me! Paul – does everything. Okay on to the next… Just kidding. The more they played, the more Paul surprised me. He started with the guitar alone, until I saw that he was in control of the bass drum, too. As a guitarist, and an amateur practitioner of the drums, I really can state without any uncertainty that what he is doing is very hard, especially considering the niceties that both instruments require. And then he started to use his left foot to play the tambourine, as well. It was brilliant to watch and did I mention that he also sings? while drumming and strumming? Really cool.
Al Smythe is the bass of the group. When I say 'bass' I don't just mean that he strings a mean running bass line together, bit his harmonies are also deep and rich, completing an often very overlooked arena of the vocals. His playing is wonderful, and he always looks in complete control, even though it's hard to keep track of where his finger are sometimes.
If I hadn't been told that Christian and Sam were newcomers then I wouldn't have known, as they both looked completely comfortable, with little exchanges going on under the music. I love that sort of rapport between musicians, because, for me, music is about having fun, and all of them clearly were. Another thing about that band, that makes them so original, is that no one is hidden at the back. They are all at the front, everyone at the shared mercy of the audience. Christian was stood playing the keyboard – another thing you don't often see, especially for an entire set. His playing adds a wonderful depth to the music, with slides and stabs. He also sings, and the four way harmonies are really, really good, encapsulating the room.
The only person not to stand was Sam, but that's only because he was playing the cajon, which is an instrument you have to play sitting down. Unlike most bands where the drummer keeps time, Sam was effectively like another melodic instrumentalist, using the cajon to create another level of tunefulness. His timing, by the way, was without flaw and as well as playing the cajon, he also did some symbol work with hotrods, and sometimes switched mid-song between both. Oh, and he was also playing barefoot. I'm not sure if that's a prerequisite for the cajon, but why not?
As a whole, this band are one to watch. If you get the chance, if they're playing, go and see them! Their complex use of accelerando, rallentando and rhythm shifts, their balance of sound, interesting songs, and on stage personas (including the cheeky grins from Paul to Matt!) make them so much fun! So, so, so much fun. I will definitely be around to watch you guys again.