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Mumford & Sons and Friends - Cecil Sharp House - October 11th 2010 (Live Review)

Wednesday, 20 October 2010 Written by James Conlon
Mumford & Sons and Friends - Cecil Sharp House - October 11th 2010 (Live Review)

“Psssst...Hey you. Yeah, you. Have you heard of this new band called ‘Mumford & Sons’? They sort of play folky-acousticish stuff but with a kind of like modern twist?”

Of course you have. Apologies, I’ll stop being such a mainstream tit.

The truth is, it’s been hard to not know about the band in recent months. With a hugely successful album, dozens of major festival appearances and a sellout UK tour, Mumford & Sons have definitely been making their mark on the music industry. Many were initially surprised that a band who held so true to the roots of folk music would be well-recieved by so many young fans, and it is with this in mind that BBC Radio One decided to host Mumford & Sons and Friends. Featuring Laura Marling, Bombay Bicycle Club, The Maccabees and (of course) Mumford and Sons themselves, the special radio event was intended as a tribute to the young generation of folk-based artists (aptly named by some as nu-folk) who have sprouted a mainstream resurgence of the traditional genre.

ImageSeveral critics, (including The Independent’s Elisa Bray) have recently noted the only flaw in Mumford & Sons’ quest for world domination: if support for the band continues to grow at such an alarming (and well deserved) rate, they will be forced out of the small and unique venues which have shaped them as a band and folk as a genre. In what seems to be a direct refute, the band have chosen a truly unique venue for the night’s event: Cecil Sharp House in Regent’s Park, a small venue steeped in wall-to-wall folk tradition,

The first act of the evening, introduced by master of ceremonies (and possibly the coolest man in existence) Zane Lowe, is Laura Marling. She is best known for her and subtle acoustic strokes and wise-beyond-her-years lyrics, but as the twenty year old songstress walks on stage, it is her timidness which immediately commands the crowd’s attention. The songwriter is quiet throughout her set, looking uncomfortable in the position of attention (later in the evening Zane Lowe went on to identify her awkwardness by means of the “Marling awkward silence”). However, as soon as the first strums of her recent album track ‘Rambling Man’ kick in, Marling becomes an entirely different entity, brimming with confidence, pouring out sincere lyrics with poise and enthusiasm. I’ve been a long-term fan of Laura Marling, impressed by her whispered melodies and lyrical subtleties. However, the music seems to evolve into something entirely new when translated to live performance: there is a genuine force behind the tones which temporarily leaves the small audience dumbstruck. This comes across strongest on her final song of the short set, ‘Alpha Shallows’, where the stuccato strokes pulse through the small hall and Marling’s singing takes on a deeply haunting quality.

The second act of the night were Bombay Bicycle Club, who recently released ‘Flaws’, an album of acoustic tracks which includes some entirely reworked versions of songs from their long-awaited debut, ‘I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose”. The young band played a restrained set, with singer Jack Steadman clearly showing signs of nervousness. Highlights of the set included a beautiful, subdued version of 2009 single ‘Dust On The Ground’ and a melodic version of title track ‘Flaws’, accompanied with delicate harmonies by up-and-coming vocalist Lucy Rose. Before their final upbeat track ‘Ivy & Gold’ (enthusiastically recieved by the audience), Steadman thanked the audience “for being so quiet.” In what some may have take to be a subversive insult, the singer reveals that ‘Flaws’ was not merely an attempt to join the folk bandwagon: the band’s latest musical offerings are deep and sincere songs which fully attempt to embody the introspective backbone of so much traditional folk music.

The next band to take to the stage during the night’s musical feast were indie-rock giants The Maccabees. Accompanied by a three-piece brass section, the band played the most electric set of the night, bringing out such hits as ‘Young Lions’ and ‘Toothpaste Kisses’. The band gave relatively subdued versions of their festival-pleasing tunes, holding back in respect for the folk theme of the evening. This being said, there was a clear excitement in the band as they broke into the final song of their set. The Maccabees debuted a new (as of yet untitled) song for the small audience and national radio listeners: the track contained restrained, almost mournful lyrics set against a vast electric background in the mode of early Arcacde Fire. Despite being an unknown number, the powerfully melodic new song was an immediate crowd pleaser.

After a short pause for a stage reset, Marcus Mumford and his bandmates then took to their instruments, with a few cheeky asides to Zane Lowe on the way. As they greeted the crowd (who have had the musical warm-up of their lives) and broke into the opening harmonies of album title track ‘Sigh No More’, it is clear that the night means something special to the band. The song is a slow-starter, inviting each band memeber to join the collective one-by one. As the chorus opens (by way of Marcus Munford’s now famous bass drum), the whole hall are in a collective foot-stomp.

By the time that Mumord and Sons’ own three-piece brass outfit blast out the opening notes of their second song, ‘Roll Away Your Stone’, members of Bombay Bicycle Club and Laura Marling’s band had joined the crowd to get a better look at tonight’s headliners. The song pounded from strength to strength and the small audience loved every note. The venue was filled with claps and more footstomps, prompting keyboard player Ben Lovett to jokingly declare “I see we have a hoedown on our hands!”. Mumford and Sons played a set full of lively and fast-paced renditions of their album favourites, proving to the audience (if there was any doubt) that effects and computerised beats are by no means a necessity to create powerful and exciting music. Marcus Mumford played his own role as lion man for the evening, roaring out his heartfelt lyrics and oozing out emotion with every word.

After a short break, the band return to play two songs featuring contributions from other artists. The first is a heartfelt rendition of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’, featuring guest vocals from Laura Marling. This is followed by the entire Maccabees collective, (it’s a wonder that the stage hadn’t collapsed under the strain of musical talent) returning for a unique oumpah-inspired performance of their rarely-played track ‘The Real Thing’.

The cynical may question the motives of Britain’s current ‘nu-folk’ movement, accusing modern acts of mistaking heartfelt sentiments and century-old musical traditions for a pre-retro trend of waistcoats and wellies. However, after witnessing the passion and loving craft held by Marcus Mumford and his cohorts first hand, it is hard to accuse them of anything other than taking a creative step away from the financial motivations of today’s pop music culture, creating music with a sincerity which is (unfortunately) far too hard to find in the modern music scene.

A BBC broadcast of the evening’s final number:

Stereoboard gig rating: 9.5/10

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