Winter Mountain’s album “I Swear I Flew”, which was released in mid-November last year was one of those that worked perfectly as a coherent, self-contained project; you should really listen to it. It was also one of those that made you want to hear the songs played live. I got the chance to do that at 229 Venue 2 and I was absolutely right; it was exceptional, but not quite in the way I’d imagined. The album is mainly (but not completely) quiet and introspective but the live show was a very different beast.
Support on the night was Cornish singer-songwriter Josiah Mortimer, who warmed up a gradually-increasing crowd with a mix of the traditional (“Cadgwith Anthem”) and twenty-first century protest songs like “Build a Wall” – you can probably guess what that one’s about. With a decent voice, some interesting chat between songs and a playing style that uses a thumb instead of a pick (anyone remember Richie Havens?), Josiah got the audience onside and ready for the headliners.
Winter Mountain’s set opened with the wistful, impassioned romanticism of “Girl in the Coffee Shop”, a chance to set the tone for the evening, demonstrating Joe’s soulful voice and allowing the band to ease their way in before the Springsteenesque roar of “Sunlight, Good Roads”. Joe Francis has created a unique mixture with Winter Mountain, blending influences from the worlds of folk (mainly Gaelic), roots, country rock, southern boogie, straight ahead rock and many others. Springsteen aside, you can hear echoes of Hothouse Flowers, The Waterboys, Rob Thomas and Gin Blossoms (remember them?). The set had its quieter, more reflective, moments, particularly the (almost) solo interlude featuring “The Morning Bell”, the poignant “January Stars”, “Lucky Ones” and “Stronger When You Hold Me” but the set really caught fire when the band were playing full-tilt songs like “Things That I’ve Done Wrong” in balls-out Lynyrd Skynyrd mode as Joe started throwing lyrics from Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” into the mix. So hats off to Alik Peters-Deacon (guitar), Jake Galvin (bass) and Garry Kroll (drums) for a great, dynamic set and also to 229’s sound man, who did a lovely job in a venue that was barely half full.
Anything else you should know? The songs were split almost evenly between the first and second albums and the set ended with a Beatles cover, the early “Oh! Darling”. The audience was completely silent during the quiet songs and went bananas during the raucous ones. The band covered all the bases of the glorious musical mash-up perfectly, while Joe’s powerhouse voice left you in no doubt that he has a massive rock voice as well. It wasn’t quiet the night I‘d expected, but it was a belter; that’s the way to spend a Thursday night in London.
Coming to a festival near you soon, I imagine.
You can see some photos from the gig here.
I can’t seem to escape from banjos at the moment; they’re everywhere, like those killer clowns but slightly less dangerous. What’s different here is that the banjo isn’t just used for the odd solo or some percussive background sounds. On the O’s fourth album “Honeycomb”, the banjo’s taking the role that a lead guitar would in a rock band; it’s right up there, front and centre. It’s even got its own set of stomp boxes; that’s a banjo with attitude and then some.
The O’s are John Pedigo and Taylor Young, and between them, they play everything on the album, although Del Amitri’s Justin Currie makes a guest vocal appearance on “Woken Up”.
So what kind of music are they making? Well, most people are hedging their bets by referring to it as ‘roots’, but, electric banjo aside, there are a lot of influences washing around in their sound. They’re playing country/roots instruments, but they have a definite rock band attitude; listening to the album’s opening song, “Fourteen Days”, hinted at The Waterboys, where Mike Scott fused elements of Celtic folk, pop and rock to create an unlikely commercial success, but this album’s so diverse that everyone’s going to have a slightly different take on it.
You could pick out some John Lennon harmonica on “Halfway Sideways”, some pedal steel on “The Reaper” and some big widescreen productions on “Burning Red” and “Shooting Star”. It’s full of great harmonies to sweeten up the sound, and a lead vocal that’s powerful with a hint of vulnerability. If you’re looking for a rock comparison, Matchbox 20 wouldn’t be too far off the mark.
If someone told you this was Americana and listed the instruments that are featured, you might expect some self-effacing acoustic songs, delicately played; you’d be in the wrong place. “Honeycomb” is full-on and in-yer-face with a warning that those acoustic instruments can go all the way up to eleven as well. It should carry a sticker, ‘Danger; banjos may bite’.
“Honeycomb” is released in the UK on Friday October 28th.