Mumford & Sons + Fanfarlo + Andrew Davie @ Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton, 6th March 2010

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I heard an Interview with Mumford & Sons on the radio the day before embarking on their headline UK tour. There were two comments that struck a chord with me whilst listening; Neither Marcus, Winston, Ben or Ted came across as having a single serious bone in their bodies. Banter and honest joviality were the order of the day. The second related to the forth-coming tour. The name of one particular stop was singled out as being one they were really looking forward to playing as “the city has a lot of heart”. That city was Wolverhampton.

A solo figure ambles silently towards the mic stand carrying himself, an acoustic guitar and not an awful lot else. So unremarkable is the entrance that the audience including myself assume it’s merely another roadie going about their duties. It’s not until the roadie introduces himself as Andrew Davie do we take note, stop talking and conjure up a mild round of applause.

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Andrew’s first song ‘Elysium’ is sung straight from the heart with a voice that carries a soft warble and caresses the ears of all present. I’ve always figured there’s a soundtrack for every mood. Andrew’s set fills the Sunday morning slot when you’re feeling hung over, in need of a mug of tea, a full English and something soothing to listen to whilst the sun melts the alcohol away. His lyrics tell of experiences encountered whilst battling through life. It’s not a tale of woe it’s just the way it is. Uplifting it isn’t but as a slow build up to a night promising faster paced Folk his set suits the bill perfectly. For an opening act he won the hearts of the audience over, with his self-demeaning personality, and of being ‘scared shitless playing in front of such a large crowd’.

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Fanfarlo are up next. There seems to be a lot of marketing hype surrounding this band, walking up the steps to the venue I’m asked to sign a promotional mailing list. The first stall I spy sells Fanfarlo merchandise. Even now I still have a crumpled Fanfarlo sticker residing in the back pocket of my jeans. Fanfarlo are a five piece assorted instrument group specialising in a big, blown out Indie Folk sound. Imagine, five musicians jamming in the corner of your local and belting out a sound that’s capable of filling a venue double the size of the Wulfrun. Welcome to Fanfarlo…

The music of Fanfarlo came across like a soundtrack to spring, a rich enveloping sound of things waking after a deep slumber and a feeling that everything’s going to turn out OK. Although it’s still too early for the warmth of summer to penetrate. There was a feeling in the Wulfrun that Fanfarlo never fully connected with the audience, they were good, the set was faultless but I couldn’t help feeling they didn’t really get the crowd on side. All it would take would be a few more words, a touch of charisma and voila – An instant audience connection.

There’s a one area where the Wulfrun (and I assume the Civic also) wipes the floor with other Midlands Live Music venues. It’s a simple one but it matters most, 2 Pint glasses and a selection of decent beers on tap. It’s not a lot for a typical gig goer to ask for surely? It means less frequent trips to the bar, perhaps more frequent visits to the toilet but surely that’s a chore worth sacrificing?

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Mumford & Sons take to the stage amid smoke, darkness and four heavenly lights from above illuminating the main members of the band; It’s a steady start to ‘Sigh No More’. Marcus’ voice sounds rich and pitch perfect supported by the harmonious tones from the rest of the band. As the pace quickens the audience begin moving more and more, from the back of the venue the illuminated screens of several hundred digital cameras begin to resemble the lights of boats bobbing up and down in a calm night time sea.

Vocal exchanges with the audience were frequent, sincere and were usually highly comical. Ranging from the usual “being really very, very happy to be here”. The audience being used as a “song board” for some of their new material which may or may not require “six feet of bullet proof glass if we don’t like it”. The local butcher, crowd surfing and numerous colourful metaphors.

‘Little Lion Man’ was easily the stand out track of the evening, raising a huge cheer as soon as the acoustic guitar intro is recognised. As the song builds and the pace quickens almost all of the audience are pogoing and re-enacting a good ole’ traditional hoe down. Whilst the crowd are singing, jumping up and down. I find myself fully absorbed in the melody, writing notes and tapping the screen on my iPhone in time with the music. Simply awesome! Little Lion Man eventually ends and deservedly receives a rousing standing ovation from the fully appreciative crowd. A small number of new material is played. Some of the new songs seem to have taken a slight detour away from their more recognisable sound. ‘Lover’ takes on more of Country and Weston feel and seems to search new territories. Hard pulsing country rock maybe?

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My personal standout track ‘Dustbowl Dance’ was everything I hoped it would be. The slow drawn out piano intro and Marcus’ soft voice communicating each word perfectly caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand in anticipation of what’s about to hit you. As the track builds Marcus’ voice begins to lose the soft, velvety feel and take on a harder, more aggressive growl. The crescendo was exactly what I wanted to see. It’s an awesome spectacle to witness an acoustic, folk group thrashing their respective instruments to within an inch of their lives. Instruments usually treated and played so delicately with kid gloves.

It’s easy to see why Mumford loves Wolverhampton. The calm after the storm of ‘Dustbowl Dance’ has an audience that’s relentless in their cheering and demanding more, more, more. The very last song of the night is a new one. It would have been easy and predictable to finish with Dustbowl or Lion Man but the chosen number – ‘Whispers In The Dark’ finishes the night off exactly how you’d expect the night to finish. A slow build-up eventually leading to fast paced thrash of blown out folk rock. A perfect end to an evening that was everything and more than what I could ever have expected and hoped for.

Set List:
Sigh No More
Winter Winds
Roll Away Your Stone
White Blanc Page
Talk
Awake My Soul
Little Lion Man
Lover
Thistle and Weeds
Talk 2
Timshel
The Cave
Dustbowl Dance

Encore
I Gave You All
Whispers in the Dark

Review – Lee Hathaway
Photos – John Bentley

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