Mumford and Sons

Since they formed in December 2007, the members of Mumford & Sons have shared a common purpose: to make music that matters, without taking themselves too seriously. Four young men from West London in their early twenties, they have fire in their bellies, romance in their hearts, and rapture in their masterful, melancholy voices. They are staunch friends - Marcus Mumford, Country Winston, Ben Lovett, and Ted Dwane - who bring their music to us with the passion and pride of an old-fashioned, much-cherished, family business. They create a gutsy, old-time sound that marries the magic of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young with the might of Kings Of Leon, and their incredible energy draws us in quickly to their circle of songs, to the warmth of their stories, and to their magical community of misty-eyed men.

The four friends were playing various instruments in various bands in London throughout the summer of 2007. They were united to perform impromptu renditions of Marcus' earliest attempts at song-writing in front of crowds of friends in sweaty underground folk nights in the capital. They bonded over their love of country, bluegrass and folk, and decided to make music that sounded loud, proud and live - taking music that could often be pretty and delicate, and fill it with enthusiasm, courage and confidence. "It was a very exciting time, and though we loved it and were in awe of the music going on around us, we didn't consider ourselves contenders in the pretty daunting London music scene. There was never any idea of competition, just pure enjoyment", says Marcus. They loved live music so much that they would practise their sets on pavements outside the venues, and also act as backing musicians for the peers with whom they played.

This sense of playing music for the love of it has continued as the main theme through the band's short history. They booked their first rehearsals in the late autumn of 2007: "As soon as we sat down together, just the four of us, we knew we had become a band cos what came out was unique to us four as individuals," says Ben. Out of this session came their first band songs: Awake My Soul and White Blank Page, highlights on their debut album.

As soon as they had their first rough cluster of songs, they hit the road. Straightaway, they won the hearts of their audiences with their harmonies, the way they engaged with their instruments, their bandmates and their crowds - and chased the friendly live reception they got all over the country.

Word spread quickly. The band toured extensively throughout 2008; from a barge-tour of the Thames with eight other acts, through to an island-hopping tour of the Scottish highlands, and a triumphant set at Glastonbury in June, they sold out London's Luminaire in July, only half a year after they got together. Their first American tour followed in support of Laura Marling and Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit. A trilogy of beautiful 10" EPs all on Chess Club Records also followed, recorded simply at home. Their eponymous EP debuted the same month as their Luminaire show; Love Your Ground followed in December; while The Cave And The Open Sea arrived in May.

With each release, the music of Mumford & Sons got brighter, bolder and brawnier, with an increasing focus on their empassioned and intimate lyrics. "What we write about is real, and we sing and play our instruments more passionately cos we feel like we need to. We love honest music," says Winston.

Their success continued to build, too, with two glorious benchmarks being their place on the BBC Sound Of 2009 Poll shortlist, and their London ICA show selling out in 24 hours.

Then came the time to record their debut album - and then came the extraordinary producer who wanted to work with them. Markus Dravs recorded Arcade Fire's Neon Bible, Björk's Homogenic and The Maccabees' Wall of Arms, and he saw similar crossover potential in the Sons. He took them to the legendary Eastcote Studios where Arctic Monkeys, Brian Eno, Tindersticks and Laura Marling have honed their music on its vintage equipment; made the band buy good instruments; set them a daily routine; and encouraged them to try and work even more instinctively, to strengthen their already-powerful musical personality. "He wanted us just to sound like us", explains Ben. "He talked about us working on our music's most jubilant and melancholic moments, and make them even more evocative. And over those four weeks, everything came together."

The album begins with the extraordinary title track, Sigh No More, a statement of intent that references the romantic language of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, as they sing: "Love it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you / It will set you free / Be more like the man you were made to be." Amongst darkly reflective tracks such as Thistle & Weeds and ballads like White Blank Page, Winter Winds and Roll Away Your Stone, by contrast, show the band's sprightlier side, the rollicking banjo of the former conjuring up stormy weather that "litters London with lonely hearts"; the latter a fabulous hoedown about a man unsuccessfully filling the hole in his soul.

As the album moves on, this fervour never dies. Little Lion Man - a track that Zane Lowe named the "Hottest Record In The World Today" on a recent Radio 1 show - is a rampage about regret and unresolved heartbreak: "Tremble, little lion man / You'll never settle any of your scores / Your grace is wasted in your face / Your boldness stands alone among the wreck". And finally, after a wild lashing out in the murderous fable of Dust Bowl Dance, After The Storm arrives, the only track Mumford and Sons wrote in the studio, away from the live stage they knew so well. It stands an incredibly moving final track to an incredibly moving album - the story of a man scared of what's behind and what's before, and creates a considered conclusion to the band's epic debut album.

Mumford & Sons' live reputation goes before them, and now their incredible debut reveals the extent of their magic and majesty on record. Feel the fire in your belly and the romance in your heart as you listen, let your voice break into rapture - and you too sigh no more.

Mumford & Sons are: Marcus Mumford, Country Winston, Ben Lovett, and Ted Dwane.

Nathaniel Rateliff

Singer-songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff has made his way from modest means in Bay,
Missouri (population 60) to the international stage. After signing with Rounder Records
Rateliff toured relentlessly in 2010 and 2011 supporting his critically acclaimed debut in
Memory of Loss; headlining shows and performing major festivals throughout the USA,
Canada, UK and Europe. His work has been praised by Led Zeppelin frontman Robert
Plant who called Rateliff's music "fragmented and poignant." Plant also placed Rateliff's
haunting track "Early Spring Till" atop his iTunes celebrity play list. In May of 2011
Rateliff performed two songs on the UK's biggest music program Later…with Jools
Holland. Rateliff has played multiple dates with some of the most popular names in
music including Mumford & Sons, the Fray, Bon Iver, Laura Marling, Tallest Man on
Earth, Low Anthem, Delta Spirit and Jessica Lea Mayfield to name a few. Rateliff is
currently working on his sophomore record which is expected to be released in Spring

Slow Club is Sheffield boy-girl duo Charles Watson (guitar, vocals, piano) and Rebecca Taylor (drums, vocals, guitar). The band formed in 2005 when they were both still teenagers and spent the next two years touring relentlessly around the North of England. A support slot with US band Tilly And The Wall brought them to the attention of Moshi Moshi Records who released their debut album Yeah So in 2009.

Initially categorized as anti-folk the album proved there was so much more to the band and their sound - sweet harmonious hooks, rockabilly beats and exuberant yelps and yips, all held together by some breath-taking harmonizing. Slow Club are defined by their own distinct and powerful partnership - Charles with bruised vocal, rasping guitar and disarming lightness of touch; Rebecca with her dash of Northern Soul and sharp wit, playing stand up drums.

In the autumn of 2010 the band returned to the studio to start work on their second album Paradise. Emerging with first single Two Cousins in July the following year the response from the media was, if anything, even more enthusiastic than for their debut. The NME simply described it as “a tour de force” and Q magazine said it was the “sound of a band starting to spread its wings”. To go with the bigger sounding songs Charles and Rebecca added a bass player and drummer to their live set-up and once again hit the road, evolving over a year of touring into one of the most exciting live bands touring the UK at the moment.

“The usual response from the bullied meek on discovering strength is to spew forth a torrent of bloody vengeance. One doesn’t normally throw a party. Yet here are Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson of Slow Club, for too long derided as twee, throwing God’s own coming-out bash for the magnificent. The true sprit of the evening is declared on the skittish, galloping ‘If We’re Still Alive’: “I think that next summer if we’re all still alive we should try to jump into some water and focus on getting high!” Tonight, those sentiments are divorced from the melancholy of the lyrical setting and play out as exuberance – a folk-rock pool party in the middle of February. Slow Club never lacked charisma, occupying the exact point at which the phase ‘lovably ramshackle’ stopped being a back-handed compliment and instead a gang you’d like to join. But since last year’s ‘Paradise’ gave them new layers of muscle and complexity, that feted live experience has grown into something truly remarkable. It goes without saying that Rebecca Taylor is the single funniest person operating in indie right now: Jarvis in leggings with dialogue by the Booth and the mouth of a builder (an evil builder). But it’s also a testament to the skill of her delivery that none of the banter undercuts the drama in the music. So on ‘Beginners’ she’s Stevie Nicks on rollerskates, while ‘Never Look Back’ takes things down to a heartbreaking, delicate timbre. And just as your heart is breaking, your stomach ruptures with laughter, and so on and so on.

And then all of the riotous frolics fall away and the energy in the room switches to the kind of eerie where people hush gruffly at the slightest murmur. And yet in this case it isn’t annoying, because as the pair of them stand, hands by sides, chins tilted up like choir-kids, they tiptoe through an a cappella ‘Gold Mountain’ and yet another side is revealed. To silence a hoedown with the drop of a pin takes considerable power. We should underestimate what this pair pull off next at our peril.“ NME live review – Dan Martin – 23/2/12


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