Faced with October’s first wild and windy Wednesday, a night at the Kaz has got to be up there on the list of ‘best places to get out of the rain’. Luckily, I had been posted there to review The Travelling Band, on the grounds that ‘folky’ and ‘lots of hair’ were probably within my remit. I admit I knew very little of the mighty five piece from Manchester aside from their proclamation via cyberspace to be ‘firm favourites for people with ears and good hearts.’ However, after my first half hour on the scene was spent talking to some groupies proclaiming that the lead guitarist had broken their toilet seat, said lead guitarist enthusiastically telling me how ‘the strangest places are my favourite places!’, and a sea of cider drinkers sporting superb beards being broken by one audience member dressed entirely in chain mail, the tone was set for what was to be a rather more surreal evening than I had anticipated.
First came support from The Buffalo Riot, best described my MeAndHim Promotions as ‘country and Americana music being played by a gaggle of scousers.’ Indeed, it was a wonderfully weird concoction of full throttle distortion, folk/rock interludes, dusty road melodies with the odd two part harmony, and drums a la Clem Burke, but with a consciousness that struck as very contemporary. Think REM meets Gram Parsons. Though at times the overall effect strayed into one whose bark was slightly louder than its bite, their easy stage presence and likability resounded in many a murmur of ‘pretty good.’ Their new EP can be downloaded from CDbaby.
Next, indie rock band Rook and the Ravens took to the stage. Fresh from their tour of the states, the band have enjoyed a lot of early success. And with good reason – they pedaled a similar combination of country harmonies and song structures to Buffalo Riot, with elements of power pop and definite smatterings of Radiohead. The medley of genres made Rook and the Raven’s sound difficult to place, but it was, without doubt, a balanced one. The heart of this might lie in the songwriting itself – songs which grow and change and never quite conform, sections with contrasting underlying rhythms which build then disappear, and end up somewhere else. The drummer John B. Major really makes the band, joining the many tangents of their sound and giving it dynamism. The possibly self-consciously thoughtful lyrics lend a gentleness to what is otherwise quite fraught, musically, and is expressed best on their new CD ‘Live in Chicago.’
The main event. Onto the stage bursts another amalgamation of country, folk/rock we have come to expect from the evening, but with a new energy. The Traveling Band came to the fore after winning the 2008 Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition and have lived up to their name ever since, taking their sound on the road. Instantaneously they perform to a very high level – all bright, almost glassy jangly 60s-esque guitars, with folky sturdiness. Slightly Fleetwood, slightly Crosby, Stills and Nash. And yet, on the other hand, they are not quite what I expected. By which I mean they are not quite as tame. Not quite as melodic. Dare I say not quite as gripping? Possibly, because it sounds like something ‘other.’ There is an edge to the Manchester band, the no nonsense-ness of Blur and banter with the crowd. This also might be partly due to the familiar slightly indie pop quotient of their music; distortion and washes of brittle textures which make their sound more murky than straight up folk/rock. However, there is also a lot of detail there, whether arpeggiated piano, or almost inaudible fiddle accents, which give the music of The Travelling Band a delicate, porous quality, where everything has just enough space. Halfway through it is announced that they are going to stop being so heartfelt. Fiddle becomes saxophone, and everything changes. The sound becomes less ‘atmospheric,’ and immediately more hearty and energetic. It is evident how much this band are well-versed performers; there is a great reciprocity between them and audience, the whole room in full bodied mouth wide open singing, voices bouncing off each other, like echoes off the mountain face in an electrical storm. The perfect testament to their latest record The Big Defreeze, and an ideal way to have spent a Wednesday evening.
Words: Georgie Harris