Comprising Jonlondon, Andrew McCabe and Paul Gunter, the Hove trio is relatively big in Brighton and around the South East. However, the chances of them translating that to a more national following are slim. That’s got nothing to do with their music or abilities, both of which have the maturity and seasoning of years of experience, but, as they themselves acknowledge, they’re no spring chickens nor do any of them have a notable pedigree that would make them folk veterans for whom age is no concern. Add to this the problems of getting their music played on anything other than local specialist shows when national broadcasters rarely look beyond the established and the trendy new names, the difficulty of getting far flung gigs to build word of mouth when you need word of mouth to get the gigs in the first place and the lack of any substantial promotion machine to publicise the album, which is only available through their website and online retailers, and you can see what they’re up against.
However, it’s bands like these who are truly the lifeblood of the folk circuit, not just pulling in crowds to their local venues but sometimes travelling the country to play to a handful of people without even covering expenses. Without them, as rising stars price themselves out of consideration and leave their roots behind, folk clubs would find themselves struggling for bookings, Band like these can be relied on to always fill an empty slot and deliver a solid night’s entertainment, keeping the clubs alive. They may even shift some copies of their CDs on the night.
The trio play contemporary folk with shades of jazz, rock and bluesy Americana, but with a very British lyrical sensibility that shares kinship with names like Ray Davies, Vinny Peculiar and other observers of ordinary lives. Listening to their mini-album, I’d not be surprised to learn their combined record collection included work by Iain Matthews, John Martyn, Ralph McTell and Steely Dan while songwriter Jonlondon’s voice occasionally reminds me of Gerry Colvin from Colvin Quarmby.
They open with the song from which they take their name, the acapella intro laying out the ensuing tribute to those who build the country, working on the railroads, in the shipyards and down the mines, putting in ‘hours that would cripple you and me’ while Nial Brown provides moody jazz-blues keyboard backing. With its cascading chorus line and circling guitar pattern, the midtempo ‘Precious Times’ is more lyrically intimate, a call to make the most of small moments, while, showcasing their tight harmonies, the title track paints a nostalgically idyllic picture of small town suburban and village life with their visiting libraries, milk floats and women’s coffee mornings. At five and half minutes, it’s slightly overlong and could have profitably lost a verse and chorus, but that’s a minor niggle.
The three remaining numbers are no less engaging; the jaunty jazzy swing of ‘My Bread And Wine’ with its clever imagery of love as food, the moody insomniac rumble of ‘Sleep’ and the rainy night and streetlamp haze atmosphere of ‘Late Walk Home’’s introspective isolation.
They probably need to vary the sound and mood a little next time round, but this is an assured debut that deserves to be heard beyond Brighton’s borders. These strong arms warrant a big hand.
Artists’ website: www.themenwithstrongarms.com