On Monday evening the fittingly ambient setting of the renowned Jericho Tavern laid host to a night of chilled acoustic folk and indie rock, put on by Communion, a London based Promotions Company turned record label with an ethos for publicising the music of young aspiring artists from across the country. The doors to the upstairs stage area opened at 7:30pm and when I arrived the bands were still sound checking and making final tuning adjustments, the support acts getting to know each other sitting round a crate a Carlsberg whilst the first few members of the public queued up to buy their tickets. As the numerous advertising posters on tables and walls suggested the line-up consisted of four warm up bands followed by the eagerly anticipated headliner Boat to Row, and with this information in mind I sat down and waited for the show to begin.
As the lights dimmed and the venue started to fill up the first band of the night took to the stage; “Good evening” the lead singer declared as he adjusted his microphone, “we’re Gibraltar and I’m wearing my school uniform”. Running through a quick set of crunchy rough ‘n’ ready Arctic Monkeys inspired indie guitar, fast off-beat drum rhythms and some strong vocals this was a good opener, pretty impressive for a group of college boys still doing their A-levels. White shirt wearing indie outfit Goodnight Lenin played radio-friendly-folk-infused originals and the solo singer Megan Henwood provided an interesting performance with her dark lyrical content juxtaposed against sweet vocals and subtle guitar accompaniment. Out of all the supporting acts the biggest audience reaction however came from the wonderfully talented and charismatic Bobbie Gordon, a female singer-songwriter hailing from south London whose original tone lies somewhere between the vocal talents of Amy Winehouse, Corinne Bailey Rae and Lilly Allen and was set perfectly against a backdrop of smooth jazz guitar and soft percussion.
After a short transition period where ‘Alan the Soundman’ made his final lighting and technical alterations, Boat to Row finally took to the stage about 10:30pm. Dressed in desert boots, big jumpers and denim shirts the band looked like your typical aesthetically pleasing indie folk band but it wasn’t until they started playing that I realised just how talented and professional they really were.
The band played seven songs in total, mixing their set with tracks from their new EP Grassmarket and a selection of older and newer records that really got the crowd going. Notable highlights include the intricate finger picking and complex harmonies achieved on ‘Freedom’ and single ‘A boat To Row, To Row To You’, the close vocal interaction and harrowing violin melody incorporated in ‘Priscilla And James’ and the interweaving instrumental changes in dynamics and texture on new track ‘Ode To Work A day’. With good interaction with the audience between songs and an ability to command the stage confidently, Boat To Row certainly had the biggest cheer of the night and there really is something quite compelling about watching a group of performers simply having fun on stage. It’s what being in a band should be all about.
After the show I managed to catch up with lead singer Michael King and question him about Boat To Row’s plans for the summer ahead, telling me enthusiastically their involvement with “Truck Festival, 2000 trees, Big Sessions in Leicester and maybe Bestival. So yeah bring it on!” A busy time indeed for these young indie folk hopefuls.
It’s not often that I can come away from a gig feeling thoroughly impressed and content with all the bands that have performed during an evening of live music, (as I’m sure we’ve all experienced the same mediocre shows shuffling our feet awkwardly at the back willing some oblivious starry eyed warm-up act to end their set early) but I think it’s safe to say that the talent showcased that night at the Jericho Tavern was one of those rare moments of clear musical cohesion. Although there is the obvious danger of their music being lost at sea amongst the overshadowing popularity of similar artists such as Ben Howard and Benjamin Francis Leftwich, it’s clear that Michael King’s optimism envisages big things for Boat To Row over the coming year and perhaps rightly so, because if their musical direction continues to steer them on a wave of beautiful harmonies and intricate arrangements I’m sure they’ll be sailing into an exciting and promising future.
Photo by Sarah Louise Bennett