Mumford And Sons Gentlemen Of The Road Festival Review, Huddersfield 05/06/2012

by - Tuesday, June 05, 2012

There was a period in 2009/2010 where Mumford And Sons were arguably one of the biggest bands in the world. One of those unequivocal successes that seems to come just at the right time, their take on traditional folk with festival worthy 'all together now' choruses made their debut album Sigh No More a permanent fixture in the charts both in this country and elsewhere.

And yet here today, we are not in Madison Square Garden or The 02 Arena. We're in a rain drenched park in Huddersfield, gearing up for the opening night of Mumford 'Stopovers', a series of curated mini concerts designed to launch their new record and introduce some of their favourite acts to those not in the know. A great idea, is it not? By playing a town notorious for it's friendly locals and rolling hills (but yet always in the shadows of nearby Sheffield and Leeds), Mumford get to unleash the fruits of their new records labour (release date September 24th) to a patient and ardent crowd. The question is, after almost three years of radio silence, can they still pull the same crowd pleasing trick?

Our day at The Gentlemen of The Road Festival gets off to a good start. In terms of aesthetics, the boys have done themselves proud. The quaint posters and drapes that hang at each of the two stages are befitting of the jubilee weekend, boasting mustachioed cameo graphics and typically British slogans. Pleasingly, food, drink and merchandising prices all seem reasonable, and there is a good 'something for everyone' vibe as families stroll between bars, blasting out bands as varied as Radiohead and Example. So far so mainstream.

Mothers and daughters alike are kept happy as Willy Mason takes to the second stage, attracting a swelling crowd with his strong, honey smooth vocals. If there was ever a musician that should consider a side career in reading audiobooks, it's this New Yorker. Whilst his set provides no arena rock thrills there is no denying his likability, Talk Me Down the perfect embodiment of everything a mid afternoon festival set should be, if only the weather were a big cheerier. Oxygen is just as pretty, aside from a brief interruption from a girl in the crowd who decides to declare 'I love Willy!' at excessive volumes. Quite love, quite.

Swapping over to the mainstage brings a set from Nathaniel Ratecliff, a long term American touring buddy of Mumford & Sons. He wears the musical legacy of his country openly, Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen obvious influences as well as newer acts such as The Gaslight Anthem, which goes down well with some of the older audience members. Michael Kiwanuka gets a similar reaction,his finger picking and soulful M&S worthy croon ringing out across the field, drawing a cross of people who start merely curious and end impressed.

Slow Club gives us reason to head back to the second stage, the first band of the day who seem refreshingly different enough from Mumford and Sons to be truly interesting. They gel increasingly as a unit throughout their set, the endearingly sarcastic Rebecca taking on keys, drums and guitar whilst proving she is a much better live singer than some might suggest. A highlight comes in the form of  a beautifully heartfelt rendition of Everything Is New, the most authentic sounding 4 minutes of the day.

The sky has darkened, the heavens have finally stopped pouring and the days curators emerge on the mainstage. As the opening bars of new song Lover's Eyes fill the night, curious crowd members look to one another in puzzlement. It's a risky move opening a comeback gig with a new song, but by the time their trademark banjo kicks in, you realise that Mumford and Sons have fans who will clap to literally anything.

This isn't to say that the new songs that take up half of tonight's set are not catchy, enjoyable and in some cases, very good. Lover Of The Light is clearly going to become Little Lion Man 2.0, a credits roll for a coming of age movie that is waiting to be written. It stands out here tonight, mainly because it is the only new song which clearly wasn't born from the same period as Sigh No More. Whilst they are clever to know when they are on to a good thing, a gap this long between records would suggest some sort of reinvention, and it's disappointing that this isn't obvious to all the fans who have stuck by them for so long.

By the looks of the crowd by the time they strike a rousing rendition of Awake My Soul, I can only assume that the owner of the bar supplier today is rubbing his hands together with glee. Arms are aloft, beers are thrust fourth and boozy cheers get louder and louder, creating the camaraderie that Mumford and Sons have based their career on. As we rush towards closer The Cave, smiles are plastered firmly on faces, keyboardist Ben Lovett clearly having the time of his life as he leaps about, beaming at the front rows. There is no denying that they are a charming live band, and as a new witness to their live performance, I was left satisfied, both by them and by the structure of the day. However, it is painfully obvious that they are going to need to pull out something quite special come September to live up to the legacy they have created for themselves.

Mumford And Sons - Roll Away Your Stone (apologies for the slightly dodgy quality)

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