Marvin Smith reviews Mumford & Sons playing their most northerly gig ever.
AFTER playing at the Brits and the Grammys, the obvious next step up pop music’s ladder of prestige is undoubtedly Whiteness and Weisdale community hall.
Long before the doors opened, a huge queue of young and older braved the sub-zero temperatures. I can’t help but think it must have been a lot warmer in Lerwick, because some of the more youthful elements had chosen less than adequate outfits for the Arctic conditions.
‘When I wer a lad’ we used to go to gigs in Doc Martens and old jeans. On Wednesday night some chose to come clad like they were going to their auntie’s wedding…in July.
Warming up the crowd was the job of new Scottish singer/songwriter Rachel Sermanni. There are more singer/songwriters plying their trade than there are fish in the sea. Anybody wanting to make a career out of singing with only the aid of an acoustic guitar is going to have to stand out from his or her counterparts.
Rachel is pleasing on the eye, but that’s not going to be good enough to establish herself in the highly competitive music industry we have today. Just as well she has a voice that could melt glaciers then!
Unfortunately the level of hubbub from a crowd waiting on a rabble-rousing folked-up rock band meant we couldn’t hear a lot of her. That said, each song got a very appreciative response and her banter with the gig-goers kept everything ticking along very nicely.
So on to Mumford & Sons. A band which to date I’ve listened to, enjoyed but never really ‘got’. The crowd cheered, squalked, roared and clapped so loudly when the band came on I thought maybe a bigger PA would be needed.
No problem there though; The Mumfords do a ‘big’, albeit unconventional sound. Double bass, banjo, keyboards, kick drum, acoustic guitar and tambourine was all that it took.
With something of an apologetic tone, lead singer Chris Mumford announced that they were going to include a few new songs tonight. Bands so seldom get the opportunity to unleash new songs without dissent from hit-hungry crowds.
No problem tonight though; each new song got a fair hearing, a great response, and you know what…they stood up rather well against their much radio-repeated hits. The big tunes were all there, though Roll Away Your Stone and Little Lion Man got that extra 10 per cent of life out of the crowd.
“Anybody having to travel on a boat to come and see us is just amazing, we really appreciate it,” was the onstage comment from keyboard player Ben Lovett in light of the fact that the band were given a curfew to finish in time to allow punters from Unst, Yell and Whalsay a chance to see the whole set before heading for their ferries.
Throughout the set, the humility of this band was apparent. They wanted to do their best for this crowd. This was not a band going through the motions.
Each song sounded fresh and you got the sense that they genuinely loved doing what they do and were glad to be in Shetland. “This is the furthest north we’ve ever been. I think is maybe the furthest north you can go!”
My personal highlight of the evening came during one of the quietest moments of the evening. Mumford & Sons unplugged and came to the front of the stage and performed without the aid of the PA.
A good few ‘shooshes’ ensured that the hall fell silent to receive a wonderful performance of Timshel. During this delightful moment, a young lady appeared from the toilet, totally unaware of the fact that the hall had fallen soundless during her short absence. With the all the dexterity and audible characteristics of the Dutch national clog dancing team (after 10 pints) she clip-clunk-thumped her way across the hall in an attempt to find lost friends. Still totally oblivious to what was going on onstage (and the belly laughing from the crowd at the back of the hall), she then retraced her steps across the hall in search of her elusive comrades. Where do you buy shoes that loud?
The band ended with The Cave after a brief exit/return. I would say this band is going to go far, but they already have. They are one of the biggest names in the UK at the moment and making huge progress in the States. They will undoubtedly be the ‘big’ act at this year’s festivals. Tonight, (in a country hall in Shetland of all places) we found out why. Brilliant!