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Three Songs No Flash

Why Woebegone Wanderers Wild Beasts Fly The Flag Of True Folk
Luke Turner , September 20th, 2010 13:03

Leave your stick-on beard and flowering dress at home, for Wild Beasts' set at the Campfire Trails festival embodies the true spirit of the folk tradition, argues Luke Turner. Wild Beasts live shot by Lucy Johnston

The posters in the Troxy lavatory proclaim this three day series of gigs under the banner "Campfire Trails", will feature "the finest indie/rock and Americana". In the past ten years or so, notions of folk music have been overtaken on one hand by a certain pigeon toed and knitwear worthiness that extends from Alasdair Roberts finger-in-ear preciousness on one hand to the mass-market whimsy of Mumfords & Sons on the other. This has happened in tandem with a transatlantic invasion of artists whose grating songcraft and pastoral lyricism has an earthiness so contrived you could grow patio tomatoes in it. To my mind, folk should not be about wheedling songs pretending you're a hungry ploughman suffering under the Corn Laws, but a music of libidinous humour, of memorable melody, and the product of hard graft. For the folk musician of the past, making music was about perseverance because you'd have to move to the next town or village for your next meal or bed. So it is with Wild Beasts.

Tonight is the final live outing since the release of their wonderful second album Two Dancers , a record that, as I explored in the Quietus' review, deals with masculinity with an eloquence that their peers stumble and fumble around, and never reach. At the same time they fulfill Franz Ferdinands (failed) and stated aim "to make music for girls to dance to". Over the past couple of years, Wild Beasts have trudged the length and breadth of the land in order to bring this to as many people as they can. At early gigs and festival appearances, people would stand dumbfounded and perplexed by the vocal leaps and bounds. Yet none of this has seemed to bother the group, who have plugged on with an uncomplaining doggedness that few others can muster. This is not an age for whingers and, as Hayden Thorpe cheerily announces from the stage tonight, they've just this weekend off before the writing begins on their third album, due early next year.

This aptitude for graft means that Wild Beasts play out of their skins - no matter if the night is contrived, the sound awful, and the crowd suffering from heinously overpriced ale. Their performance at Green Man back in August was the culmination of all their efforts, a rapturous reception in a tent packed with a few thousand doing their best against the wet worst an Welsh valley in August could throw at them. Tonight's crowd seem more about a blunt enthusiasm, which actually suits the band to a tee. You get the impression that Wild Beasts aren't terribly fussed about what everyone thinks of them. One of the many troubles with nufolk has been the air of hushed reverence that surrounds it, a demand that everyone sticks a cork up their arse and down their throats for fear that a sound should be uttered during precious as these dredged up songs. Wild Beasts, while saying goodbye to old songs in time to write the new, simply warn us that this is the case, take a swig, and get on with it. Therefore it's apt that the crowd are coarse too, talking loudly until a favoured ditty is greeted with out-of-time clapping and a tuneless interpretation of Thorpe's falsetto or Tom Fleming's deeper tone. It's all too easy to be annoyed at the bletherer and the barger at the gig these days, but there's a certain honesty and rambunctious inclusivity to tonight's crowd that feels deeply welcome.

Wild beasts are not a band who lend themselves to the snobbish and the precious. They are not for the niche, and Two Dancers has, rightly, been allowed to take flight, its songs taking their own rough life and becoming ours. To crudely paraphrase in the true spirit of folk, we're just brutes, in cahoots with these four handsome, eloquent Cumbrians, and in six months or so, no doubt we'll be hooting and howling to their merrie tune once more.


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