- by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date: Label:
There’s nothing quite like some unexpected dancing to pull you out of a slump but more of that later. It’s Saturday night and Portland’s indie-folk outfit Horse Feathers has just rolled into town in support of their brand new LP, Appreciation. Here’s hoping the crowd at Hyde Park Book Club appreciate what they do (see what I did there?)
Always wary of missing anything I’m the first person to head downstairs for tonight’s show. Thankfully it’s started to fill out nicely in time for our first act, Otley’s The Silver Reserve. Matthew Sturgess is flying solo tonight and getting comfy, putting his lucky shoes on before he starts playing (his girlfriend’s Dads tennis shoes). Opening with the meditative folk of ‘Little Lark’, the songs gently picked melody and soothing vocal bringing a calm, appreciative silence to the room.
‘Monogamy’ with its subtle use of looped guitar and vocal is as lovely as it is crushing. Although Sturgess tells us, it didn’t go down quite as well when he played it at a friend’s wedding anniversary. Dry humour and anecdotes of awkwardness and heartbreak help create an intimate, playing-in-your-front-room feel. A quietly spellbinding set.
The unplugged vibes continue with a set from Leeds based, up-and-coming indie outfit, Cruel World. Usually a five-piece, tonight the band perform a stripped-down acoustic set with James Smith (formerly of Post War Glamour Girls) and Harry Ridgway sharing guitar and vocal duties. Fuelled by codeine, beer and pints of honey (the first two an accidental mix by Smith, the second Ridgway’s self-described “fat man’s addiction”) the duo deliver the perfect combination of dark Americana and intelligent pop.
Ridgway introduces the gorgeously bittersweet ‘Golden’ as a new song before joking “well they’re all quite new because we’re new, there are no old ones”. The band has only released one single so far but judging by tonight’s set it must have been difficult to decide what to put out first. From the dark, dive-bar balladry of ‘Stranger’ to the Neil Young-via-Stephen Malkmus catchiness of ‘World of Evil’, these are songs that deserve to be heard.
I didn’t really know it until the band started playing but it turns out that Horse Feathers was exactly what I needed. The band has been around for nearly a decade and a half now yet tonight’s performance will be my first proper introduction. Led by singer/songwriter Justin Ringle the band specialises in the kind of Americana and barn-dance indie-folk that I haven’t heard in a long time.
The pressures and worries of the week dissolve as they burst into new(ish) single ‘Without Applause’. Overwhelming, genuinely positive and alive. Drummer Robby Cosenza and bassist J. Tom Hnatow set down limber rhythms worthy of The Band while violinist Nathan Crockett weaves his way through the heart of the songs.
The stunning ‘Curs in the Weeds’ and melancholy ‘Irene’ indulge the bands more vulnerable side while Ringle’s harmonica solos evoke Dylan at his most euphoric. There’s plenty of longing in Ringle’s songwriting but an ever-present, natural joyfulness to the band's performance and rootsy, heartfelt instrumentation.
That joyfulness proves to be somewhat contagious as a few people start dancing up front. Now, I’m not averse to dancing but it’s rare that I’ll be the first to leap up either. Thankfully any decision making is taken out of my hands as I’m (gently) dragged up to join in.
When the band leaves the stage the audience cheer for more. This isn’t some fake or half-hearted encore; people really do want to hear more Horse Feathers. More music means I’m pulled up to dance one more time. Making sure to put in a little more enthusiasm, it is Saturday night after all. It’s definitely not how I envisioned my night but what more could you ask for than a night of fantastic music and a little unexpected dancing?