Every now and again here at Red Guitar Music we are lucky enough to receive a CD in the post that turns out to be just a little bit special. Darlingside and their ‘Birds Say’ album was a case in point, I was keen, but fellow RGM scribe Rich Barnard won the lottery, got to work and his resulting review concluded “Darlingside have stories to tell, mysteries to solve and journeys to take us on. Birds Say manages the impossible; it is humble and bold; it is familiar and strange; it is slick and fragile. It is, in short, a total delight”. To support the UK release of the album the band had a slot booked at the prestigious Cambridge Folk Festival before they embarked on a short run of intimate UK shows concluding with the Slaughtered Lamb in London.
When a band plays shows in the UK for the first time, especially if they are venturing over from the other side of the pond, an acoustic set is the expected outcome. Touring is very expensive and the venues are initially small as you test the waters. Needless to say I was expecting Darlingside to perform, even more, acoustic versions of their songs, four voices and an acoustic guitar or two. It would appear that I know nothing as a young lady once said in a rather popular TV show.
With their trademark single vocal microphone taking centre stage the quartet were surrounded by an array of musical instruments; electric six and twelve string guitars, electric bass, kick drum, mandolin, acoustic guitars, banjo, violin and a cello. This menagerie of instrumentation did result in some interesting positional issues for the quartet on the small stage but decapitation was narrowly avoided. Don Mitchell switching from guitar to banjo looked fraught with danger. The guys even managed to find room for UK singer/songwriter, and friend of the band, Tom Hyatt and his piano to join in for a couple of numbers. The band is obviously incredibly professional and the intent was to present their songs as closely as possible, but not too close, to the recorded version which is to be applauded.
It was immediately apparent with the mournful, musical introduction to ‘The God Of Loss’ that these guys are the real deal. Anchored by the electric bass and kick drum of Dave Senft we get our first taste of the harmonies for which the band are known and it is very obvious that we are in for a great night. It is those four part harmonies that open the strident ‘Go Back’ (inspired by the Back To The Future films we are told) and it is also obvious that the band and the sold out crowd are on the same page. The clever use of instrumentation is highlighted by the mandolin work of Auyon Mukharji and Harris Paseltiner’s cello on the quirky ‘Harrison Ford’ a song about a meeting with a man who may, or may not be the Indiana Jones star. While ‘My Gal, My Guy’ proved an instrumental and vocal high point.
The guys have known each other for years as is apparent in their relaxed demeanour as all four are happy to chat to the audience and regale us with stories of their driving skills (or lack of when using manual transmission) and unfortunate visits to that great British institution the Kebab shop, the result of which will be familiar to most readers I’m sure. An unexpected, and quite hilarious, moment occurs when Auyon introduces the band. As an aside I’d like to comment on band introductions at gigs in general which can be a very strange and frustrating beast. As a reviewer it’s always handy to catch the name of the third guitarist on the left to add colour to a review but usually this is difficult as the singer mumbles something about Bob, possibly I didn’t quite catch that, at the back. No such issues with Auyon who has obviously decided that playing at the Slaughtered Lamb is worthy of some serious Wikipedia style investigation. The resulting, very funny, monologue is both informative about the untimely death of said lamb (at which age does lamb become mutton?) and equally informative about the names of the band members and their eating choices. Dave has been to Australia and New Zealand where Leg Of Lamb is a staple of Sunday lunch so he should be on board and Auyon’s mum makes a mean lamb curry.
The set featured a nice range of material with the ‘Birds Say’ tunes prominent but they also delved into their back catalogue for, amongst others, ‘Whippoorwill’ which highlighted the integration between guitar, mandolin and banjo while ‘Blow The House Down’ very nearly did. The guys even found time to throw in an unlikely, you’d think, cover tune ‘1979’ originally recorded by Smashing Pumpkins which worked beautifully. I think it was guitarist Don Mitchell who said this was the kind of song they wish they’d have written in the 90’s if they were old enough, which made those of us born a decade or three earlier feel very old indeed.
Darlingside in a live setting are a joy. They have the songs, the talent and are as down-to-earth and appreciative of their audience as any band I’ve have the pleasure to witness. In short if they are in your town get a ticket. Satisfaction is guaranteed.
Gig Date: August 4th 2016