Mumford and Sons, Stopover Festival, review: Throwing the mild and middle class preconceptions out the window

Playing for two hours, the set is an emotional journey which draws heavily upon their recent and less overtly folk-driven third album Wilder Mind

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“This isn’t a tried and tested formula, it’s an experiment,” announced Marcus Mumford in the closing moments of this inaugural and hopefully not one-off UK version of Mumford & Sons’ Stopover festival, an event purposely held in out of the way locations which has already been successfully deployed in sites across America. In the same breath he thanked the other musicians who had chosen to accompany the group over the two-day show, including Friday night headliner Ben Howard and the unlikely but ferociously well-received Primal Scream, whose faith in his own band he welcomed.

More widely known as a popular bridging spot for outdoor sports enthusiasts and winter skiers to base themselves on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park, the village of Aviemore is also, noted Mumford during the show, where Highlands promoter Robert Hicks put the band on in a small bar while they were touring the area six years ago, in the days before their huge multinational fame. As such it’s a more capable choice than many for a huge influx of 20,000 young folk and families, although heavy rain on Friday turned part of the site to a thin swamp and derailed the summer’s day in the park vibe somewhat.

Yet the skies stayed clear for the Mumfords’ Saturday headline slot, which followed Primal Scream and other current talents like the Maccabees and Lianne La Havas. There was a true festival atmosphere, but only one band as the real focal point – some might say a canny business strategy on the London folk-rock quartet’s part to shift their Gentlemen of the Road label and events brand into festival promotions and reap the benefits which go with that.

Yet for all those who might belittle the group for their huge success, the perceived big-stage mildness of their music or even their middle-class backgrounds – all of which has happened – they put on the kind of show which smashes such preconceptions out of the water. Playing for two hours, the set is a cannily drawn emotional journey which draws heavily upon their recent and less overtly folk-driven third album Wilder Mind.

The selection of songs from the record displays a certain inherent confidence that these will all fit seamlessly into the contemporary canon sooner or later, with the opening ‘Snake Eyes’ building gradually into the kind of primal, pulse-racing beat which courses throughout one of their shows. This continues through the familiar ‘I Will Wait’ and ‘Lover of the Light’, of course, and a similar energy infects the strident, religious tone of ‘Below My Feet’ and recent single ‘Believe’, a rockier proposition than most other tracks here.

Lined up along the front of the stage, the quartet showed the newfound range their last album has given them with the steeltown guitar chime of its title track, the buoyant country tone of ‘Tompkins Square Park’ and the hushed, fragile acoustica of ‘Broad-Shouldered Beasts’ and ‘Monster’. As the show finally rang to a close, the new record’s producer James Ford fired up his Simian Mobile Disco soundsystem for a late night party. It was that kind of weekend, a gathering of like-minded friends.