Noah and the Whale, Roundhouse, London
Still full of the joys of Spring
Wednesday 17 March 2010
It's December 2007, and singer-songwriter Jeremy Warmsley is filming an episode of an internet TV show in his house. It's called "Welcome to Our TV Show" and its title is announced with mock-childishness by a group of his friends. The camera pans around to film a "tea party" strewn across a living room. There's a disconcerting lack of aggressive self-knowingness among his guests, young bands like Mystery Jets, Noah and the Whale, the persistently elegant, then 17-year-old Laura Marling. One by one, the bands perform, their legs touching through lack of space.
If any of those artists – and the others who also appeared on the show, Emmy the Great, Johnny Flynn, Dev Hynes – now want to turn around and deny they were ever part of a scene, and criticise the press as pigeonholing them as such, then surely such a clip is Exhibit A in the press's defence. Warmsley's dramatis personae played music together, drank together, sometimes shared beds. Myth-making has never proved so easy.
While the stand-out talent on this clip is undoubtedly Marling, it is her relationship with Noah and the Whale front man Charlie Fink that led to the group's "concept album" , The First Days of Spring, which charts their split, a record that provoked Fink to break down and cry the first time that he played it through. Fink has never been one to hide his feelings, or particularly distance himself from like-minded musicians. But the album's plangent, solitary guitars, strings and choir parts made clear he had transcended the banjo-picking, and twee, cutesy gimmickry. From its opening words, "It's the first day of spring, and my life is starting over again" to "now I'm free" coda, the musician made it clear that he had set his sights set on an artistically ambitious prize, a sentiment echoed by the album's associated film paying homage to Fink's love of indie film-making (his band's name is a portmanteau of a one-time favourite director, Noah Baumbach, and Baumbach's 2005 film, The Squid and the Whale). They have also provided the soundtrack to The Scouting Book for Boys, a movie charting a tale of deception gone horribly wrong released this week, and written by award-winning screenwriter Jack Thorne.
At the gig, the band stand with their original line-up. Fink stands bashfully with his guitar alongside violin virtuoso Tom Hobden, Matt Owens, now sporting a long, dishevelled, white barnet, is on bass, and the now-departed Doug Fink – currently training as a doctor, but making a surprise appearance – is performing on drums. Their wide smiles reach out to the crowd despite the Roundhouse's somewhat cavernous space; a floor standard lamp completes the illusion of intimacy, with the set-up completed with two backing vocalists. Fink's voice normally boasts vulnerability, its character cementing his connection with fans; some of this is inevitably lost in such a large room but dancing replaces pontification. Along with tracks from their first two albums – "My Broken Heart", "Stranger", "The First Days of Spring" – there is also the debut of doleful new song "Tonight's the Kind of Night".
There's a lengthy encore of "The First Days of Spring", "5 Years Time" and "Blue Skies" making sure people bounce out into Camden, rather than slope back to west London to stick their heads in the oven. Surely Fink's catharsis is getting there. His scene's standard bearers have dispersed across the globe (Mumford & Sons recently performed on Late Show with David Letterman). It's time he filled his wellies.
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