The stage was still. The lights glimmered on the steel of the drums. A plethora of instruments littered the stage; an accordion, a tuba, multiple guitars, a banjo, a ukulele, a keyboard coloured in wacky designs with a felt pen and a mysterious-looking sack. As a crowd of largely over 40s gathered in the Phoenix, I began to wonder what exactly I’d let myself in for.
Support trio Wildflowers wandered on stage, calm, and gathered around a single microphone. They let loose howling harmonies, and their set is worth mentioning for this. Blending solid pop-folk structure and rich, almost rag-time three part harmonies, they had a charming presence and aroused well-deserved cheers from all around the venue.
Perhaps ironically for a Cobblers Club, the lead singer crept on stage wearing no shoes at all - not even socks. He was followed by the rest of the band, with blank expressions, ready to unleash a firestorm of frivolity upon us. Sure enough, it came. Wildfire, from the band’s recent second album of the same name, boomed into the air and bounced off the walls with cavernous voice and drum. Fire machines (fake, apparently constructed by their dad) flicked upwards either side of the stage. The fifth chorus was probably one too many for an opening song and felt a touch self indulgent, but the crowd were hooked on the magic and hooted loudly anyway.
On a rickety stool sat tuba player Bethan conjuring colossal romps, the sonic opposite of her dainty appearance. With no bass, the tuba made a fitting replacement, and gave their overall noise a more orchestral tinge, like a marching band. The drums were a touch weak in the mix and could have done with a bit more - for want of a better word - oomph, to deepen the overall tone, but they were well played… I’m really nit-picking so that I don’t come across as bias. The sound was entrancing. They struck the right balance between glittery, sprightly melodies and stomping, oaken rhythms. One might liken their sound to an enchanted forest, even if it’s a bit cliché to say about a folk band. If I allowed myself to indulge in a bit of purple prose, I might say that the trumpets carved like rays of sunlight through the canopy and the ukulele rustled like prickly fauna on the forest floor.
Timid frontman Matt’s vocals were strong, hitting impressive chest notes without much effort. He seemed to get boshed around by his outgoing sister Jules during the crowd banter, which was also mildly entertaining.
A couple of bouncy folk tunes ensued, with frequent instrument swapping. Stand out tracks included Won’t Look Back, perhaps the strongest “pop folk” song on Wildfire that championed the dual vocals of siblings Matt and Jules to a backing of pleasant guitar and piano chords. The Heights of Lola, a spirited ditty that could have come out of a grade 2 piano book, was made special by solid snare rolls and the rapture of the brass section.
Mid-set, amid light-hearted bickering, the band called for a dance competition, the prize being a free signed CD. I probably would have thrown some tight shapes if I’d known there was a prize beforehand, but it was a bit of fun that broke the set up well and enhanced the mirthful ambience.
Disappointingly, the band omitted their two most popular songs Oh Euphoria and You Go, despite an encore. What they did include, however, was a seemingly impromptu rendition of Toto’s Africa, but not in the usual format. Along with supporting band Wildflowers, they marched into the heart of the audience, armed with drums, guitars, and a strange circle thing with rainbow coloured bells on it. Completely acoustic, it was a refreshing move, aptly illustrating Keston’s signature love for audience interaction. This was where the magic came from; the spark they had with the audience, the unique instrumentation, the twinkle in their voices and the glints in their eyes all met in a harmony of delightfulness. Few bands can match that kind of enchantment.