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We’re driving round some kind of industrial wasteland in Sheffield. (This isn’t hard – there’s apparently quite a lot of it.) The taxi driver’s lost, deep in conversation with his satnav, on which he’s spelt our destination wrong, anyway. My gig-going accomplice is telling me about prostitutes and drug-dens and where not to go after dark in the steel city as boarded up grey blurs in my outervision.
Defeat seems imminent, and we’re about to give up and head for the shiny lights of the centre, when a little lit-up pub miraculously appears, with a couple of kids sporting skinnies and shoes smoking on the doorstep. After paying the driver about half of what it says on the meter for the pleasure of the picturesque detour, we order double gins in the sudden noisy glow of The Shakespeare. It’s busy here considering the out of the way location, a concentric hub of plaid shirts and painted eyes that seems to do trade by word of mouth among a fairly clique-y clientele.
Tonight the kids are out for one of the most promisingly obscure faux-folk bands of the moment, Jonquil. Faux-folk because, having warned the aforementioned accomplice that he was in for a few hours of ‘experimental folk’ (for want of a better description) and watched him guzzle several pints in trepid anticipation, Jonquil got about five minutes into their set before he turned to me, toe-tapping, and happily admitted, “they’re pretty good, not too weirdy beardy at all.”
Genre-tagging is something Jonquil have been avoiding for a while now, with frontman Hugo Manuel confessing in a recent interview that the band would rather be associated with rock than folk. Live, it’s obvious why. There’s a spreading energy about each of their tracks, rooted in organically created sounds, but multi-layed and building so that the jubilant swell of their music is neither twiddly nor twee, but kind of noisily cacophonous and catchy. To achieve this they fill the tiny stage with band members (all six of them) and instruments that most rock acts would never have heard of.
Tonight Hugo’s vocals are a little shaky to begin with, as he struggles with falsetto in ‘Sudden Sun’, but he soon warms to the task at hand. Hypnotic unison vocals in the humourously entitled ‘Babe, so why no,’ contrast with the utterly mesmerising orchestration of new track, ‘Parasol’. Jonquil end with the creeping twinkle and bespoke beauty of an extended intro to ‘Lions’, their best known song and the title track from their recently re-released album. It’s a wonderful moment, encompassing oom-pa accordion propulsion with sea-shanty chanting, inciting infectious grinning in the audience in the poky venue.
This talented Oxford six-piece have lyrics that transport to musical Narnias, and instrumentation that colours these landscapes with tumescent exuberance, with solid melodic cheer as its motivation. Tonight, though, with the unresolved ending of ‘Lions’, our out-of-town excursion is over, and we’re stumbling down the stairs and out the door, for the directionless, uphill wander back to the city lights.