Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Live Review: Cherbourg @ Borderline 5/2/09

Scenes are funny things. It’s near-on impossible to pin down the moment that a meeting of like-minds under the right conditions becomes a movement of cultural significance. And while NME like to hedge their bets by labelling every artist that emits so much as a squeak with a gibberish genre tag, the likelihood is that by the time we on the receiving end catch on to a musical trend, it’s already all but finished for those who instigated it.

That’s what Phil of new-folk’s latest offering, Cherbourg, means when he tells me the scene is over as we talk over cigarettes outside Borderline at the band’s EP release. He doesn’t mean London new-folk is dead – far from it with albums from Mumford & Sons, Noah and The Whale and of course, Cherbourg, scheduled for release this year. He means that now London new-folk is established, labelled, and accepted by even the most genre shy, those within it will inevitably start to grow out of its artistic constraints. What usually happens at this stage is that major labels sign lesser-talented imitation acts, rather like commercial vultures picking at the popularity of original movement.

Cherbourg are perhaps the last genuine new folk act, and to some extent even they surface in the shadow of their predecessors, Mumford & Sons. Frontman Andrew Davie sings with the same throaty folky drawl as Marcus Mumford, and the four members slip into similar four part harmonies throughout their set. They distinguish themselves by always erring on the unapologetically dark side of the lyric-stick, the line ‘it’s just another nightmare and you forgot to close your eyes’ but one example. Also, Phil swaps his fiddle for an electric guitar every now and then for some quite indulgent solos that he could probably pull off if they weren’t accompanied by closed eyes and a ‘meaningful’ expression.

Taking themselves too seriously might be Cherbourg’s greatest danger as they navigate the ‘scene’ this next year. They’re new-folk’s darlings boys – there’s a show of support from Noah and The Whale’s Tom and Jay Jay Pistolet mixed in with a very lovey-lovey crowd at Borderline tonight – but they haven’t quite made it yet. While songs about heartbreak proliferate, Cherbourg’s lyrics tend towards the formulaic and they’ve definitely been peeking at Mumford and Sons’ rhyming dictionary (at one point even rhyming ‘ear’ with ‘ear’). But as a tight musical outfit with mates in the right places, there’s no reason why 2009 shouldn’t work out excellently for them and their fiddler-friends in new-folk.

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