When stood outside the Leadmill on a scorching hot day, it was evident that an energetic buzz was rippling through the horde of fans. This was Friday night, and everyone was waiting to see highly anticipated and accomplished band The Villagers who have rose to popularity with the release of their first album “Becoming a Jackal”.
The Villagers are an Irish folk band and the only Irish band to be signed to Domino Records. This gig would be a one-off warm up before their performances at multiple festivals such as T in the Park during the summer. The fans gradually poured in throughout the night leaving me practically hugging the floor monitors at its conclusion. The stage was ready for the first performance of the night from Jubby Taylor.
From first sight you could tell that this performance was going to be something different, with Jubby Taylor himself accompanied by an accordion player, violinist and keyboardist/ drummer. This unusual list of instruments combined to create a very interesting and hearty sound with the definitive influence of folk infused. At times it seemed almost like Russian Folk music with an electro twist, a combination I personally found pleasing. Their first song, “Into the Night” had a very powerful piano backing with the violinist (who had a remarkable resemblance to Hugh Laurie) providing excellent sounds to contribute to a very catchy song. Despite all of the fast-paced songs, a couple of slower and gentler love songs managed to creep into the set which provided a good contrast and effective change of pace to the other blitz songs. There last song, “306” did this extremely well, changing from the liveliness of the previous song to a much more darker and slower song that stunned and rapidly changed the audiences mood from buzzing to silent. All in all, a good starting band with a unique sound that that was making my foot tap constantly through the set.
The next band to grace the stage was Race Horses, a band hailing from Cardiff and definitely one that should be looked out for in the future. Race Horses are a technically skilled band, able to create unusual sounds that fit perfectly, especially when combining the two keyboards to create a flourish of brilliance. I would say that they sound like a cross between The Strokes and Vampire Weekend, infusing dance elements with hardcore indie rock. This band also has a lot of style about them, each member not looking completely out of place but neither similar to each other. It was a style that I thought worked particularly well. Frontman Meilyr Jones had such charisma and animation when the music began; his body could be seen hurling around the stage and giving various points and fists to the crowd. Race Horses mix a two keyboard attack combined with a beautiful bass line and supporting guitar that creates a blaze of enchanting and utterly memorable sound. This band appear to have the right energy to fit their music, with Meilyr Jones taking to the top of a bass bin whilst literally beating a floor tom to a pulp whilst the drummer was playing guitar and keyboardist playing drums. Meilyr Jones concluded Race Horses performance very humbly, thanking The Villagers for letting them play this night, then kicking into their last song. Race Horses can always surprise you, when you just think a song is going to end, a crazy transition makes it continue much to your delight, these songs are not long-winded but startle you when you think it’s just going to end. Race Horses are a band with a great sound, great image and a great frontman and would not surprise me if breaking through to success in the near future.
By this point in the evening I was witness to the biggest crowd I had ever seen at the Steel Stage, you were literally packed like sardines in a tin sweatbox. I wondered whether the Villagers should have been playing on the main stage but in the end, was content with the Steel Stage due to the intimacy it created. The Villagers set commenced, with Connor O’Brien walking onto the stage solo at first much to the roaring fans delight. He began with a new song called “Beatitiudes” which was a very solemn song that appeared to stun the audience into captivated silence (despite a balloon being punted around the room). This was a great opener that would wet the whistle of an eager and slightly tipsy audience. The band then joined Connor on the stage that he described as the “Teeniest we’ve ever played”. They had organised there set well, not piling all of their most popular songs such as “The Pact” and “Ship of Promises” together, but spreading them evenly through the performance to keep enticing the listeners. The thing with villagers is that you don’t really see them as a band, more Connor O’Brien backed by very talented musicians. He has great vocal ability and a very humble persona that is easily exerted on an appreciative crowd. Each songs conclusion was echoed by an ear-splitting cheer that seemed to startle the Villagers oblivious to the type of reception they would receive this night, the drummer commenting on how “it’s going well, I like Sheffield”. For a while, the drummer and bassist departed the stage, leaving it open to Connor O’Brien and Cormac Curran to perform the next two songs “Pieces” and “New Found Land”. The chemistry between these two was astounding, the aura the emitted was pleasing to see and they coincided perfectly much to the crowds pleasure. With the conclusion on the set, the band left the stage, only to reappear after the deafening chant of encore being repeated over and over. It was a pleasantly surprising encore with just Connor returning to the stage to perform the two songs “Cecelia” and “That Day”. Both these songs were gentle and a contrast to the set, finishing very lightly and all in all, very relaxed. For the last song of the evening, the full band returned and performed “Memoir”. When ended, a standing ovation was made to the Villagers who were indeed worth their salt this evening, the performance was exceptional and one of the best live performances I’ve ever witnessed; even better I would say than their appearance supporting Elbow at the Motorpoint Arena.
All in all, the bands tonight offered much to the crowd who lapped it up with great appreciation and pleasure. In my personal opinion, this gig did top all other local gigs I’ve been to and I eagerly anticipate the new material that The Villagers are working on.