It’s taken me all week to compose and file this review not that there was anything wrong with the evening, the show or the band, but having taken my first steps into the world of The Mariner’s Children, I decided to stay and have a good look around.
First things first. The gig at The Lexington is ostensibly for the launch of their new EP Sycamore by The Mariner’s Children. It’s busy, very busy in fact and as I walk in, I immediately have to disgorge myself from the garments designed to keep the elements at bay, as the press of bodies creates a stifling heat.
Within seconds, however, the support act Rachael Dadd is on stage and almost immediately the ambient temperature is forgotten as she has my full attention and that of most of the rest of the audience too. There’ll doubtless be more about Rachael at a later point, but her first song involves some sort of watery apocalypse and the rescue of a baby. If that drama hasn’t got the audience hooked, she explains that her own infant child is currently with her partner, down the road in an all-you-can-eat Indian restaurant – “Hopefully not Armageddon, just lots of curry!” It seems the baby rather cruelly wasn’t allowed into the venue, but her story quickly has any stragglers paying sympathetic attention and her songs do the rest.
This is the second time in as many weeks that the support act(s) and headliner are intertwined. Emma Gatrill is a notable on-stage companion for Rachael’s set and she duly takes the same spot as the seven-piece Mariners Children fill the stage. There will be no small amount of instrument swapping amongst this talented bunch, but Emma seems to have the greatest range of skills and also a clear, sweet voice that acts as the main foil to front-man Ben Rubinstein’s lead.
Pre-gig notices have suggested a similarity to Arcade Fire and the stirring It Carved You Name Into The Ground that opens proceedings, certainly has something of the Canadian combo’s drive in the pounding rhythms. The song’s drama, however, as suggested by the title, comes from the stormy imagery. Yet amidst all the thumping beats and instrumental flurry, it’s the song’s breakdown, dropping to just Ben, as he slows the pace and delivers the line, “I’ll put an axe through your door if you don’t open it for me,” that offers a truly hair raising moment.
Dark and troubled romanticism will be the order of the night it seems and the new EP, premiered amongst the set of 12 songs certainly carries that thread. Sycamore, the title track, stares down death with the idea of a sycamore tree, nourished by the deceased, providing arms that offer an embrace from beyond the grave. Bridges seems to be about severance and the burning of bridges, before drowning in the ash strewn watery expanse that remains. Wolves Within The Woods and In My Bed seems almost fervid with more stormy visions.
But there’s something else going on. Ben seems caught. One minute he’s telling us that he’s feeling the pressure of a launch event so would rather just think of it as a gig. Later, he’s delighting in explaining that following a series of gigs supporting someone else, it’s great that “You’re all mine. I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to do to you all week.” There’s something slightly veiled about his performance. The band is capable of huge sweeping soundstages and dynamics, yet somehow the songs seem more of a murmur than a shout.
It has me intrigued and hence my decision to stay in the land of The Mariner’s Children. There seem to be strong narrative ideas at work in their songs that invite you to bookmark your place in the real world, to return to it once they are over. Alternate worlds are being created, where the author’s imagination holds sway, yet the outcomes seem beyond anyone’s control, driven by more primal factors. Still, slipping the CD into the player is a transport straight to those places and repetition reveals some of the detail that remained tantalisingly just beyond grasp at the Lexington.
It was a good gig, but it’s a better CD and to change metaphorical horses in midstream… Like a fine wine, the thing about a big vision is that it can take time to ferment and benefits from time to mature, before its true character is revealed. The Mariners Children may not have quite reached that point yet, but the signs are they are laying down a fine vintage.
Review by: Simon Holland