London trio Bear’s Den ( Andrew Davie, Joey Haynes, and Kevin Jones) have been touring the UK before sailing off for a few European dates. On Sunday they played Glasgow’s legendary King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut where, with the added bonus of an opening set from The Mariner’s Children, a capacity crowd enjoyed an evening of the finest from Communion Records.
With two well received EP releases under their belts (Sycamore, New Moore Island) and looking forward to their debut album release next year, The Mariner’s Children have been opening for Bear’s Den on their current tour, and making a very fine job of it too. Their song writing strength lies in the power of drama and narrative, their musical strength in intricate arrangements from a group of talented mutli-instrumentalists. The combination of intimacy and energy as they soared between contemplative acoustics and dynamic intensity held the crowd’s unwavering attention throughout the set. The Mariner’s Children are clearly destined for great things (read the FRUK live review of their EP launch for Sycamore).
Audience suitably enlivened, Bear’s Den enjoyed an enthusiastic welcome back to Glasgow, their visit in February having earned them something of a local following. Last month saw the release of their second EP, Without/Within, but the set opened with the title track of February’s release – Agape. From the outset it’s clear why they’ve made such an impression on the local audience. Despite the thoughtful and, at times, austere nature of the song writing Bears Den can’t but help make you feel you’re glad you came. This feeling intensifies with the atmospheric guitar and perfectly executed three part harmonies in The Waters as it builds to a crescendo.
The first offering in the set from the new EP returns to earlier days for Andrew Davie and Kevin Jones, with Cherbourg’s Don’t Let The Sun Steal You Away. Although still plaintive and heart-rending; the stripped-back acoustic of the original is replaced with rich peaks and troughs of sound and a highly polished vocal performance from all three band members.
Pompeii is the title track of a one-off EP only available at gigs (as if going to see them play wasn’t reason enough to be there!). A lyrically beautiful song that’s greeted with enthusiasm by those already familiar with the band’s music and touches the heart of every other soul present.
Comparisons to stable-mates Mumford & Sons are inevitable, with the uninhibited poetry of the lyrics and heavy accent on banjo. Add this to a strong bias towards storytelling with beautifully clear, uplifting harmonies and favourable comparisons to Crosby Stills Nash & Young wouldn’t be out of place either. In this live environment, though, there’s far less reliance on a big sound, more scope to enjoy an engaging stage presence and the quality of the musicianship.
The CSNY connection is never more apparent than when drummer Kevin Jones joins on guitar for Sophie and Isaac. It’s not all quiet, acoustic contemplation, however. The addition of Joey Haynes’ electric guitar work lifts many of the more morose songs to something finer. There’s no drama or emotion lost, and the music seems to have more appeal as a result. Sahara makes the greatest use yet of Joey’s guitar effects – a keening, ethereal wind for the new EP’s opening track.
Bears Den distil all this fine song writing, accomplished musicianship and splendid vocals to a performance that would seem capable of fitting into a venue of any size. The switches from quiet melody to foot stomping crescendo take the audience right along with them.
Having remarked on the Glasgow audiences’ attentiveness on their last visit to the city, Andrew Davie seemed prepared for similar on this occasion. When it became clear that an encore would be required, the lads returned to the stage, moved mike stands aside and treated the audience to a peerless unplugged rendition of the beautiful Bad Blood – three guitars, three voices and no amplification for any of them. You could have heard a pin drop as the song drew to a close. There can be little doubt that Bear’s Den left the stage with an even larger following in Glasgow, and the remaining tour dates should go a long way to swelling those numbers further still.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Bear’s Den – Sahara (Official Video)
Remaining Tour Dates
10 Nov – Privatclub, Berlin
11 Nov – Molotow, Hamburg
12 Nov – Blue Shell, Cologne **SOLD OUT**
13 Nov – Paradiso, Amsterdam