London on a Tuesday night in June. Inside the industrial chic of the Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen, the suits are finishing after-work drinks, young couples catch up over nachos and as the light dwindles, groups of expectant music fans gather in a backroom for one of the fastest rising names in the industry this year. The first of two shows here for The Rails, tonight will reinforce those expectations and confirm to many what the cognoscenti has already opined on, that Kami Thompson and James Walbourne have crafted a band and a sound ready for greater things. Make no mistake, the married couple sharing vocal duties is in charge but it’s a band that walks out onto the tiny stage looking relaxed, together and in control of their own destiny. The performance will be light on banter and conducted in a business-like manner, featuring the entire debut album Fair Warning in a well paced set list that finishes in the white heat of a breathless Borstal, of which more later.
They open with a faultlessly reproduced Bonnie Portmore. Things warm up straight away with Breakneck Speed, the harmonies intact and the band benefitting from an excellent sound, as they will do all night. Walbourne gurns like a true rock star through his first opportunity to cover the fretboard and the song is dispatched with a ‘how do you like this for starters then?’ flourish.
William Taylor and Jealous Sailor follow Breakneck Speed, both warm and lush, both exhibiting the duality that runs through The Rails’ songs, the traditional story-telling of the lyrics allied to a contemporary ethic in the arrangements. This is enhanced live, where we’re treated to considerably more muscular versions of the recorded songs; the bass pumps relentlessly behind the acoustic backing, the fiddle highlights, accents and occasionally drives the melody and the lead guitar regularly belies the ‘folk’ tag with riffs and solos more akin to its baser cousin rock. The sound is intense, rich and very much in your face; the packed audience of young and old respond warmly, beginning to believe the hype as the set builds.
Younger provides brief respite and is beautifully sung. The bass is to the fore again on Grace Of God before the stage is left to Thompson and Walbourne for an off-piste middle section. First up is a track written by Kami for a yet to be completed Thompson family album (difficult to imagine that being anything other than an essential purchase) called Lonely, which beguiles with its Fleetwood Mac vibe. Mandy from their Rough Trade EP sees Walbourne turn the husk up in his voice.
When the band returns the throttle goes down again and doesn’t come up until the encore. Panic Attack Blues has some excellent flashes of lead and a solo where not one note is wasted; it’s melodic but absolutely rips, leading to whoops and hollers from the crowd. Send Her To Holloway is equally embellished. Watching Fair Warning being sung live, it’s hard to escape the dynamic of the Thompson family marital legacy in the lyric ‘And all my friends, they gave me fair warning / fair warning, fair warning’. Borstal takes everything that’s come before and tramples it underfoot, rushing through a classic tale of lost love, murder and escape from the law. The guitar breaks crunch, the vocals ride the frenetic verses with barely controlled abandon and band and audience barrel headlong to a final roar of approval.
The portentous lyrics of the title track are balanced with the lovely harmony of Habit, the single encore of the night with its ‘You got me in the habit, of missing you’ refrain. The set is just shy of 75 minutes and seems to last half that, but the quality is undeniable, as is the gritty, unpolished force of The Rails live. It would not surprise me at all if years from now far more people than were present say they were there – it was that sort of night. Don’t be fooled by the beauty of the album – there’s blood in these tracks.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
Tour Dates & Festivals
14 – Sherwood Forest, Nottingham
27 – Dalby Forest, Dalby
04 – Delemere Forest, Chester
20 – Larmer Tree Festival, Salisbury,
24 – Port Eliot Festival, St. Germans,
03 – Cambridge Folk Festival, Cambridge,
14 – Green Man Festival 2014, Crickhowell
15 – FolkEast Festival, Woodbridge,
05 – Festival Number 6, Portmeirion, United Kingdom (w/ Los Campesinos!)
Fair Warning is out now via Island Records
Available via: Amazon