Tobias Ben Jacob and Lukas Drinkwater perform mercurial, mysterious, intimate songs – with the interplay of picked acoustic guitar and plucked double bass at the core. The songs are evocative, personal and intriguing – seeming to fit perfectly in a late-night London club with a nightcap.
So it’s surprising to find the pair performing at a brunch-time concert in leafy Walton-on-Thames surrounded by an audience munching bacon sandwiches. Indeed, Lukas jokingly laments the 7.30am start to drive to the venue. But despite the daylight, the duo manage to draw the audience into their world with a powerful mesmerising set.
Following a chance meeting in a local pub in Devon, Tobias and Lukas first played together at a barely-rehearsed performance at Glastonbury in 2014. They went down so well that a musical partnership was formed, followed by a string of live dates and an outstanding EP The Burning Low in 2015.
Tobias is the songwriter, and they boldly perform a set entirely made up of his songs – no familiar traditional tunes or crowd-pleasing covers. And it’s surprising that Tobias isn’t better known given the strength of the material and his passionate delivery. Previously Tobias was part of The Roots Union whose members included Michael Sykes and BBC Folk Award winners Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin (the band split after recording two EPs).
Despite the source material coming from Tobias, this is very much an equal effort, with Lukas enhancing the songs with his backing vocals, plucked and bowed double bass, guitar and piano. Lukas Drinkwater is a master accompanist, in demand as a duo with the likes of Jim Causley and Ange Hardy. Lukas also comes to the fore live with his jokes and banter between songs.
But it’s together that Jakob and Drinkwater shine brightest, a synergy of two musicians perfectly complimenting each other. Unsurprisingly they bring to mind other lauded guitar/double bass duos, particularly John Martyn and Danny Thompson. Like Martyn, the material is more singer-songwriter than folk, and the influences range much wider than traditional material, with snatches of Jazz, Eastern and more esoteric sounds.
It’s hard to signal the highlights of the set as each song was intense and spellbinding. But even without Wildwood Kin on backing vocals (as on the EP), We are the first ones now is stunning, as is the opening Burning Low and Autosong. The spooky The Devil and Tobias Ben Jacob sends a shiver up the spine with the Tobias’ fervent, whispered delivery – even though it’s half a day away from the witching hour.
But there is life beyond their debut release as the pair performed several songs from their forthcoming full album which – if I remember correctly – will be entitled A Polyphonic Life. Loaded Gun is sung by Tobias, accompanied by Lukas on piano (‘My first Steinway,’ he drools) and another new song, Real Love – written on Valentine’s day – features Tobias on atmospheric electric guitar. Both show great promise for the new album, which couldn’t come too soon.
To fully appreciate the dynamic interplay of these two performers, you really have to catch them live. Sadly, this is the end of their current tour with never idle Drinkwater off the very next day to tour Germany with Emily Barker.
Jacob and Drinkwater’s unusually early gig was part of an excellent series of ‘Brunch Barnstormer’ folk concerts at The Riverhouse – a beautifully converted 19th-century barn – in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey. These family-friendly and welcoming gigs regularly attract the brightest and best performers on the folk scene. Drinkwater’s occasional accomplice Ange Hardy is appearing solo on 26 March, let’s hope she is prepared for an early start.
Photo Credit: Donna Butcher