The Medlars – The medlars
Pear o’Legs Records – 5 May 2017
There’s an immediate, and striking honesty about The Medlars and the wonderful music they make. Some of the influences that pepper the band’s album ring clear as a bell. Others remain tantalisingly just below the surface, coming to the fore just long enough to trigger a moment of recognition, but often fading again before the listener can put a name to what was so fleetingly familiar.
The Medlars are a London-based seven-piece band that feature banjo, mandolin, fiddles, flute, brass, cello, bass and drums in a repertoire that references and respects folk traditions but succeeds in forging a unique sound at the same time. Their eponymous debut album is released on 5th May via Pear o’Legs Records.
It was at University College London Union in 2013 that Jimmy Grayburn helped establish the UCLU Folk and World Music Society. In addition to helping involve young people in folk music through ceilidhs, gigs and workshops, the organisation also released two well-received compilation albums. Diversity and innovation were hallmarks of the society’s projects, and those approaches have guided and informed Jimmy’s music. Since then he’s joined forces with album producer Arran Glass (Apple of my Eye) to set up Pear o’Legs records, established the duet The Lion’s Share with Tom Blackburn, and formed The Medlars. It’s almost surprising he finds time to write songs – but write he certainly does, and he writes very well; from the heart, and with clear messages.
The strength of those messages is immediately apparent on the album, opening with the stern environmental warnings in Heart of a Home. Jimmy’s banjo joins the sparse atmospheres as Suzie McCarthy‘s fiddle begins to eek out a melody from the desert heat. Charlie Egan‘s martial drum beat and Ribhu Choudhuri‘s stomping bass prelude Jimmy’s emphatic vocal for a song that chastises our over-reliance on oil.
It’s a distinctive and thought-provoking opening. A powerful hint that The Medlars are here with a message, perhaps with several messages. The Medlars are also here, though, to make damn fine music, and there’s an immediate contrast in Fly the Wheel. A merry bucolic escapade with a rich pace; and banjo, fiddle and vocal to match. The strong vocal element to the album gently stamps its authority here too; with the whole band providing, as they do throughout the album, a rich mix of subtle harmonies. With brass and woodwind to expand the sound even further, it’s a heart-warming charmer of a track.
One of the satisfying things about discovering the wide range of music that’s inspired The Medlars is that there’s no mimicry, there’s no sense of tribute – it’s more a sense of kinship. There’s a real affinity with artists that strive to take the traditions, the structures, the politics of folk and roots music forward to new audiences. The first name that struck my mind was Cocos Lovers; there’s a similar light, airiness about the brass and woodwind alongside the gently cantering rhythm and warm sense of community in the vocals.
The environmental concerns raised in Heart of a Home are expertly and graphically illustrated in the lyric. As Fly the Wheel illustrates, though, Jimmy’s just as capable of writing about a wider view of the natural environments that fascinate him as he is about our tendency to destroy them. In The Crag, the changes wrought by the sea on a section of coastline over thousands of years, are reduced to a few lines of rich poetry…
Every wave it meets is different
Each with their own qualities
Some are soft and others rough
Waves from the seven seas
But the crag has the coast as its constant
To keep it company
From the opening primaeval drone of strings, a banjo appears, teasing a melody for a track that takes a less complex approach; Rowan Tinker‘s tenor horn the only wind ornamentation to a song that spans millennia with a beautiful simplicity. Similarly subdued, the nostalgic journey along the Wye Valley Railway in Last Train opens with a lazily plucked banjo and clickety-clack of sticks. Monmouthshire meets Mississippi as sleepy brass and cello (Lucie Tremolieres) lull the contented passengers. That restraint is a rarer aspect of the music though. There’s a tangible boisterousness that ebbs and flows throughout the album, and the individual songs. It’s tempting to think Bellowhead meets Fleet Foxes, but at every turn, The Medlars throw a surprising spark of originality into the mix. The Old Eagle with its irresistible beat, exultant vocal and chorus of fiddles is a pure, rapturous joy.
All these elements seem to combine in The Roundhouse. An ethereal introduction from Rowan’s tenor horn leads to Jimmy’s elemental vocal and a sound that evolves from a soft mist to a spinning galaxy – Charlie Egan’s drums and Francesca Picciano-Moss‘ flute fuelling the maelstrom.
Jimmy Grayburn’s distinctive songs are framed perfectly in the complex layers of strings and vocals. Add the rich colours of brass and flute, and it’s an intense, elevating listening experience. The album is as intricate as it is diverse; as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. The Medlars have produced a triumphant debut that time and again rewards repeated listening with delightful voyages of discovery. An album to treasure and a band to watch out for.
The Medlars is released on the 5th May via Pear o’Legs Records
The Medlars Tour Dates
28th April – Jamboree, London – Supporting Dallahan. Doors 7:30
2nd May – The Official Album Launch, The Harrison, King’s Cross, London. Support from Tom Blackburn. Doors 7:30
27th May – UnampliFire Festival, The Nest Collective, The Master Shipwright’s Palace, London. 4-11pm. Tickets and info here.
19th August – The Yoke Party, Yoke Farm, Herefordshire
26th August – The Globe at Hay, Hay-on-Wye, Powys, Wales. Doors 7:30.
26th September – The Woodburner, Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, London. Doors 7
For more details visit: