NO MORE DIVISION : REVIEW 2016
By Jamie Robash
I don’t think that I’m alone when I say that when I think of folk music early Bob Dylan is the first thing that crops up in my mind. And though that may sound small minded then so be it. But Dylan comes to mind more so for his famous fuck you to folks at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. The English folk quartet Kings Gambit has taken a somewhat different approach to folk music than Dylan did back then. They’ve taken the somewhat staunch folk genre and livened it up a bit. If that sounds like a bit of an oxymoron then you should stop reading this, listen to a few albums by The Pogues and come back when we’re on the same page. Moving on then, on their second album, FolkBeat, King’s Gambit makes the folk genre a ball of clay and molds it as they wish into whatever form they want.
Beginning with the upbeat opener “Die Alone Trying” King’s Gambit infuses an often dire genre with hints of pop and rock and offers a up a song that one can dance to, and not in the traditional grand tradition sense, but something more contemporary. Keeping with the pop sensibility but still staying true to the storytelling roots of folk, “Andrews Song” with its acoustic strums of guitar and orchestral swells of cello, unfolds like a folk novella that bristles with the tradition of the Anglo-Saxon balladry and toe tapping fervor. FolkBeat gains momentum with fast paced “3 Times to The Melody.” Here a mixture of sped up vocal harmonies provided by dueling vocalists Chris Startup and Katie Paton, and healthy dose of cello and harmonica drive “3 Times to the Melody” along into a fast paced and hard to resist tune.
FolkBeat is not without its genres familiar balladries though. “Dressed to White” is a tearfully slow tempo ballad on which King’s Gambit shows they can hold their own amongst their traditional folk contemporaries. The fingerpicked acoustic melodies also shows off the band’s tightness, which is likely due to their rigorous festival touring schedule. For folk music, as fun as it is to listen to, is a genre which is best served live and the instrumental “65 til the Century Ends” which I can only imagine gets the crowd dancing is further proof of this, as I can imagine do the gypsy folk musings “Best Kept Plans.” FolkBeat closes on a high note with the ridiculously infectious harmonica-driven jam session that is “Harmonica Bit.”
FolkBeat does exactly what its name implies, and that is to give a bit of gusto to a genre that is traditionally known for its sallowness. King’s Gambit hasn’t snuffed out the torch of traditional folk, if anything they’ve given it more reason to shine.
KING’S GAMBIT – From One To Another
(own label) MARCH 2017
From One To Another If you take away the rock excesses of folk-rock you’re left with Northampton’s King’s Gambit – a band that rocks acoustically while still capable of musical delicacy. I don’t like to make comparisons but they have something of the style and drive of CC Smugglers. From One To Another is their third album, all original material written by Chris Startup – give or take what he’s done to ‘St. James Infirmary’.
Chris, who is also lead vocalist, plays guitar and harmonica; Katie Paton plays bass; Helen Turton plays cello and Andrew Higgins provides the top notes on mandola, mandolin and banjo. All four sing making for solid harmonies and raucous backing vocals. Chris’s songwriting subjects are varied. ‘People Versus’ is about a pub fight and is reminiscent of something Robb Johnson might come up with in a lighter moment. ‘Mary Jane’ is a drug-fuelled dream but also about the loss of precious environment, a subject he’d already addressed in ‘The Only One’ in a very different context.
He describes ‘Into The Rolling Sea’ as a good ‘ol drinking song but it’s more about the aftermath of too many good ‘ol drinks. The opener, ‘A Maiden Fair’ has the feel of a traditional song, albeit one introduced on harmonica, while being firmly set in the present day and, like all Chris’ lyrics it leaves you with something to chew over later.
There are three instrumental tracks. The first, ‘Charles Baker’, features Andrew with support from Chris Hewett’s guest accordion but the thing that struck me all the way through the album is the role of the cello. Helen happily plays a lead part sometimes but her key job is holding the middle of the musical register with fills and counter-melodies. Katie keeps the beat solid in the absence of drums and even gets a bass solo on the closing title track.
This is an album that I liked from the off and then grew on me.
KING’S GAMBIT – From One To Another
FATEA : APRIL 2017
King’s Gambit is an unpretentiously good-time outfit hailing from Northampton. Their stock-in-trade is rocking acoustic folk with a strong pulse generated by bass guitar and cello - and rhythm without recourse to drumkit! And from the evidence of From One To Another, their third album, I’m surprised they’re not better known.
King’s Gambit makes a big sound when you consider they’re only a four-piece; the basic texture created by the sounds of guitar and harmonica (Chris Startup, who also sings lead and writes the songs), mandolin/mandola/banjo (Andrew Higgins) and bass (Katie Paton) are filled out by a cello (Helen Turton), whose role is flexible enough to take a melody lead too when required. Several tracks on the album also find Chris Hewett’s accordion fleshing out the sound even further. The album gathers together six of Chris Startup’s original songs, a rollicking cover of St James Infirmary and three instrumental tracks that veer more towards rock than trad but are none the worse for that (these guys know how to party!). Those original songs run a gamut from the trad-sounding opener A Maiden Fair to the rip-roaring forebitter Into The Rolling Sea by way of the boisterous pugilism of People Versus, the darker, Kubrick-inspired Clockworks and the double-edged environmental concerns of The Only One and Mary Jane; clearly Chris’s mission is to make us stop and think rather than just mindlessly footstomp our way into oblivion. King’s Gambit make left-field music with a conscience, but almost always with an interesting angle to their musical arrangements.
The King’s Gambit sound has by this album three matured into quite a distinctive beast, even if there’s also a sense that their sound is still developing and fine-tuning. Nevertheless, the band themselves claim this is the album that provides the full picture they’ve been working towards for half a decade, and I think I can hear why, for there’s a sense of triumph about their music-making here.