Steinbeck wrote “we find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us”. Mumford and Sons have a taste for long trips, literary allusions and banjos - it's hard to find fault with a deftly played banjo (unless you’re Lewis Medlock).
After a lengthy tour of the U.S. selling American folk music - with British accents – to American folks - the band returned to the iTunes Festival and seemed genuinely relieved to be home. “We've been all round the ground, its fucking good to be home,” said Mumford.
Amid the Midsummer inspired setting, all flickering candles, twinkling fairy lights, and orange glow, the band open with the tormented ‘Lover’s Eyes’, to rapturous reception from the crowd. Coinciding with the release date for the new album, ‘Babel’, the set was heavy with songs from both albums. Despite its success, the footloose ‘Sign No More’ irked a minority for its overused (but no less loved) start-like-a-plucked-hushed-ballad-and-build-to-a-roaring-hoe-down format.
But if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and the new album contains much of the same frenetic fingerpicking, bruised hollering and foot stamping that brought critical and commercial success to their debut, but with a cleaner, crisper approach. The banjo-powered lay hymn, ‘Whispers in the Dark’, shows a keen attempt to balance raucous and yearning, and in mid tempo ballad ‘Holland Road’, the harmonies and interludes feel more carefully crafted.
There was some attempted variation. Standing close, front of stage, the band spellbound the dimly lit, hushed audience with a four-part harmony, a cappella version of ‘Timshel’. ‘Roll Away Your Stone’ benefited from some blues piano and the electric guitar thrash of ‘Dust Bowl Dance’ was commendable, if incongruous, when set against the tried and tested acoustic fare.
At their best they were overwhelmingly infectious. The anthemic ‘Littlie Lion Man’, their biggest hit, bounded with energy and rhythm, whilst the intricate ‘I Will Wait’ was an encore shoo-in with its vocal breakdowns and rousing finish. As closer ‘The Cave’ drew a tumultuous end to proceedings, a man and woman reeled away, arms linked, in their own spirited interpretation of a folk dance. Some of their exasperating impulsiveness may have faded but there’s plenty of life in the journey of this band yet.
Words by Simon Owen
Photos by Natalie Seery