MUMFORD & SONS could be classed as idealists. They have a strong belief in the ideas of community and locality. It’s an idea that comes through in the band’s name, but also in their approach to the current tour - the Gentlemen of the Road Stopover.
Mumford & Sons - Marcus Mumford (vocals, guitar, drums, mandolin ); Ben Lovett (vocals, keyboards, accordion, drums ); Country Winston Marshall (vocals, banjo, Dobro, guitar ); and Ted Dwane (vocals, string bass, drums, guitar ) - will bring their Gentlemen of the Road Stopover... tour to Salthill Park on Saturday June 9.
The tour is animated by the idea of celebrating “the people, food and music that inhabit” each town they play in. When the shows were announced last month, the band said: “We’re keen to promote the town’s local businesses. We’ll be using the local bars and venues for aftershow parties, whilst working closely with the local people to get everyone involved in making these shows spectacular.”
Last week Mumford & Sons were in Galway and Ben Lovett and Ted Dwane took time to talk about the ideas of the Gentlemen of the Road Stopover... tour, the band’s eagerly awaited second album, meeting Ray Davies and Bob Dylan, and why they are ‘acoustic’ rather than ‘folk’.
Gentlemen of the Road
The idea of community, local businesses, and the people who make up such entities are at the heart of the Gentlemen... tour.
“We are all as individuals very interested in the idea of local community and in encouraging that through any venture we do,” Ben Lovett tells me. “In Gentlemen of the Road, we don’t want to promise to bring too much to the table, but we are encouraging what already exists. At the shows a lot of the people selling things will be independent vendors and a lot of the food will be from the local market.
“The idea came from festivals which are already doing that. We love Glastonbury and other such festivals, they create their own world but for the other 360 days of year what is there? We enjoy the things that are in situ, the markets, the vendors, the local pubs, and supporting that, and involving the people. It makes it more real for us and for the audience as well.”
“Collaboration is the buzzword,” continues Ted Dwane. “We enjoy that in our music making and part of the spirit of Gentlemen... is that it is not taking over, it is doing things in collaboration with, and that is the plan.”
The band’s commitment to such ideals is not in question either. Ben Lovett is a co-founder of the Communion project, which began in London as a venture to showcase new and emerging talent, championing of independent music, and creating a community of musicians and fans.
Marcus Mumford’s parents, John and Eleanor, are national leaders of the Vineyard Church in Britain which is involved in charity work and providing aid and assistance to homeless people.
“Community feels important,” says Ben, “but it’s something that has declined a little bit in modern times. We enjoy being in a room or in a pub or at gigs, friends meeting and singing songs together, so it’s a nice instinct to be encouraging in people.”
Mumfords first played Galway in March last year and they seem to have a genuine affection for the city and county. There is none of the ‘Oh it’s a great place we really love it’ standard line which many bands trot out.
“We just love the feel of this place,” says Ben. “It’s a special place and that is why we want to engage with it for the Gentlemen... tour.”
They also have fond memories of that March visit. “Our friend Damien O’Donoghue, I remember we visited his grandparents in Salthill and then went diving off the tower at Blackrook,” says Ben.
“We also hit the bars around Massimo,” laughs Ted.
Folk or acoustic?
Mumford & Sons formed towards the end of 2007, from a group of friends involved in the folk and acoustic scene in West London. By the following year they had released their debut EP and in 2009 came the album Sigh No More. The album’s anthemic folk-rock struck a chord with the public and saw it ride high in the charts across the English speaking world, including reaching the number two spot in the USA. The album’s singles, especially ‘Little Lion Man’, received heavy airplay.
How have the quartet dealt with the sudden arrival of fame and how have their lives changed over the past three years?
“I still live in my parents house, in the same bedroom I grew up in,” says Ben. “I do feel more secure in what I am doing with my life, rather than financically secure. All that seems irrelevant though. We were just trying to make a living out of music. I felt just as happy making and selling EPs to the audience at our shows before the album came out.
“When you play large arenas you cannot see the faces of the audience. With Gentlemen... the drive is to remove that separation and have that intimacy with people who respect and enjoy what we do. We could have taken a more corporate approach and played to more people, but it felt like we had an opportunity to do things in a smaller way, that was about getting closer to the people, and given the choice we will always strive to do that.”
The success of Sigh No More has created high expectations for the follow-up, although things did get out of hand when the media took seriously a joke by Marcus Mumford that the new album would “sound like Black Sabbath meets Nick Drake”.
“There’s been quite a turf war over the description of the new album,” says Ted. “It’s getting ridiculous.”
Marcus later told the NME the album would be an “evolution, not a revolution” from Sigh No More.
“What Marcus said is fairly accurate,” says Ben. “We really like it. It feels like us and where we are now, whereas Sigh No More felt like who we were back then. The new songs feel relevant to what is happening in our lives now. It feels very exciting to think of getting them out there and touring them.”
“We’re doing a lot of festivals this summer,” says Ted, “and we will be performing the new material for a while and Salthill will be treated to plenty of new songs.”
In terms of musical influence, the band say their journeys through Ireland and the Scottish Highlands, and their respective musics, have been enormously influential on their own sound. However while the band are often described as folk-rock or folk-pop, it is not how they see themselves.
“We were all involved in folk music from a young age,” says Ben, “and folk is a term being used to describe ourselves. We love folk and traditional music and we embrace it, but we think more of ourselves as a rock band with acoustic instruments.”
In the last couple of years, Mumford & Sons have had the opportunity to perform with Bob Dylan and The Kinks’ Ray Davies. The performance with Dylan took place at last year’s Grammys, with the Englishmen backing him on ‘Maggie’s Farm’.
“It was quite surreal, quite an honour,” says Ted. Ben adds: “If someone told us when we were playing upstairs rooms in bars that we would meet Dylan we would have told them they were insane.”
Dylan is known for changing set lists and the keys he plays songs in on the least whim and often at the last minute. Did the band worry he would feel inclined to do so just as they were about to step on stage together?
“We had been rehearsing all day and it would have been in the back of our minds,” says Ben. “Then, just as we were about to go on stage he said ‘Let’s do it in this key’ and change it, but there were some guiding hands saying ‘It is not the time Bob’.”
The band also joined Ray Davies in recording a version of ‘Days’ for his most recent solo album. What advice did the great songwriter have for Mumford & Sons?
“He just told us to look after each other,” says Ted, “and how lucky we were to be in a band and doing what we were doing. Those were his primary words before he got into his brightly coloured Citroën Picasso and drove away. What a legend!”
Support is from The Vaccines, Willy Mason, Zulu Winter, Nathaniel Rateliff, and The Correspondents. Tickets are from €49.50 (including booking ) and are on sale through Musicglue.com, ttp://galway.gentlemenoftheroad.com/, and the Galway Arts Centre (091 - 565886, [email protected] centre.ie )