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The Memory Band, The Slaughtered Lamb, Clerkenwell, March 1st 2010

March 3, 2010

Stephen Cracknell is a bit of a man of mystery. Ostensibly the frontman for alt-folk outfit the Memory Band, he has enough fingers in enough musical pies to defy easy categorisation. His side-project band The Accidental, with a poppier and less folky feel than the Memory Band, seems to have foundered, but he also makes ‘computer music’ under the name Gorodisch, composes music for TV and film, runs a record label, used to be in Badly Drawn Boy’s band and has been quoted as saying that as a kid he wanted to be Nile Rodgers. So he’s no trad folk artist.

What’s more, the Memory Band itself has a fuzzy and varied identity, with members coming and going. It’s no surprise, then, that the more folky second album, Apron Strings, didn’t sound much like the first album’s folktronica. And the band for this evening’s goings-on at the Slaughtered Lamb, courtesy of the fine Electroacoustic Club, looked intriguing, comprising Stephen on guitar and vocals, ace upright bass player Jon Thorne, drummer Jon Page, singers Jess Roberts and Jenny McCormick, Sarah Scutt on accordion and recorder, Quinta on viola, and guest Sam Carter on guitar and vocals. True to form, two guests failed to show – Hannah and Liam from The Accidental.

Stephen said that they were putting the finishing touches to their third album (not a prolific output in 17 years…) and it’s fair to say that much of the evening felt like work in progress. They didn’t kick off until late either, so the set was rather short. No matter, there was lots of good stuff in there.

Opening song was Come Write Me Down from the band’s second album and, in true Memory Band style, its Copper Family roots were twisted into a fresher-sounding, lighter song with new lyrics. In addition to a number of songs from the forthcoming album – Electric Light, a spook-inducing Ghosts and A New Skin – they chose some intriguing covers, the first being Bon Iver’s Skinny Love, which Jess Roberts sang powerfully and movingly.

Another cover reflected one project that the band has been involved in – performing all the music from pagan cult movie classic The Wicker Man. Tonight they chose the sensuous Gently Johnny, which heightened the evening’s feeling of pagan celebration… although the tongue-in-cheek satanism of the Slaughtered Lamb’s basement bar venue – all black paint and upside-down pentagrams – could have confused the casual viewer as to the differences. This confusion became greater when Stephen introduced a fine cover of Love Is The Law by tortured English 60s bluesman Graham Bond, who ended his days believing he was the son of the dark loony himself, Aleister Crowley.

The tone lightened for their encore, No One Else, a lovely tune from the first album. So a good evening if not a great one. The new album is much anticipated all the same.

Here for your listening pleasure is I Wish I Wish, from Apron Strings. Sung beautifully by Nancy Wallace, it’s another example of Stephen Cracknell’s magpie-like instincts – an old song with a new tune (in this case, nicked from Rachel Unthank) and a bunch of disparate instruments that sound just right.

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