Gig review: Admiral Fallow @ The Portland Arms, Cambridge

“We’re only known in the UK really, and maybe a couple geeks in the U.S. Perhaps a guy in Japan and some Portuguese fella too” announced Admiral Fallow frontman Louis Abbott. Well, with a quickly growing army of fans, widespread critical acclaim and even a recent appearance on Jo Whiley’s Radio 2 show to boot, you’d be inclined to think the name of this six-piece Scottish outfit may soon be more widely known.

Easing us gently into the evening was the delightful Siobhan Wilson; who with an alluring voice and an air of a musical sophistication all too lacking these days, quickly charmed all in attendance. Opening with the gentle chimes of a Xylophone; you could have heard a pin drop as she had the audience captivated within seconds. With her face creased up in anguish; soft Scottish tones took on a Gallic flair as in French, now accompanied by acoustic guitar, she sang angst ridden love songs. With a set list short enough to be scrawled on her hand, but sweet enough to keep all entranced, Siobhan Wilson is definitely one worth checking out.

And so to a jam packed Portland Arms, Admiral Fallow took to the stage. Over the next 90 minutes we were treated to a cracking array of rousing melodies, heartfelt melancholy numbers and a good smattering of well humoured Glaswegian abuse. Perfect. Touring to promote new album, ‘Tree Bursts in Snow’, the band got us off to a flier with the album title track, allowing the set to build slowly as soft male and female vocals were joined by a nice balance of keyboard, guitars, drums and flute. It was a good indication of what was to come; lead singers Abbott and Sarah Hayes combine well together vocally while the whole band seem to be constantly moving between instruments from song to song. Childhood memories in the form of ‘Subbuteo’ came next; and as with a number of Fallow songs, intimate lyrics and the sound of woodwind evokes a real feeling of familiarity with the music, and ultimately with the band themselves. As we moved through the set, songs both old and new came and went; current single ‘Paper Trench’ is a good example of the catchy hooks they seem to do so well, and you’ll find your self exclaiming ‘Holy Moses’ and ‘Holy Cow’ to events really quite undeserving of either for days afterwards.

The small back room here was made for bands like this – from a sweat box moving as one to the more lively numbers, in seconds you’ve got a audience as enclosed and personal as you’ll find for the songs of a more melancholy nature. ‘Isn’t this World Enough?’ was the one of the more lively examples, and for me the highlight also. It was a joyous crowd singalong led by a tambourine armed Abbott, while an accordion, church organ sounding keyboards and lilting vocals made for an uplifting epic. With the the crowd singing in unison, I can see this one quickly moving further down the set as encore material. With the intricacy of their songs and the number of instruments involved, care does need to be taken however. Despite warnings that the band themselves were adorning ear plugs and that they were “going to play the big drums”; ‘Brother’ sadly lost itself underneath these very drums. Trying to make out some words and a tune through gritted teeth and flinching eyelids proved a bit much for me anyhow. ‘Four Bulbs’ was beautiful however. With all six band members downing tools, with the exception of an acoustic guitar and perfectly harmonised voices, this was stripped back and laid bare indie-folk at it’s best. As the band shared a bottle of whiskey amongst themselves on stage, the set progressed through to it’s encore, with mainstays from debut album ‘Boots met my face’ being opted for here – the pounding drum and Abbott’s distinctly Scottish brogue closing things off with the fantastic ‘Squealing Pigs’.

With the release this week of ‘Tree Bursts in Snow’, the remainder of a massive UK tour to be played out and a number of festival spots over the summer, 2012 promises to be a busy year for Admiral Fallow. Style wise? Well, there’s a whole host of influences in there. They’ve songs that keep you guessing and even more so, they’ll keep you interested. Pace and direction seem to change in an instant and with a mightily impressive live show as well, the band are surely destined for big things. Those geeks in US, Japan and Portugal know a good thing when they hear it.

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