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Wille & The Bandits Live London Review & Interview

16 Jan


Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I was two bandits short of a band when I sat down with Wille in a red be-curtained anteroom at The Islington to discuss the imminent live performance and the new album ‘Grow’.

When I asked Wille to outline a Banditine gig, he described the experience as a “dynamic” journey, explaining that even though they had the songs to perform an entirely “bouncy” and upbeat show, they prefer to put their audience through their emotional paces. Certainly the heavy-rock centred numbers and the reggae-fusion material had the crowd at their most animated. However there was an engagement with the slower, introspective songs which had a trance-inducing hypnotism.

As I listened to ‘Grow’ on the Tube, getting hot and bothered on my way to North London, I could almost have been trekking through an African savannah, caught in a Caribbean heat wave or mopping my brow in a Deep-South jazz cafe owing to the global journey the album undertakes.

Incredible genre-jumping from heavy-rock/reggae fusions to blues and bluegrass demanded instrumentation to match. Matthew Brooks swapped seamlessly from 6-string guitar to electric double bass, while Andrew Naumann played the djembe (a ‘goblet’ drum) and the ‘ordinary’ drums sometimes simultaneously! Just to hammer the point home that he was a one-man bandit in a band of one-man bands he also used a tongue-drum for good measure. Wille explained beforehand that “carrying around so many instruments can be a pain” but that “music [was like] painting, the more colours in your pallet, the more texture you can use…” I asked Wille if he knew how many instruments appeared on ‘Grow’ and he replied “are we counting the drum kit as one instrument?” It was clearly a question he hadn’t considered before and he gave up the count at eighteen.

I inquired whether they learnt new instruments for fun or do they try and match them to new ideas for songs? “We just go on YouTube, and if we find a really cool instrument, you can usually find someone selling it somewhere”. This magpie approach, taking advantage of the ubiquity of digital music, appears to have grown their world-music sound.

‘Dylan-esque’ is a label quite often ascribed to Wille’s lyrics, and resonates most noticeably for me in ‘Still Go Marching In”, an anti-war song with the refrain “when will that rainbow, when will that rainbow come?” Wille told me that “people like to frame music in terms of comparisons, which is fair enough” but while he agreed it was humbling to be compared to Seasick Steve or Bob Dylan, “at the end of the day it’s your message”.

The gig drew to a close with ‘Angel’, a 12-minute instrumental on the album, but “quite a bit longer live” Wille chuckled. This was, I discovered, the song that was closest to his heart during a live performance as it explores the passing of his mother: “although it’s an instrumental it has a real journey for me”. With this insight into the music I listened more closely as the band spiralled in electronic sprawls and Matt wailed bluesily on the 6-string, lapping up the applause to his solo.

I was still contemplating the penultimate song, the quite spiritual ‘Angel’ as the underground sign of the same name passed over my head. This marked the start of my journey away from the venue and back to civilisation, cynicism and commercial society from which I had blissfully escaped for a few hours.

WATB have “something for everyone” in their sheer range of musical styles and genre-fusions. There are still tickets for the remainder of the album tour and I heartily suggest you go and that you are not put off by the label ‘heavy-rock’. The crowd consisted of all ages, all appreciating the technical musicianship and thoughtful lyrics.

‘Grow’ is available via iTunes and in CD format via the band’s website.

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