Rediscovering Mumford and Sons

After months of bigging up one of FFS’s earliest interviewees, Mumford and Sons, I had my love for the West London foursome tested by a series of well-written but harsh reviews from the music press, some of which struck an inevitable chord.

As soon as a once-underground act gets famous, there’s an indie backlash. The cooler-than-thou writers and boarders could not be seen to like something that Fearne Cotton has played. It just would not do.

And that was certainly the case for Mumford and Sons on the release of Sigh No More. While the national press were declaring it a masterpiece, the bigger among the little guys — Drowned in Sound, The Quietus and The Fly — set about ripping it to shreds.

In a strangely bitter review The Quietus’ Hazel Sheffield called it a “lowest-common-denominator approach to folk”. Luke Slater in Drowned in Sound said: “Mumford & Sons seem to be to folk what Nickelback are to grunge. This thought is a constant thorn in this listener’s side.”

But the one criticism that struck a chord (boom boom) with me was within The Fly’s Niall Doherty’s diatribe about M&S’s use of the banjo, where he said: “They’re the musical equivalent of when you get your photo taken at Thorpe Park to make it look like you’re in the 1800s.”

Ugh. Are Mumford and Sons the band equivalent of horrid, faux-upper-class, “university outfitters” Jack Wills? All anachronistic symbols and style and no substance?

While many of my non-serious-music-fan friends are now quite big fans — having had Zane Lowe recommend them to them and seen the on the telly (the mark that it is ‘okay’ to like something for many) — the opinion of the (admittedly small) section of the London folk music scene that cannot claim to be friends with at least one member of the band appears to lean towards ‘yes’. A lot of people seem to have gone off Mumford and Sons recently.

It’s not hard to understand why. Having Edith Bowman- or Jo Wiley-voiced adverts telling you that the album from a band you cherished is “breathtaking” in much the same way you’d hear about Daniel Merryweather or U2 is truly horrible. And having the few enthusiastic but measured mentions from friends and respected blogs and websites develop into a groundswell of fanatical praise from, well, nearly everyone is bound to make you take a step back and reconsider your opinion.

But a combination of a self-enforced period of M&S-free living and the seeing new Winter Winds video has sorted it for me.

When I first saw Mumford and Sons live, supporting Johnny Flynn in Cardiff nearly two years ago, they blew me away. Their energy, passion and noise was one thing, but coupled with some seriously good songwriting and musicianship it was undeniably brilliant. While Sigh No More goes some way to capturing that passion (and does a better job than any of their previous recordings) it’s hardly surprising that it doesn’t live up to seeing M&S live. That’s when you can really feel it and sitting in your living room or on the bus it’s just never going to be the same.

The new video for Winter Winds shows those who haven’t seen the band live — and those of us who’ve taken a break — just what they’re missing. It’s all there: the noise, the excitement, the passion and the song. Crammed into a 3x4in screen.

This Quietus review is harsh, suggesting the London folk artists are “massaging each other’s egos”. I think they just like each other… just sayin’.

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