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’.

3 comments for “Rediscovering Mumford and Sons

  1. 3 December 2009 at 1:49 am

    i consider myself a huge music fan that takes music very seriously, and until mumford & sons came along have felt slightly uneasy about a band i have “discovered” (annoying term but we know what we mean) hitting the big time (only exception being radiohead) – there’s something about the quality of a band being just sooooo good combined with a uniqueness about them that sets them aside from the other bands who might be “our little secret.” i’ve been screaming from the roof-tops how incredible m&s are and this time i want my non music loving friends to come back to me and say “oh, i heard them on radio 1 and i thought they were really good” and if someone comes back that doesn’t like them at all, that’s their problem and then i judge them ;)
    something’s changing for me about the bandwagon. when to jump on, off, or just be roaring from behind the damned wagon with the band on it.

  2. 4 December 2009 at 12:32 pm

    this is really, really interesting because I have been having this conversation with mates who’ve been on to them for a long time (although not as long as you!) and are thinking of jumping off the wagon. My reaction is of course you can’t go the distance with every band you see and like but their is a difference between that and a band you really take to your heart- and like Steve I have been singing their praises to people in the full knowledge that might mean having to see them at larger venues and maybe sacrifice that incredible atmosphere mixed with intimacy I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy.

    I agree with you although the record is great my real love for them is born out of the live stuff.

  3. Holly
    13 January 2010 at 9:13 pm

    I am not one of the sanctified ‘take-music-seriously’ people (at least, not in your sense of the term, I personally believe that it is vitally important to take everything in your life seriously, art and ethics most of all), and so my opinion probably doesn’t count for much here really. However, I would like to say that whilst I understand the sentiment of your emotions (I myself was dismayed to see Bruce Springsteen at Glastonbury being ‘enjoyed’ by people who a year before would have mocked him, feeling they did not deserve to listen to the great man play), I think it would be unfortunate for many if bands you cherished never became known beyond your select circles. Perhaps I do not deserve to hear great music because I don’t have the time to go to gigs and search it out for myself (I’ll leave that for you to decide, but I would hasten to promise you that my time is not spent watching reality tv shows, rather on productive, I hope worthwhile activities), but I am mighty glad that some of the good stuff does become more well-known and reach my ears. I would certainly count M&Sons good stuff. Apologies that it also has to reach the ears of people that will almost certainly like anything reccommended by a Radio 1 DJ. Whether or not any group is worth continuing to give your respect to by listening to their work is, as with all art, a matter for time; as for all musicians, and men, it will be their judge.

Comments are closed.