Mumford & Sons
4 October 2010
The question of authenticity in folk music is age old, and seeing Mumford and Sons live at the Brighton Dome did little to dispel that debate. In all fairness, how ‘rootsy’ can you really be, when you’re referencing ‘roots’ from a rural context that no longer exists and you’re a middle class, well–educated band from London?
That said, there is a fine line between sincerity in your influences and jumping on the band wagon of something popular – there is no denying that folky music, right now, has broad commercial appeal and has emerged well into the mainstream.
Although I’m definitely not accusing them of that; Mumford and Sons formed because of a shared love of country and bluegrass and do hail, of course, from the same London folk scene as Laura Marling and Noah and the Whale, neither of which you could accuse of not being genuine. Even so, I’m still not entirely convinced.
I couldn’t help but feel it was all a bit of an act. Don’t get me wrong, they are playing it well. Everyone else seems to be converted and with almost religious fervour. There was definitely something almost evangelical about the atmosphere; hands held up in the air like they were reverencing a Baptist sermon. Not surprising then, that Marcus Mumford has often been described as playing the role of a brimstone preacher. For me, the charge of role-playing says it all.
But then again, does any of this really matter if it’s done well? Personally, yes. Especially with something as supposedly heartfelt and effortless as folk. And especially when there are other artists out there who don’t seem to be pretending and even more so when they are supporting. An opening by Johnny Flynn, in my eyes at least, is a hard act to follow.
All things considered, the foursome didn’t do a bad job. Live, they didn’t sound as samey as I expected they could have and in fact the set was with rife dramatic contrasts.
The band opened their set with just four reedy voices, charged with emotional intensity, over minimal metal-edged chords soaring out of clouds of dry ice; then moved onto the more conventional folky style with a backing brass section and strings that has brought their recent commercial success; but then wrapped things up with more fervid, percussive indie sounds. It was a successful straddling of genres and I was impressed by their energy. I can’t query the honesty of that.