Live Review: Lowly Knights/Mumford & Sons/ Laura Marling at The Open House Festival – Part 1
It’s the final night of The Open House Festival, and what a finale it will be – Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling is a headline to be boasted by the Union Chapel or London’s Royal Festival Hall, not a small festival in Belfast on a chilly September night –and perhaps it’s a sign of Belfast’s ever-growing folk scene that the queue stretches all the way down the street. It’s an exceptional occasion for a city like Belfast, and the crowd’s mood is predictably electric.
Finally, the gates are opened, and the crowd rush into the tent. The act kicking things off are local band The Lowly Knights, who quickly launch into single ‘Devotion’. Unfortunately for the knights, something sounds a bit off – maybe it’s the absence of their backing singers, their usual vocal foil, or maybe the sound’s a bit wrong, but their vocals seem flat and off-tune. This blemish deadens the whole performance, and not even an animated performance from their fantastic cellist can lift their set.
After a short pause, band of the moment Mumford & Sons take to the stage, to frenzied reactions. I have been a Mumford & Sons fan for a while now, but not even in my wildest dreams could I imagine them playing a set as spellbinding as this. The band kicks off with the a-cappella ‘Sigh No More’, their rich, flawless harmonies flooding the tent are the aural equivalent of a roaring fire, and put Fleet Foxes to shame. Mumford & Sons have undeniable talent – the band provide a perfect, blues-tinged backdrop to Marcus’ incredible voice, and can go from barely-there, acoustic instrumentation to full-on hoedown in about 10 seconds.
To name Mumford & Son’s set’s highlights would be to print their entire set-list, so I’ll only pick a few – single ‘Little Lion Man’ was unbelievable – Marcus’ roar of ‘But it was not your fault but mine/ And it was your heart on the line/ I really fucked it up this time/ Didn’t I, my dear?’ has the emotional hit of being punched repeatedly in the stomach, and the Great Depression themed lament of ‘Dustbowl Dance’ sees Marcus taking to the drum set, and snarling ‘You are my accuser, now look in my face/ Your oppression reeks of your greed and disgrace’ with all the sneering disgust of a scorned Wildean figure.
The most impressive thing about Mumford’s gob-smacking performance is their front-man – Marcus Mumford is (ignore the cliché) born to perform – blessed with a swelling, surging, throaty roar, he puts such superhuman effort and emotion into the renditions of his lovelorn folk-songs that watching him feels almost voyeuristic – as though we are privy to a personal torment indecent to watch. Nevertheless, he transcends the performance – the image of sweat streaming off his face in gushing rivulets is one I won’t forget in a hurry.
I feel privileged to be able to have seen such a wonderful band in such an intimate setting – Mumford & Sons are destined for colossal success, and when it comes, they will deserve every single cent of it.