Wille and The Bandits are on tour around the UK promoting their third album 'Grow'. I have listened to this album an obscene amount of times in the weeks since it first kissed my letterbox hello, so much so that I’d swear that I heard my neighbour singing one of their songs whilst putting out the bins. I went to The Islington, November 7th 2013, to hear it for real with my own ears and swoon under the intensity. Don’t worry Londoners if you missed their only London date, I’m sure they will be back. Have a look here for dates near you.
Supporting act were rumHoney a five piece from London who got pulses racing with their passionate grooves and breaks whilst rock/blues-ing us. The lead singer Sky Wood had all the moves and soul of a young Paul Rodgers and felt every beat and note change. It’s great to see a band playing and enjoying each other’s company through little glances, great guitar parts and travelling bass and if you weren’t aware of drum signatures, accents and time changes, the singer danced each one like a true conductor lost in his own love affair with music. Their track Geneva was a corker and another highlight was Secret Smile which they dedicated to Lisa Mckeown and the other people that had made the night such a success.
Wille and The Bandits play the music of my holidays. Long days surfing at Lizard Point and long nights listening to music and local bands. Lyrics expressing worries, hopes and fears, loves and losses through poetry and rhythm set in organic time signatures.
The band are Wille Edwards on guitar, Matt Brookes on bass and Andrew Naumann on drums. I underplayed that a bit, some kind of wizardry is involved. This three piece swap between instruments each having at least 2, accompanied with several techniques. Wille plays an electro acoustic, acoustic and an electric lap steel, sometimes he uses a slide and other times as held acoustic, often interspersing between two and regularly manipulating sounds with an array of pedals, achieving some seemingly impossible effects. If this wasn’t enough, he sings the most amazingly penned songs with a strong confidence and touching tone. Matt plays a body-less upright bass with every skill going and when nothing else will do, out comes the bow! He then has a six string electric bass which, on occasion, gets swung to the side so he can flip back to the upright. Ah man, you have to see them play live, it’s really mind blowing. So, behind sits Andrew looking like his arms and legs have nothing to do with him, effortlessly pounding out the most insane rhythms, breaks, grooves intensely, for time frames that anyone else would collapse under and then slow and shockingly powerful, in a crazy subtle drag. He plays his kit, adorned with a crocheted bass drum ‘curtain?’ with the band’s name on it. It all looks quite un-nefarious, but then a rhythm demon is awakened. Snares are swapped with djembe between numbers, beaters, sticks and hands (sometimes one stick, one hand) are used to reverberate skins and cymbals, it’s then the tongue drum comes in to play, adding a whole new dynamic to join the party.
The Islington is an intimate setting and after rumHoney, Wille and The Bandits took to the stage and jammed quite a blend, lulling us in to their style and changing the vibrations of the room, almost siren like, calling to the audience. Within a minute the place was packed and the notes flowed in to their opener of Keep Your Head Up from their first album ‘New Breed’. It’s quite an easy going number settling you in to the vibe with messages of “You got to get outside and see the beauty of this world, Live with love and love life and you’ll get through the troubled times”.
The scene was set. With his dreadlocks pulled through the busted out lid of his top hat (which ignites my ever glinting embers of love for Harpo Marx) Wille smiles through his mad staring eyes and captivates us all with a modest yet commanding welcome. Matt seems more shy yet confident through his musicality as a bass player and Andrew is just in the zone, ready for anything. They joke about how extortionate the parking charges are and then on to the next song.
Butterfly For A Day, the 5th track on ‘Grow’ is a song about not messing up the world, basically that we’re not here long and not to take everything, leaving the future empty. Their lyrics are profound but not preachy, the music and structure of every song is so upbeat and changeable that you really get lost in the tempo and chord sequences. The layers within this band are immeasurable. You can’t possibly watch all of them at the same time and I found myself staring at hands jiggling over fretboards and anticipating the moment the drummer would combust. Honestly this happened for 17 songs. Some songs are more serene than others such as Mammon, the incredibly astonishing and moving Under The Grove from their ‘Break Free’ album and of course Angel which is the first song I ever heard of theirs.
Angel was originally on their 6 track EP ‘Samsara’ which I managed to get on CD, as I believe it’s only available on digital download now, but this incredibly beautiful song is also on ‘Grow’ and my gosh, how they played it live! It has all the exquisite features that I first fell for when I heard Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac playing Albatross when I was a kid. It’s an epic instrumental feat, complete rolling drum patterns with beaters on cymbal atmospherics, unbelievable builds, mesmerising guitar parts with other worldly vocal harmonies and an ‘I think I just lost my soul’ bass circus event that I had to applaud. Thankfully I was not alone and the crowd went a bit wild cheering it. There’s a video of the event
There was a moment, as at a lot of gigs these days, when some people decide to have a little chat at the back, no, no no! The Bandits have got that one covered… invite the crowd to sing along. We full on drowned out the chatty people, one nil! Superb handling. I loved that.
I, as always, could write about every song they played, each with precision of every note, the slide, tapping, slapping, plucks and drags, pedal effects, rim shots, the whole gambit but you should see it for yourself. I’ve never seen a sound engineer seat dancing every beat as I did at this gig for both bands. It was that special. They will haunt you. The notes, the style, the lyrics.
They played two covers, which they totally made their own. The first was Black Magic Woman which they introduced as influenced by Santana and Peter Green beforehand. It was like some kind of voodoo mind trick, again you can look it up on youtube. The second cover was their encore, Dire Straits Money For Nothing. I still can’t quite get my head round what they did with it. The place went nuts and the temperature got even higher. What a great night!
To lubricate our cheered out voices and because no one wanted the night to end, most of the crowd packed out the bar afterwards to talk about the gig and drink with the band members. This is how it should be every time. Marvellous!
This genius has been appreciated by numerous festival goers across Europe and seen them welcomed on tour by Deep Purple, John Butler Trio, Joe Bonamassa, Status Quo, Eric Bibb, Roots Manuva and Finley Quaye, spreading the word far and gathering a following for the Plymouth trio.
What city people don't realise is that in the evenings, in small towns and villages, people gather on beaches and in little pubs or drive to a friend’s house with instruments to play and create music.
I'm not discounting my many friends who lug their weary souls and beloved instruments, amps and hardware after work to rehearsals, gigs and jams around the cities, but please be aware that it really shouldn't be this commercial or tiresome. Maybe, with all this city pressure, something of the content is lost, the beauty and message of what is truly important. Wille and The Bandits have it and they’ll show it to you.
Keep Your Head Up
Butterfly for a Day
Got To Do Better
Black Magic Woman
Trouble? Cornwall Knees Up
Son of the Gun
Why d’ya do it?
Still go Marching In
Under the Grove
Jack the Lad
Try to Be Yourself
Money For Nothing
All articles are © Michelle Nevill