Bold quintet make no bones about their quest for substance over style
Jackie Butler talks to rising stars Brother and Bones ahead of their Westcountry tour dates.
Hard work can pay hefty dividends – if not always massive financial rewards – in the highly competitive world of musical endeavour.
As soulful and dramatic folk rock ensemble Brother and Bones set out on a 34-date tour of the UK this week, it was with a spirit of adventure, enjoyment and persistence that promises them longevity, if not necessarily global notoriety. That bit is still in the lap of the gods.
Their ambitious mantras tell their story quite plainly: "Substance over style. Art over celebrity. Creativity over popularity. Genius over mediocrity."
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The London-based five-piece, fronted by St Ives-raised singer and acoustic guitarist Rich Thomas, set much store by live performance and connecting with their audiences.
They've had plenty of practice, playing their own gigs across the UK – this will be their sixth tour – and supporting Devon's own Brit Award winner Ben Howard on the road, gradually building a solid fanbase.
Last week they supported The Boxer Rebellion at London's Forum, and they have just announced their own headline show at The Scala in the capital in February.
Surprisingly, they are yet to release a debut album, but they already have a few EPs under their belts, and are about to release another.
The aptly titled To Be Alive, will showcase the eclectic nature of their sound, embracing aspects of gentle acoustic folk, indie, rock, blues, jazz, funk, soul and episodes of tribal rhythm and chanting that bring to mind Adam Ant at his punk-fuelled finest.
"We are all really passionate and on the verge of being perfectionists," says guitarist James Willard, who completes the band with the twin drum power of Robin Howell-Sprent (also a Cornish export) and Yiannis Sachinis, and the bass work of Si Robinson. Together they boast the energy of punks, the swagger of rock stars and the self-belief of stadium headliners.
"We are not in a hurry– this is something we want to be doing for the rest of our lives. We want to be sure our debut LP is one that is going to stand the test of time. We want people to say 'Wow, have your heard the Brother and Bones album?'," adds James.
"We have definitely been grafting; it was really important for us to learn our craft.
"On this tour we are going as far as we can – from Aberdeen as far as Penzance – taking the old school hardcore approach and seeing things spread by word of mouth."
They now have the support of new management and a booking agent, as well as endorsement with Takamine guitars, Gretsch drums, Deusenberg guitars, Daddario strings and Fender.
Faithful videographer Luke Pilbeam and photographer Matt Holloway have also become part of the team over the last couple of years.
Luke's film for the new EP's title track was filmed as they played in America for the first time earlier this year, appearing at the Ride Festival in the Colorado mountain town of Telluride, by personal invitation of the organisers. They had been searching for "best live bands" on YouTube and came across Brother and Bones by accident. They were nominated for the Best Live Band title at both the Live Music Awards and Aim Awards last year.
"We just got a phone call inviting us and we jumped at the chance to play in a different country and on a big stage," explains James.
"They paid us enough to get out there and sort ourselves out. That's what makes this a pretty amazing job – getting paid to do what we love doing and seeing lots of different places."
To Be Alive was recorded at Monnow Valley studios on the Welsh borders where they could lose themselves in the process for three days, far away from daily life and reliable mobile phone reception.
"It's a really beautiful place," says James. "While you're doing a guitar track, there's a farmer trundling up and down in the fields outside. Everyone felt really comfortable, creative and inspired there, instead of being somewhere dark and sticky; we are thinking we might go back to do album there."
Cornwall is, naturally, a favourite place for them to play and the guys are delighted to be returning to the Acorn in Penzance where they played their first proper gig.
Brother and Bones play The Acorn, Penzance on October 24; The White Rabbit, Plymouth on October 25; The Kings Arms, Georgeham, North Devon (acoustic show) on October 26 and Mama Stones, Exeter on October 29.