Several years ago, while browsing Myspace, I came across a band called The Madrigals (pictured above) who had a sound that particularly appealed to me; it nodded in the direction of traditional English folk music but had an altogether more unkempt, more energetic and more playful sensibility than is usually found in that genre. Imagine Saturday Looks Good To Me meets the Ernest John Moeran songbook, if you will. They also had one song on their Myspace page, the rather gloomily titled ‘My Impending Death’, that I was particularly struck with and I immediately decided upon hearing it to keep a close eye on them to see what developed. That was a few years ago and since then, to my immense disappointment, they had appeared not to have been up to awfully much. I did, however, take the opportunity to download several of their fine songs from their more lately established last.fm and Reverbnation pages when they became available. These small crumbs were good enough to whet my appetite for more, if not completely sate my appetite, and I decided not to give up on them and continued to occasionally visit their web page.
Recently, on one of these visits I noticed that their top friend (don’t worry young Facebookers, an elderly relative will be happy to explain) was now something called Columbus & Crusoe. The name intrigued me, I liked the evocation of distant travellers whose divergent stories are forever defined by their respective destinations, and I decided to have a look. I’m glad now that I did and I suspect that you will be too. It seems that I’ve been rather hard on the personnel of The Madrigals; the picture I had formed of them taking endless lazy picnics by the banks of the Thames now seems quite foolish. Three of their number; Ben Brown, Rachel Horwood and Rachel Aggs, have actually been very busy little bees, as you will soon discover (my apologies to Harriet if you’ve been similarly busy but you’re not so easy to stalk on the internet as the others). The two Rachels and Ben are actually members of Columbus & Crusoe, which you should have guessed by now is a band; providing Fiddle, Mandolin, Banjo, Accordion, Drums, Percussion and Vocals between them. The other, equally important, band members are; Chris Belson, Jack Barralcough and George Maude (band pictured below).
So how does Columbus & Crusoe compare to The Madrigals? Well, the overall sound still falls squarely into the indie-folk category but there’s also an alt country flavoured undertone and, undeniably, a commitment to a more professional and polished sound. The band have so far released one album, called ‘The Church Recordings’ and available as a free download on their last.fm page, and quite frankly it’s absolutely magnificent.
The energy and invention obvious in the song-writing of The Madrigals is present here but is now fitted out with tighter playing, a clean production, and clever arrangements that are almost orchestral at times. The icing on the cake though is undoubtedly the rich, baritone vocal talents of singer/guitarist Chris Belson. I’m sure that he’ll soon tire of the obvious comparisons to Leonard Cohen but that’s what immediately springs to mind on first hearing. The other acts that occur as regards the music are Low, The Divine Comedy, Richard Hawley and Streetlamp ‘Festive Thirty’ favourite Stephen Harrison. Strangely, although this terrific album has been up on last.fm for several months I appear to be one of only two listeners. It’s heartbreaking to think of this excellent music being virtually ignored while much less deserving artists clock up play after play. Accordingly, I’m bringing this to your attention and ideally at least some of The Streetlamp readership will take steps to remedy this perverse situation; you won’t regret it.
Columbus & Crusoe are also now part of a new collective and label called Issue No1. The label's first four-band, four-track, EP was released in January and it features the following superb Columbus & Crusoe track 'This Feels Like A New Low' (taken from The Church Recordings).
The other bands on the EP are Me & The Neck (who include C&C’s Ben and George in their number), Tight Lines, and Leptons (about whom I know nothing but suspect that they may also include C&C personnel). The four songs are certainly all very good and available as MP3 downloads on a 'name your price' basis, so check them out.
Happily, the Issue No. 1 website states that;
"Every three months we'll release an EP of new songs, one from each band, streamed for free on our site or available to purchase and download from BandCamp.com."
You can’t say fairer than that and, as always, I do suggest that if you like the music then you should support the band in any way you can; blog about them, buy a t-shirt, see them live, invite them to your home for a long weekend, whatever seems best really. Now here's a nice, little diy video of Columbus & Crusoe's 'Myself' (also available on The Church Recordings).
I should probably also take this opportunity to mention that C&C’s Ben & George were also members of Essay Like Nephew who sadly split in January of last year but still have numerous fine indie-folk-pop tracks available for streaming/free download on their website 'here'.
Finally (phew), as some of you may know, the two Rachels, along with Ros Murray, are also members of diy, afro-punk trio Trash Kit (pictured above). I had this band brought to my attention last year by Knut of Eardrums Music but hadn’t realised until now that it contained two Madrigals. Trash Kit are very different musically from Columbus & Crusoe but have me equally enthused. As keen readers will already have noted, I’m a big fan of The Slits and they seem like the obvious point of reference to Trash Kit’s sound. The other band they bring to my mind is the excellent but often overlooked Ludus (a band who seem ripe for a Kitten Wine retrospective now that I think on it). Perhaps a joint Streetlamp piece on both bands can be organised later in the year? In the meantime, here's the video for Trash Kit's Cadets.
Well, I think that’s quite enough to keep you going for the present.