Saturday 14 May 2011

Introducing... Room Full Of Owls

Note: I wrote this piece for another publication last October, but unfortunately it never made it to print. I recently unearthed it and think that this awesome band deserves as much publicity as possible, so here you go!

I'm sitting with Room Full Of Owls, an up-and-coming folk band from Alston, Cumbria. There's a lot to discuss before they go onstage for a charity battle of the bands, but first there's a very important question to be asked. How many owls does it take to fill a room? "Fifty, in an average room," drummer Steve Orchiton tells me. "It depends on the room though."

Having formed in late 2008, the band have been slowly building a name for themselves, including support slots for the Joy Formidable - who recently headlined the NME Radar tour - and the Airborne Toxic Event, as well as playing several local festivals. Recently, the band were invited down to BBC Lancashire to do a live session for the broadcaster's BBC Introducing initiative.

The band performing for BBC Introducing
"We were really nervous about it," says frontwoman Fiona Clayton. "It was quite hard because we didn't know if we were on the radio or not."

"It was horrible, just standing there," adds guitarist Tom MacMillan, a music student at Newcastle University. "You get your first chord ready on guitar for like fifteen seconds, sweating!"

"I fell over and pulled the laptop wire out!" laughs bassist Jan Cardy. Although the broadcast didn't set their fan pages alight, they've had offers to play within the region again. This happily also coincided with the launch of their first iTunes single, Heartbeats, which singer Fiona describes as "a promotional thing" rather than being the first steps towards commercialism, as most people seem to treat releases - but then again, who makes money off selling their music these days anyway?

All jokes aside,  is the name meant to have rural connotations? Apparently, Room Full Of Owls was chosen as "the most random backstage request we could think of". In fact, the band are clearly unwilling to, er, pigeonhole themselves as a "folk" band, and though Fiona admits a fondness for Mumford and Sons, the rest of the band describe their style as "wall of sound", "progressive rock" and somewhat bizarrely "postrock". "That drawn-out instrumental stuff," assures Tom, detecting my skepticism.

Live, the Owls are upbeat and danceable, the fiddle accompaniment giving a warm and rustic sound. "Legs In A Bag" - a song about "dancing very slowly with yourself" - is catchy and surprisingly funky. The stage banter is less inspiring. "I get told not to talk at gigs 'cause I ramble on... yeah," mumbles Fiona. It's in a cover of Magnetic Man's "Perfect Stranger" that the band's previously mentioned influences spill out: the guitar is thrashed into a distorted roar and the band build up to an enormous shoegaze-style crescendo.

There's more to Room Full Of Owls than being just another band with a fiddle swept up in the recent folk revival, then, but it's clear they're only just beginning to explore their craft. It's clear this little gig is far too small for the Owls - and at the end of the night, they're crowned the winner of the battle of the bands. It's the first of many awards, hopefully.

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