The folk-pop outfit talk to Alexandra Petropoulos about their mishmash of sounds
Once upon a time in a town not so far away, Keston, there lived an old shoemaker. Times were tough for the poor shoemaker, nobody wanted their shoes mended and business was slow. The cobbler, who was also a fiddler, played his heart out in the local tavern, lamenting his bad luck. Soon the people came to listen and they danced and danced until their shoes wore thin and were in need of repair. The more he played, the more shoes needed mending.
It is this delightful folk tale on which the Keston Cobblers Club have based not only their name, but their ethos: “We just try and make people come and dance. We try and do stuff that draws people in in some way,” says Julia Lowe.
The five-piece folk-pop outfit is fronted by Julia and her brother Matt. With folk musicians for parents, from a young age the two were often brought along to local folk clubs, ceilidhs and folk camps. “It was essentially all these hippies and me in the woods doing folk music,” says Julia, “and Matt was just like, ‘this is awful. I’m surrounded by these women with hairy armpits dancing around me!’” Matt pipes in flatly, “it wasn’t my idea of a holiday when I was ten years old.”
Brother and sister are joined by Tom Sweet, Bethan Ecclestone and Harry Stasinopoulos, with no band member sticking to just one instrument. “Bar maybe Harry on the drums,” Matt says, “we kind of generally all switch around. There’s not really one person who plays one thing… It is a real mishmash.”
More than just their instrumentation (which includes tuba, ukulele, trumpet, accordion, banjo, children’s toys and more), this mishmash also extends into their style. Their second album, Wildfire, is an endearing mix of genres – folk, pop and everything between – but tightly-knit vocal harmonies and an orchestral sense of composition tie the whole album together. Opener, ‘Laws’ is a delicate waltz with rolling moments of gloom. ‘St Tropez’ begins with beautiful a capella singing before busting out into some poppy synth and excellent brass lines, and ‘Contrails’ is a charmingly catchy folk-pop aubade. The anthemic title-track is about Julia’s phobia of fire. “I used to have OCD,” she admits. “I was awful… We came halfway back from holiday once because I thought I’d left the iron on.” But more than that, the song is also about being free and wild.
It’s this desire to run free that inspired a rather creative way to launch their album – the world’s first adult-only, album launch ‘Questival.’ The Wildfire Adventure Camp is “about being somewhere where you can be wild and free,” Julia explains. Asked to ‘leave your modern day lifelines at the door,’ the camp encourages punters to dive into the activities – including archery, swing dancing, and silversmithing – without the distractions of everyday life (no electronic devices allowed). “It’s not just your ears that can enjoy music, we want to give people an overall experience.”