Mumford and Sons

Banjo Princes of Britain

Sep 01, 2008 Photography by Andy Willsher Fall 2008 - Jenny Lewis
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"Not everyone sees the genius in bluegrass,” says Mumford and Sons vocalist/guitarist Marcus Mumford. “Our banjo player, Winston, is the driving force behind the bluegrass leanings in Mumford and Sons. He taught himself how to play banjo while in high school. He’s really the bluegrass guy, but we all love it.”  The London quartet’s music isn’t all bluegrass influences, however; Mumford and Sons’ debut EP, Lend Me Your Eyes, integrates indie rock with traditional country as well as various folk influences. Characterized by Marcus Mumford’s husky vocals and heart-on-sleeve lyrics, the group tends to oscillate between dark and stirring ballads like “White Blank Page” and barn-burning sing-a-longs like “Roll Away Your Stone.”

 Indie-folk may be nothing new here in America—artists like Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Conor Oberst, and The Mountain Goats have expanded on various roots traditions over the years to the glee of a whole new generation of listeners—but in England, the genre is just now taking off, with a broad spectrum of young musicians plying their own country’s folk traditions into an updated indie aesthetic. London-based quartet Mumford and Sons is part of a collective of roots-oriented U.K. musicians who creatively cross-pollinate, record, and play in each other’s bands.

This London neo-folk “scene” (for lack of a better term) loosely resembles L.A.’s counterculture Laurel Canyon community of the late ’60s: Marcus Mumford and bassist Ted Dwane Mumford are also currently the bass player and drummer, respectively, for the young movement’s flagship artist, Laura Marling. Banjo player extraordinaire Winston Marshall Mumford and keyboardist Ben Lovett Mumford also lend their services to solo artist Alessi, and it’s anyone’s guess how many live sit-ins the four Mumford members have had with other London-based folk artists.

“The word ‘scene’ is always a bit of shame, really,” laughs Marcus. “Nobody has the intention of being a part of a scene, but there is definitely more of a rootsy thing going on at the moment. I think there’s an accessibility to folk music that’s more dominant than, say, rock music. You just need an acoustic guitar and a fiddle or something and you can make a folk band. I think that’s the simplistic glory of it as well. There’s a kind of back-to-basics approach that’s catching on a bit here.”

As a band, Mumford and Sons are still relatively young. Formed in the winter of 2007, they re-leased their released their debut EP this past July. “I just started writing songs in the beginning of last year,” says Marcus. “I went to see a gig when I was at university in Edinburgh. It was Charlie [Fink] from Noah and the Whale, a guy called King Charles, and Winston was playing with a band called Captain Kick and The Cowboy Ramblers. I was really getting into bluegrass at the time, and when I saw those guys, I got really inspired and started writing.”

After relocating to London, Marcus hooked up with the rest of the band members while they were all playing with various singer/songwriters at a folk venue on Kings Road called Bosun’s Locker. “When we started, we just rehearsed on the curb outside the venue or at the soundcheck on stage,” laughs Marcus. “We never really had established parts. I just had a song and everyone kind of played along. Like a hoedown. It all came out of playing live that we even formed the band, because I was playing songs in London and various guys would just come and sit in—like the fiddler from Noah and the Whale would come and play one night, then Charlie [Fink] would play with me sometimes, and Laura [Marling] would sing. Eventually, Ted, Ben, and Winston stuck. It wasn’t until we started writing songs together that we realized this was an actual band and not just a singer/songwriter with a couple of mates.” Although Marcus often refers to his band members as “brothers,” the individual members are merely mutual friends who all took the stage name of Mumford to give the group a familial connotation.

Currently, Mumford and Sons are working on a followup EP that Marcus describes as more collaborative, as all four members are contributing to the songwriting—Marcus alone wrote the majority of Lend Me Your Eyes. The band just joined Laura Marling and Johnny Flynn for their debut North American tour, which started in mid-September.

As for Mumford and Sons and London’s burgeoning underground folk scene, it’s doubtful that either will remain underground for very much longer. Laura Marling’s debut, which Marcus also plays on, was recently nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. “I think it’s refreshing the vibe is catching on a bit,” says the Marcus of the folk movement’s expanding notoriety. “We’re all lifers, though. We just like playing. If it’s popular, that’s wonderful, but if it’s not, we’ll probably keep doing it.” 



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Tom
September 5th 2018
4:58am

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