Naming your popular beat combo after a vicious gang of 19th-century thieves and robbers from South London – and female at that – may seem an interesting choice for an Alt-folk (their description) band from East London. However, this debut is one example of when to expect the unexpected. For ‘Next Time Round’ by the Forty Elephant Gang is a very enjoyable first effort, strong songs and good musicianship, with an underlying upbeat feel throughout.
There is a classic British feel to the album, with a number of clear influences, including the Beatles, the Verve and Blur in both music and lyrics, and this feel is further enhanced by references to milk floats, bringing in the washing, throwing sickies, going to the council, calling the gasman and talk of mum (as opposed to ‘mom’, which is refreshing). The replacement in our language of ‘th’ with ‘v’ or ‘f’ throughout the album leaves the listener in no doubt from where the band hails… ‘Strange Fings Happening’ is just one of several examples. But this is no way reduces the charm of the album.
The 11 songs are traditional style and contemporary folk, blues, touches of gospel and even a tilt at a ’60s ballad. Songs are generally structured around fine mandolin and slide guitar and there is excellent use of cello and accordion as well as suitably placed hand claps. There is a good mix of pace, some tracks very bright and breezy (‘Beside You’, ‘Better Man’), nestled alongside very traditional folk numbers (‘Young Man’s Game’ ‘Sweet Marie’) and those aforementioned strong Beatles influences (‘Songs of Praise’ – very Sgt Peppers, and ‘Light on Water’ – hints of John and Paul at their folkiest).
A couple of tracks feel a little album padding and at times some of the clever key changes challenge the vocal to keep this side of ultimate strain, but overall an enjoyable album. Gawd bless yer.