More People Should Really Know About: The Often Herd

Newcastle-upon-Tyne has many claims to fame, not least of all its contribution to the world of music which includes the UK’s first guitar hero Hank Marvin and his fellow Shadow Bruce Welch, the Animals, Lindisfarne, Sting, and Mark Knopfler to name only a few. There is a modern day band that calls Newcastle home that is mixing a touch of psychedelia and jazz to a basic bluegrass line-up and writing songs that are inspired by the North East of England rather than Appalachia. The Often Herd comprise Evan Davies on mandolin, Robert Hughes on guitar, American Niles Krieger on fiddle, and Sam Quintana on bass, and have released an EP and their first full-length album, ‘Where the Big Lamp Shines’.

The band rose phoenix-like from the ashes of The Kentucky Cow Tippers who played a more traditional form of bluegrass. The Often Herd didn’t include a banjo player in their line-up, though Tabitha Benedict does guest on banjo on their album, as they wanted to use the space created by an absence of banjo to expand on the bluegrass genre. Bluegrass is a genre where instrumental virtuosity and vocal harmonies are highly prized, and the Often Herd deliver in these areas. Apart from their instrumental ability and desire to expand, and even sometimes move beyond bluegrass, it is the local inspiration behind a lot of their songs that adds to the band’s appeal. Songs like ‘Sycamore Gap’, an instrumental recorded before the tree was mysteriously felled. On ‘A Sparrow Lingers’ the band looks at the juxtaposition of the freedom of the countryside, with the restrictions of industrial and city life. The band also have a sense of humour, best seen in their celebration of the Newcastle-based institution Greggs on ‘Cheese and Onion Pasty Rag’.

If the band name Often Herd has a slight sense of déjà vu about it, the band are big fans of progressive bluegrassers the Seldom Scene, as well as traditional artists like the Stanley Brothers. As well as being popular on the UK festival circuit, they have played the IBMA Official Showcase and they won “The Best European Bluegrass Band 2018” at the La Roche Bluegrass Festival in France. While they may be based in the North East, their music also evokes the sunnier climes of Southern California as well which adds to the whole musical experience.

If you like excellent and dynamic musicianship that looks back to old-time and bluegrass music while reaching beyond any inherent limits in those genres, with songs that are rooted in a sense of place but are also relevant to today’s issues, then listeners would do a lot worse than to seek the Often Herd out. Don’t just take my word for it, Bellowhead and Leveret’s Sam Sweeney is a fan, “It’s fabulous, really exciting to listen to. Tight, virtuosic and the kind of thing you just know would be even better live!”.

About Martin Johnson 408 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.
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