Having premiered their ‘Sails’ album live in full for the first time back in August at the Water Rats in King’s Cross, The Travelling Band returned to the Borderline in London on Tuesday as part of a tour to promote the new record. The scope and breadth of The Travelling Band’s ambition is fully apparent throughout ‘Sails’ – traversing a range of styles from pop to folk, and from indie to Americana.
Inevitably, much of tonight’s set comes from the new record, ‘Mopping Forwards’ featuring early on – Jo Dudderidge’s acutely observed song about a club worker’s perverse attempt at floor cleaning supposedly something of a metaphor for life itself. It’s a perfectly judged number, with great harmonies, violin, and a mid-song guitar break that wouldn’t sound out of place on a country tune. Adam Gorman and Jo Dudderidge alternate the singing duties throughout the show, with Dudderidge seated for the early part of the performance at the keyboards. ‘Passing Ships’ from the ‘Screaming is Something’ album, with its lovely piano figure and rousing drum rally mid-way through the song, proves a rousing follow up – another tune about relationship issues. So many of The Travelling Band’s songs seem to feature a water or water-based motif that often proves the setting or basis for a song about relationship strife.
‘Loser’ has the band moving into more low key, sombre and melancholic territory while ‘Into the Water’ – where Jo Dudderidge sings about his attempts to make a transatlantic relationship work, “Into the Water it will be my home/If it takes for years I’ll swim alone” – suggests the Atlantic as the gulf between himself and his partner, and his futile attempts to traverse it perhaps a metaphor for the breakdown of their love affair. The band then reach back to 2008 for ‘Only Waiting,’ which receives the best reception of all the songs on the night, while ‘Battlescars’ – sounding as Mumford & Sons like as any of their material – proves almost as popular, reaching a stirring crescendo and prompting a crowd singalong.
‘Last Night I Dreamt of Killing You,’ with its jangly guitar and echoes of Belle Sebastian, one of the high points of the album launch evening, also proves to be the case again tonight – a song inspired by Jo Dudderidge’s girlfriend’s dream that he murdered her (perhaps by drowning?). ‘Leftover Lines,’ which also happens to be the last song on the album, is a fitting coda at the end of their Borderline set, the line in the song, “I thought you were looking for a breath to fill your sails,” giving the eponymous title for the album.
The Travelling Band ensemble finish ‘Leftover Lines’ by rocking out in commanding style – a minor tribute to The Band featuring towards the song’s finale, with Harry Fausing Smith playing a saxophone refrain from ‘It Makes No Difference’ (if memory serves), thereby showing the breadth of the group’s influences. They then return for an encore with ‘Sundial’ and some into-the-audience participation with Jo Dudderidge coming down from the stage to commune with the audience on lead vocal and acoustic guitar.
While there’s no doubting the talent and individuality of what The Travelling Band have to offer, the audience reception appeared somewhat muted tonight. A Borderline attendee, and also something of a devotee of The Travelling Band, attributed their lack of major success to date to not getting the right breaks. However, the paradox perhaps is that the extent of their diversity and range of styles is not only a key strength, but also perhaps makes it harder for them to establish a clear identity in an overcrowded musical marketplace. Versatility, after all, can prove to be a case of damning with faint praise in some quarters. Ultimately, though, let’s hope that the strength of their songwriting and consummate playing abilities will see The Travelling Band through – and it’s immensely gratifying to see them still evolving and not content to rest on their laurels.