The Often Herd are an Anglo-American UK-based four-piece with influences drawn from psychedelia, folk-rock, bluegrass and jazz. From the industrial North East, Songwriters Rupert Hughes and Evan Davies front the line-up on guitar and mandolin alongside American-born fiddler Niles Krieger and jazz bassist Sam Quintana. Where The Big Lamp Shines is their self-penned debut album, a ten-track collection that includes two instrumentals.
It’s one of Davies’s that, led by Niles Krieger’s fiddle and featuring Noel Dashwood on dobro, opens the starting gate, Inner Peace, a song about his spontaneous road trip getting away from the noise and bustle, going off the grid with a couple of nomadic buskers “camping in a ditch of yellow leaves” and, finding that “quiet isn’t lonely”, a reminder to take time out. Hughes’s Casablanca brings his more jangly high-string guitar to bear on Casablanca, another song about taking off, this time after being told “she didn’t want to see me for a little while” before returning “tail between my legs”, but essentially about being led by that “mystery wind” to “another stranger’s bed” to fill the loneliness.
The lively Sycamore Gap is the first bluegrassy fiddle, guitar and banjo instrumental written by Krieger. The other, a band composition, is Cheese And Onion Pasty Rag, which gets a splash of tenor sax from Ben Somers. Featuring scratchy guitar lines, fiddle and mandolin, Paradise Cement Works, from whence the album title comes, relates to a disused 19th-century industrial site in Scotswood on Tyne and Wear, the song a reflection by Hughes on the industrial decline (“hard times await in the wake of the last cruise line”), the album title a reference to Big Lamp, an area of Newcastle reputedly the site of one of the city’s early electric street lights, the booklet featuring a photo of the Big Lamp Brewery the oldest microbrewery in the North East.
A similar theme also coloured by ageing and isolation informs Davies’s Hold On. In this slow waltzing mandolin-based ballad, he sings, “I used to work most every day/Now my life blood has trickled away” and were once “we lived with open arms” now “the doorbell rings bittersweet alarms” but, fuelled by the pandemic experience and how “those that we trusted don’t care… as long as they win”, holds out hope that “the frost on the window will thaw”.
The tempo picks back up with Rosary Beads, again featuring dobro with Tabitha Benedict on banjo; basically a road song about driving at night and taking care to get home safely as “the roads they wind and they narrow as you go”, though clearly couched in a metaphor for living the life chosen and “the seeds you’ve sown”.
Clocking in at over seven minutes, showcasing Quintana’s bass, the light jazz-tinged A Sparrow Lingers is the album epic, again back musing on being stuck in metaphorical traffic and drifting through the days and about letting the wind carry your wings and weathering the storms to find “better days over the horizon”. It ends with two five-minute numbers, the low key, blues-shaded A Fool Such As I patently a rumination of regrets and finding yourself lost where “now days, seem so short, but new ones can’t be bought”, of the uncertainty of where to place your trust and, as a result being “never bitten, yet twice shy”. Finally, the Celtic-infused I Was has Davies accompanied by Archie Churchill-Moss (Moore Moss Rutter, Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys) on melodeon, closes on bittersweet memories of younger days (“I was a man who could move boulders – I was a kid who had ambitions”) and of shared aspirations to make music with a band of brothers, “now long forgotten friends”, as they played cafes and jamborees, “slept on floorboards and lived like kings”, a thank you note to his parents (“all they gave me always keeps me going”) and, as a songwriter, his mission “to share my eyes with the world”.
An assured debut that should indeed be often heard, let them illuminate your lives.
Where The Big Lamp Shines is out on 3 June 2022. Pre-order via Bandcamp: