It transpires, during an animated half-hour chat with the five members of Keston Cobblers Club, that George Harrison is band-member Matthew Lowe’s favourite Beatle. It’s a telling answer to a trivial question. The Cobblers are diligent, unassuming and endlessly creative; a quintet of hippies at heart with their feet firmly planted on solid folk foundations. They’ve written some of the warmest and cleverest music you’d find anywhere over the last half decade, but they’ll no sooner be found chasing a spotlight than sitting smugly atop the charts. They run in the same small circles as To Kill a King, Bear’s Den and Stornoway, and they do so with a relentless, life-loving energy. If Mumford are Macca, and Nick Mulvey Lennon, then Keston Cobblers Club are Harrison – quietly talented, surprisingly complex, and most likely to write ‘Here Comes The Sun’.
But even George had his moment to step up and shine. I’m sat on a patch of grass talking to Julia, Matthew, Harry, Bethan and Tom before their late night set at festival of future starlets The Great Escape, where they end up putting on one of the best shows of the weekend. This moment has been a long time coming. Since releasing and recording debut album One, For Words entirely under their own steam back in 2012 (graphic designer Julia did the artwork and marketing, and Tom and Matthew, makers of music for commercials by day, produced the record that they took around the country by night) the band has won over pockets of the country with their playful yet enriching moods and melodies unpacked in riotous live sets.
“We’ve more or less left full time jobs now,” Matthew tells me. He is brother to Julia, and together they make perhaps the most charming and likeable leading duo of any band around today – think an early Win and Regine, minus the pretension and with added hand-bells. “Everyone has their own little things that they do which are kind of related, but the band’s the main thing now,” he says with trepidation to match the band’s effervescent enthusiasm. “We’ve also left regular pay,” Tom chips in, and Julia, the impish, chatty one of the group, adds playfully – “We’re now in the wild. We’re on our own”.
It’s no real surprise that things are now full-time given the pace at which they’ve been picking up. Keston Cobblers Club this week release their follow up album Wildfire, which looks set to expand a fan-base that already includes such notable names as Steve Lamacq and Dermot O’Leary, who have seen the Cobblers featured on BBC Radio 6 and Radio 2 respectively. It’s a bolder, far more ambitious effort than the debut that plays with frivolous electronic flares and a broader base of sonic references. It’s also the kind of album to build a career on.
“This feels like our first album,” Matthew continues. “Our debut, as much as we love it and are really happy with it (we listened to it on the way down here today and I thought, ‘wow, I really enjoy this, actually’) was such a smaller project. This time we’ve got a whole team around us – our manager, our agents, a PR team – who we didn’t know or need a few years ago, when we weren’t properly touring. Everything has started happening since the debut, rather than before. [Wildfire] feels more like a campaign.” The rest of the band seem in agreement. ‘Won’t Look Back’ is tuba-wielding Bethan’s favourite song, and Julia’s ‘Contrails’, both of which are pillars of Wildfire. Both songs are also rooted in the musical palette of One, For Words – meandering harmonies, stately brass and unpolished percussion -whilst branching out into new, braver territory.
The whole reason why the album’s called Wildfire is to capture the idea of it moving around a lot – spreading, moving, growing
Julia is the band’s go-to when it comes to putting new sounds into words. “The whole reason why the album’s called Wildfire is to capture the idea of it moving around a lot – spreading, moving, growing,” she says. “The songs are designed to take you on a bit of a journey. There are elements of our old stuff on there, but there are also quite a few songs that are slightly more different direction.” Matthew moderates this a touch: “That’s pretty much it – we’ve got some new instruments. There’s stuff that’s slightly more Cobblers and then some slightly more edgy, more pop inspired stuff.” Tom applauds the use of ‘Cobblers’ as an adjective. “I like that you know what an adjective is,” Julia congratulates him.
They’re an endlessly easy bunch to chat to, practically interviewing themselves within five minutes. It’s a quality indicative of a band still figuring out how they got to where they are now, and still enjoying every second of the journey. We get onto their early steps in the world of performing together, and one of their first gigs as band, where they raised a meagre crowd of just two. “And one of them was Matt’s girlfriend,” Julia laughs. “We didn’t realise we actually had to tell people we were gigging.”
Now though, they’re braced for a summer of festivals, a set of European dates in September and October, and a 16 date UK Autumn headline tour, including a night at London’s iconic Scala. Their recent date at The Lexington sold out completely, and they’ve secured a comfortable Sunday afternoon slot on Glastonbury’s Avalon Stage. It’s a far cry from that first dishevelled show; full-time gigging to full venues is the order of the immediate future, and the Cobblers owe it principally to the quality appeal of their music. In the post folk revival landscape, it’s a victory for timeless substance over fleeting style.
“It’s hard to know how many fans you’ve got,” Tom reflects of their growing popularity. “In the olden days you’d have a major record label or you wouldn’t have any fans, whereas now it’s easy to count online who knows you. When it comes to tours and stuff though, you just have no idea.”
Yet these doubts haven’t stopped the Cobblers taking an almighty punt on a different project altogether. Camp Wildfire, dubbed in the age of clickbait headlines as ‘the world’s first questival’, is a madcap, brilliant idea dreamed up by the band as an entirely unique way of launching the new album. A weekend of music, bushcraft and forest frivolity kitted out like a 50s summer camp, Camp Wildfire is, Julia says, “for people who sit at their desk in London and think ‘it’d be really nice to learn tree climbing, or silversmithing or the ukelele’.” Questival-goers will also be able to kayak, horse ride or mountain bike around the forest site during the day, before soaking up an eclectic programme of live performances in the evening.
We’re hoping that the programme of music that we’ve chosen will emulate the album
“It’ll be a different way to consume music. We’re hoping that the programme of music that we’ve chosen will emulate the album in many ways. There will be some things that will be expected and some things that will hopefully be a bit left field.” It’s a stupidly original, charming conception from a band that launched one of their earlier EPs by gigging on an open-top bus and driving around London. The same sense of adventure is what makes their artistry so appealing, from the Cobblers Passports that fans can have stamped at every gig they attend to their most recent EP, A Pocket Guide To Escaping. It’s arguably what draws growing numbers to their carefree, rousing music – the sense of finding good times and good company in the journey, rather than at any particular destination.
This is the beauty of the band that does what it does for art and for pleasure. Keston Cobblers Club won’t set the international music scene alight, but they’ll play the most unforgettable set you may ever see at your independent venue. They probably won’t ever make the Radio 1 A-list playlist, but they’ll soundtrack your road trips for years to come, and you’ll no doubt pass One, For Words and Wildfire on to your kids. They aren’t especially slick, nor defiant or rebellious in their art. They’re a band for every day, though they’re anything but everyday. You’ll hold on to their posters, and you’ll wait eagerly for each and every one of their releases, because their music is fundamentally caring, and immediate, and honest. It’s just very Cobblers.