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Noah And The Whale

With a moniker inspired in part by Noah Baumbach’s film The Squid And The Whale, the Charlie Fink-led Twickenham quintet/sometime sextet’s name was bandied around in 2007-08 by the British music press as part of a West London nu-folk scene which also included MUMFORD & SONS, Pull Tiger Tail, LAURA MARLING, EMMY THE GREAT and JOHNNY FLYNN. This was no momentous movement, just a bunch of like-minded individuals share a stage. Aside from some musical sensibilities, they also sometimes shared personnel however, MARLING and EMMY… both providing a female vocal foil for Fink.
Their debut album PEACEFUL THE WORLD LAYS ME DOWN (2008) {*6} appeared to modest acclaim, drawing on some trad English folk influences – utilizing recorders, ukulele, whistles – but crossing over to appeal to an indie, NME audience. Around the release of the album, drummer Doug Fink left to pursue a career in medicine; solo bound MARLING and brother Charlie Fink’s relationship also went south; one is assured the cover of The SMITHS“Girlfriend In A Coma’ as a B-side had no connection.
The pair’s break up signalled a sea change for the band, not most, the abandoning of female harmony vocal but the dropping some of their more folksy traits and instrumentation in favour of a more straight ahead rock-band line-up, which, in retrospect, suited Fink’s songs better. Their second long player THE FIRST DAYS OF SPRING (2009) {*8} was an ambitious, expansive collection, addressing in part, Fink and MARLING’s break up. There is a glacial, stark quality to the recordings centring on Fink’s melancholic musings of a man rubbing his eyes in bewilderment in the aftermath of a breakup. Fink also wrote and directed a film to accompany the album, which enjoyed screenings at art house cinemas around the UK.
Swiftly becoming regular fixtures on the UK festival circuit, they appeared at Leeds and Reading and with repeated visits to Glastonbury the band’s stature grew in the UK and slowly abroad. They took a further right turn away from their folk roots towards full-blown AOR with their third album LAST NIGHT ON EARTH (2011) {*7}. Having worked through his introspections on their sophomore effort, the band got happy with a record filled with unashamedly cheery TOM PETTY-isms (`Waiting For My Chance To Come’ is an unsubtle lift of `Won’t Back Down’) and even moments of LOU REED at his most chipper (think `Coney Island Baby’ rather than `Heroin’!). An enjoyable album nonetheless, it did illustrate how far the band had travelled away from their folk roots and into mainstream consciousness.
Strengthened by sturdy cast of Charlie Fink, stalwarts Tom Hobden (fiddle/keyboards) and Matt Owens (bass), plus Fred Abbott (guitar/keys) and Michael Petulla (drums), their musical flit to post-post-new wave mainstream showed through on 2013’s HEART OF NOWHERE {*7}. If their sound was decidedly on the side of ARCADE FIRE, maybe ‘Firey mixer Craig Silvey was the reason, as his poppy production would testify. Although nostalgia and introspection were at the core of tracks like `One More Night’, `Now Is Exactly The Time’ and the dual-voxed title track (with ANNA CALVI), NOAH AND THE WHALE were a band of the present… and possibly the future?
As it turned out, the band announced their split in April 2015; all taking off on solo ventures; Matt “Urby Whale” Owens duly issued a solo set (`Songs For An Empty Room’), as did rocker Abbott (`Serious Poke’) in 2015; Hobden toured with MUMFORD & SONS and teamed up with Abbott and Petulla in the Delusional Vanity Project, before he issued a low-key collaborative set (alongside Eliot James) entitled `Roam’ (2017). Meanwhile, CHARLIE FINK went on to score the Old Vic theatre production of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, before he dispatched his debut solo set, `Cover My Tracks’. Abbott re-emerged with “supergroup” Orphan Colours (alongside alumni from both Ahab and Danny And The Champions Of The World) for 2018’s `All On Red’.
© MC Strong 2011/MR-GFD2 // rev-up MCS May2013-Sep2018

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