Albi and The Wolves

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26 October, Common Room
By Ian Thomas

The two opening numbers ease us into the show. They belie the energy-packed set that is to follow. Albi (Chris Dent), Pascal Roggen, and Michael Young re-acquaint themselves with Common Room. The majority of those present have been here before, to see this band. That’s a good indication of their popularity and of the expectations of the audience. They are here to listen, dance, sing along, and cheer. Not necessarily in that order. I over-hear pre-show chat in the garden bar “Have you got your dancing shoes on?” “All of my shoes are dancing shoes.”

Back to the set. Third song. The pace quickens. Pascal makes his electric violin sing as he draws his bow across the strings. His pedigree is impressive. The crowd lap up his seemingly effortless musicianship. He is completely at one with the violin so the illusion of Pascal being played by the instrument is created. He also sings fabulously throughout the show. Michael, the non-speaking-but-singing, upright-bass player at the other side of the stage keeps the rhythm. It’s all pizzicato, high energy. Inducing, at the very least, the tapping of toes.

Albi, centre stage, strumming acoustic guitar, leads the singing. His voice has a gentle rasp. Strong and soft all at the same time. The line up of three manages to create an implausible depth and breadth of sound. Replete, energetic, genre-hopping party music. They carry the folk label but this is folk that someone has tinkered with under the bonnet. Michael, Pascal, and Albi ain’t no Peter, Paul, and Mary. Audience participation is required early on. We sing along and do the actions to I’m Not Free. “I’m not free from drinking. It’s day one without my love.” They have their hooks in us. No one leaves early.

We are given a good mixture of well scribed original tunes from One Eye Open, their debut album. Beautiful music with gratifyingly meaningful lyrics. The dance floor remains fully occupied throughout first and second half of the show. The second half begins with Albi calling his audience back from the bar. Refreshed, they quickly and willingly follow his directions. Eager for more. Slow dances yield to lively jigs then return.  More original compositions and a few well chosen covers round out the playlist. Lonely Boy by The Black Seeds gets a great makeover. A souped-up version of the old blues standard, St James Infirmary Blues, Another Brick In The Wall, Mumford and Sons’ I Will Wait. Familiar tunes with familiar lyrics have the audience singing along. I wonder if Albi and The Wolves are the band that Mumford and Sons wanted to be.

We’ve seen a great pub band that are so much more than a pub band. Winners of the 2018 Tui as Best Folk Artist. These guys could appear anywhere. Whether it’s a pub, a music venue, or a festival, be very clear that there will be dancing and singing required.

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