Passionate, powerful and poetic Midlands folk-rock band Under A Banner release their superb third studio album.
Under A Banner have been on our radar for a couple of years now and apart from an appearance at a free music festival in Croydon they have as yet, as far as I know, not managed to get a gig in London town. This is something we hope to remedy soon and on the strength of this album it will be an absolute pleasure. They are one of a bunch of Midlands bands playing political folk-punk that straddles everything from the celtic-punk of Ferocious Dog to the anarcho-folk of The Silk Road. Under A Banner play an infectiously catchy brand of folk-punk caught somewhere between The Levellers at their softest and New Model Army at their punkest with a smidgeon of Ferocious Dog and youthful Billy Bragg, before he fled Barking to live in Dorset in a massive mansion and vote Lib-Dem.
Based in Wolverhampton and formed only four years ago they are mostly most famous for their close relationship with their fans and their constant gigging around the country, though not London as we said! The Wild Places came out September 30, 2016 on Bad Elephant Records and has already garnered some pretty amazing reviews across the internet so hopefully they won’t mind another positive one!
The Wild Places was recorded at Park Studios in Birmingham, between March and June 2016 and was produced by Alastair Jamieson and the band themselves and a very nice job they have done as well. The album kicks off with ‘In The End’ and it’s a simple start. Just singer-songwriter Adam above an acoustic guitar and cello from guest Isaac Collier. Adam’s passion flows through the song and out through it into you. This track captures Under A Banner perfectly showing off their folky roots while title track ‘The Wild Places’ has them rocking out and is a perfect example of their rockier side. Two songs in and already their range is staggering. Catchy is a very overblown word used during album reviews and if anyone knows a better one can they please let me know it! Up next is ‘Birdsong’ and a song that slows it down again that soars with an almost Gothic feel to it that reminds me of miserable Leeds sods The Mission. There’s an epic feel not just on next song ‘Sunburst’ but throughout the album due in no small part to the excellent mastering and the aural wizardry of Jon Astley who has famously worked with Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and The Who among others. The albums longest track is ‘Snow Song and was The Wild Place’s first release. One of the album’s standouts mixing the acoustic and the electric together.
“What a perfect time to celebrate!
Love in a silent world creates another rush of hope;
something is coming”
It’s easy to see why they chose Snow Song as that first release seeing how it showcases everything that Under A Banner do so well. From the catchy (their we go again!) and simply effective tune to the outstanding lyrics this is them. The second release was the following song ‘Nothing’s Ever Really Gone’ and again the folk-rock shines with a briliant chorus that is a sure fire toe tapper at the very least!
The second half of the album begins with ‘About Love’ and is certainly different from the rest of the album but Adam’s voice and lyrics keep it interesting. I maybe didn’t much care for it on first listen but its grown to be one of my favourites.
“There’s nothing wrong with love songs”
Adam sings and the word that springs up here is ‘Hope’ even though it’s not mentioned once within the song! One of the things I hate most in reviewing albums is that if a band isn’t too well known you are forced to bring up better known, not necessarily better though!, bands as points of reference. For instance the band Under A banner are most likend to are New Model Army and on ‘Kill It All’ they sound most like them on this album. From the lyrics attacking consumersism and false religion to the music this is the sort of stuff NMA fans would go potty for. That is not to say of course that Under A banner are merely copying NMA or any of the bands mentioned before. They can proudly stand on their own or alongside any of the bands coming in or out of the folk-rock scene. They proclaim
“There’s more of us than their are of you”
while calling us to the barracades on ‘Legion’ and they continue the rockier momentum with ‘On Top of This Mountain’. Penultimate song ‘Already There’ sees another thing that the band revel in. A simple tune on acoustic guitar while Adam’s voice cracks with passion and the return of the stunningly beautiful cello only adds to the effect.
“The beauty was already there”
If I had a small, tiny in fact, issue with The Wild Places it’s that they don’t quite unleash their power and go for it a little more. That is not to detract from the quality here mind you, it’s just that maybe one or two of the songs could have done with a slightly harder edge to them. It all comes to an end with ‘World of Hope’ and nowhere on else on the album does Adam sound so pissed off and angry. Looking back and wondering what happened to those chances we had to change things. Nostalgia is not only about ancient rockers at Rebellion, long given up on anything they once believed in but the times we had.
Under A Banner’s third studio album certainly hits the spot and will appeal to anyone who likes any of the bands mentioned in this review. They would be only a fiddle player away from being able to call themselves a celtic-punk band so I’m sure it will appeal to our more regular readers as well. With a blend of influences from right across the musical scene while incorporating folk and rock to wrap around Adam’s clever and intelligent lyrics they play with a passion missing from a lot of bands these days. Their is defeat and loss but always with hope and they manage it all with a sincerity that makes you believe they play these songs from the heart and soul and not out of some songbook.
(listen to The Wild Places by pressing play on the Bandcamp player below)
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