The songs on Ancient Roads span an impressive range of styles and pace on the spectrum between pure country and definitive folk-rock
By David Schuster
Musical fashion is a fickle thing, but sometimes the stars align and a band that has put in the graft discover that their songs suddenly have a much wider audience appeal. Such has been the good fortune of Yorkshire local boys, The Paul Mirfin Band, who find themselves in a world where country influenced folk-rock has returned to the mainstream once more, thanks in main to Mumford & Sons.
Ancient Roads is the first full length album from the Knaresborough-based five-piece group. They’ve created quite a following, initially through gigging locally in pubs and music festivals, then nationally and most recently internationally with performances in America. It’s a sign of that growing interest that the record has been entirely funded through a Pledge Music scheme. Central to the band is vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Paul, along with his brother Ben on drums, banjo player Mark Boyle, violinist John Evamy and Warren Timmis on lead guitar. As well as these staples, the group also makes use of less familiar instruments such as the Merlin, a strummed dulcimer and Shruti, an Indian form of harmonium, which add both depth and interest to their sound.
The opening, title-track has a crowd engaging hand clapped, foot stomped rhythm, ideal for engaging an audience, in much the same way that Freddy used Queen’s ‘Radio Gaga’. It’s redolent with the dust of a parched summer in the American mid-west. Then, just when you think you’ve got the measure of it, it dissolves into a sitar-like psychedelic slide guitar solo, before finishing with a crescendo of impressive cymbal work.
The front-man’s Christian beliefs run like a thread through the band’s songs, but it’s a subtle, confident faith, rather than in-your-face preaching. For example, ‘Ancient Roads’ with its, literal, down to earth lyrics; “Keep my soul clean, keep my boots dirty.” And ‘We Are Three’ with its declaration of belief central to life and love; “In this heart it’s you and me, and we are three”. It’s something that is clearly integral to his music. Of the record’s last track, ‘Trust in the Silence’ he says; “I believe it was ‘given’ to me in the twilight hours, in bed half asleep. I picked up my diary on my bedside and scribbled down the words. When I woke up next morning, the lyrics just stared at me, I couldn’t remember writing them. The music followed that morning too.”
As well as the Mumford’s, the group’s sound bears comparison to The Lumineers and Neil Young but with influences of Johnny Cash and Tammy Wynette. The most radio friendly number, ‘We Are Three’ into the pure upbeat country style of Dolly Parton, and you can’t knock that; after all Dolly’s sold 160 million albums! For this track, Paul duets with Rosie Driffill, who got the part in typically Yorkshire forthright manner.
Paul recalls, “One day me and the band were playing at a wedding at Ripley castle and she saw us there and shouted to us through the big gates, ‘Can I sing with you guys?’ I just said sure but didn’t really take it too seriously. Then a couple of weeks later she asked if she could come to our band practice. She came along and sang, and we were all blown away by the performance. I knew her voice would fit perfectly on ‘We Are Three’, which I’d just written. Since then she’s sung on two more.”
The songs on Ancient Roads span an impressive range of styles and pace on the spectrum between pure country and definitive folk-rock. ‘In This Now’ has an infectious picked riff, as does the toe tapping ‘The Oarsman’, whilst ‘Reign Down’ and ‘All I Want to Be’ both have a more reflective mood and pace. ‘Bring the Rain’ however highlights the group’s versatility: It commences with the familiar staples of banjo and slide guitar, then adds powerful rap lyrics into the mix. Not something I’ve heard before, it works well and offers something unique and distinctively The Paul Mirfin Band. Grand stuff!