Review: Boat To Row – Grassmarket

Boat to Row: a Midlands-based ‘folk-collective’, see the release of their first EP Grassmarket this week. University graduates, Boat to Row consist of highly skilled musicians who play sunny, rousing violin and nimble guitar melodies against the foreground of charming vocal harmonies. Grassmarket exhibits this clearly – Michael King, Ben Gilchrist and Faye Haddon’s musical ability is particularly clear on the EP.

Boat to Row have thoroughly navigated England’s shores since last year, touring with Willy Mason, Johnny Flynn and Slow Club. They are anticipating their upcoming tour with Gemma Hayes and Jools Holland; it is clear that they are not short of tasteful endorsement.

Trumpeting the trials of the English working class in the EP’s opening track, Working Class, Michael King sings of his identity: ‘I come from a working class family…the cycle, the reason we came to be’. King speaks of his impulse, or inclination to work, which he carries as a burden, sung to a rousing Irish infused violin, steady acoustic strum and an ever-present tambourine jingle.

Thimble & Thread provides the listener with lovely, gleeful folk and sweet harmonies about young love. Grassmarket gives a kind, rose-tinted story of joyful English market days. The intertwining of harmonious vocals with a fast-paced, soft drum tap and skilful banjo finger-picking with a slow harmonica, demonstrates the compositional talent of Boat to Row as a collective group. They fuse their individual talents intelligently; this is exhibited clearly in their live shows.

Boat to Row’s EP demonstrates the Midland collectives’ passion and obsession with the archetype of folk music. Whilst Boat to Row are certainly lovely to hear, the EP feels to me as if the collective have missed an aspect of folk music which is its very cornerstone: sincerity, a hunger, and a depth of emotion. In writing about identity and working class trials, King neglects to go into any real depth on these subjects that in 2012, mean a great deal and which provide great lyrical opportunity for satire and exploration. King clearly has the lyrical talent to explore these subjects further, it is frustrating that he provides little more than superficial metaphor.

An artist has got to be constantly in a state of becoming, according to Bob Dylan, to me, Boat to Row seem static. Whilst one shouldn’t disparage anyone who has such obvious musical ability, as seen in Boat to Row’s EP, nor should they be automatically championed.
In the light of the compelling nature of modern acts like Laura Marling and Michael Kiwanuka, Boat to Row need to find greater depth of emotion in order to be seen on the same level, and to be championed as they wish. Nonetheless, the EP is a lovely listen.

Cat Gough