Live Review: Will And The People

The challenge of writing any review is to be unbiased. But to quote Evelyn Waugh, "Better interesting prejudice than bland open-mindedness." So the facts are that I think Will and the People are brilliant...flawed, but brilliant.

For those of you unaware of Will and the People (WATP), These five londoners manage to blend a healthy mix of ska and reggae with elements of rock thrown in to complete what are essentially really well crafted pop songs. A few years ago the band’s original lineup were signed to a major and went on tour with the likes of Girls Aloud. This, seems to have became the typical music industry false start for the band, however dare I say it, it seems creatively a blessing for lead singer and chief songwriter Will Rendell, who since a lineup change and focus on a less radio friendly sound is crafting some of the best songs I have heard in a while.

This is an odd gig though, it’s in a marquee, in a pub (The Crown), in Old Oxted, Surrey during a beer and music festival. So half the audience are die hard fans and the other half are just bystanders enjoying a night out at the local unaware of the importance (in my opinion) of the band performing for them. When I first heard WATP, I went looking for live gigs and couldn't find much in the south east, so to find them playing my old local was a odd and very challenging to deal with as I expected my first encounter to be in a proper venue where I was having to (willingly) pay money to see them. It turned out to be a tent on the Surrey/Kent border. But I’ll accept a free gig any day...

And here’s the problem, I think it’s hard to see a band at their best outside of an audience that is a paying fan base. The band delivers well on record, so should be screaming from a stage, but tonight, the stage is too small, the PA too quiet and the people not all focussed on the band like a proper venue. After a quick soundcheck, the band got going and delivered a warm but not the blistering performance that I expected and hoped for. But I don’t think it was all their fault. Apart from a few bumbling notes and a few missed beats, there was a lot going against them tonight, technical hiccups, small stage, unfocussed audience and poor sound.

The new songs such as Yellow (don’t worry Coldplay fans, this one’s a song about the yellowing of ones teeth) and Sensimilla shows the band to be moving further into the ska genre but ultimately very focussed with that pop core they do so well. This marks a promising sneak peak into the bands forthcoming album Friends which is released in June (review nearer the time). As a complete contrast, the band delivered a blistering version of the Pixies' Where is my Mind, starting off with a respectful copy of the original but then took it into WATP land and did their reggae thing to it. A song often butchered but on this occasion given a great new angle.

Their first album, entitled Will and the People has some huge songs on it. The Game, Salamander (see video below) and the brilliant Lion in the Morning Sun closed the hour and a half show. My personal favourite Train which the band have turned into a great accappella bombed due to low microphone levels and an audience ambience louder than the PA. If you knew the song it was beautiful, but, if you didn’t it was a chance to talk and at that point the audience were lost again for the next few songs. It’s here at points like this that experience should play a part and bands should instinctively know if they are going to lose an audience via song choices. On this evening I think it was the wrong version. It’s a great song, which needs an audiences undivided attention. However, against everything, they entertained those of us engaged and we can’t wait to see them again.

There seems to be a fan base out there and it seems to be growing. If the next album is as good as the last then we are all in for a treat. Given time to grow and the bands obvious determination to be a working band, this will hopefully put WATP at the top. We're watching them closely, miss them at your peril.