Beacons Festival 2013 – ESBEN AND THE WITCH

Driving to BEACONS FESTIVAL is fairly easy if you live in the North of England. It’s just made that little bit more frustrating if some joker has purposefully turned round and hidden road signs on the way to the venue. This is, nevertheless, not a wholly inaccurate sign of what is about to greet us, such is the amusing randomness of Beacons Fest. Laid-back staffing, absence of ground maps in the press tent (unmarked location in the middle of a field – where we belong, some might say…) and invisible signage is creating confusion not only for reporters but also the artists, we hear. Not the best start, but this festival is still three-years young, the sun is out, the atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming, and there is certainly no attitude at this annual event – we, like many others, are happy to be here in Skipton and are curious to see how the festival develops.

Aye, it’s lovely out here, and long gone are the memories of the great rain washout of 2011. Beacons has offered some solid lineups and shows a lot of promise. This year however sees a distinct lack of female-led bands which is a tad disappointing, although the ones it has invited are quality, and that it is a very good thing. ESBEN AND THE WITCH is one such band.

EATW has repeatedly stood out for me as one of the strongest bands to emerge from the UK in recent times. Why they have not been whole-heartedly embraced by mainstream audiences and media is mystifying to say the least, but that has only helped to keep the band’s feet firmly on the ground – not a bad thing in this day and age of hype and disposable artists. Their latest album “Wash The Sins Not Only The Face” is still on loop on my playlist and each track offers something new on each listen. It’s an intricately written and intimately presented collection of sounds. I haven’t found another emerging band in the UK who is this committed, this driven, this talented. They’re on an interesting path and I love keeping up with them and tracking their live shows to see where they’re at.

Straight into tracks off their latest album, they waste no time easing into their trademark intensity, lead singer Rachel Davies falling into her hypnotic state while guitarist Thomas Fisher demonstrates his distinctive flurry of strokes and Daniel Copeman begins his domination of the drums. The crowd builds from small to tent-filling with each track. Something spiritual is taking place. This band do not demand attention – they command it, and this is what is so captivating about their stage presence: there’s never a hint of pretention or desperation about them. As usual, there is minimal chit-chat between tracks, their reticence a sign of politeness and graciousness, rather than arrogance or calculation.

Once “Deathwaltz” chimes in, the crowds realise that they’re witnessing a trio of musicians who have fully mastered their instruments and each other. They’re in total technical and emotional sync and the crowds have joined them. The atmosphere has switched dramatically to one which is no longer sombre and dreamy to one which is brutally electrifying and all-encompassing. Arguably one of their more accessible tracks to date, marked by the crashing sounds and Rachel’s foreboding bass strums at the close, this is always one to endear newcomers to the Esben world.

The end to this short set comes far too early, many wanting more, and the band looking sad to leave the stage after their ‘warm up.’ Outside the tent confines, we have a chat with Rachel, new fans shouting out words of praise as she wanders past – a little overwhelmed and surprised by the attention, the lead singer smiles shyly and thanks them as she takes five.

EATW are already working on their third album, which I believe could be the one to finally smash any remaining doubts of naysayers who still haven’t cottoned on to the fact that this band is the ‘next best thing.’ Or could it be that they’re just too good for the current pithy music industry? Either way, they can be proud of their progress and the team that surrounds them – they have one of the most courteous and caring managers I have ever met and they ooze a quiet confident classiness that one could suppose stems from their ultra-geekiness and is a sign of real emotional and creative intelligence. All I can conclude for now is that these guys aren’t messing around – they know what they want and they’re not willing to compromise who they are and what they believe in to get there. They’re on a fascinating journey – care to join them?