The E.P., Oh, Beautiful Darkness is available via:
THEIR name might translate...
roughly, into ‘a confused mess’, but there is little obfuscation in the ranks of Farrago. I will talk more about the band soon but, before then, a look at a few aspects. This review was pushed back a week because Ian, their founder and lead, was in hospital – not injured or sick: becoming a dad, it seems. If that weren’t enough; he has been getting band promotion sorted and organising everything else. I want to talk, strangely, about workload and balancing commitments; blending Indie, Folk and Rock into something new and inspiring; London bands and why it is hard to tear myself away from the city; releasing on a band’s/artist’s own label; the interesting start some acts have – how a rare opportunity for recording history can drive an act forward. Let’s start with workload and how tough the modern industry can be. I, myself, have been inundated with requests – and will talk about it in a feature next week – and find it hard tackling everything effectively. There is one of me but, regardless, it seems popularity is a bittersweet thing. On the one hand, it is good having attention and making it to people’s minds: on the other; it can be hard committing effectively and not burning out. I fear a lot of modern artists are being asked to do too much and that, in turn, is causing physiological and physical ramifications. I am not suggesting Farrago are bursting at the seams but it seems their life is as busy as anyone’s. Are we, as a business/industry, expecting musicians to do everything for themselves? In other industries, there is more care and less pressure. It has got to the point where artists are going all-out in an effort to gain success and attention. I guess competition is high – and the Internet means there is a larger choice – but does that mean artists should go to such extremes to get their music heard? Every artist has a certain workload and commitment but those who do not have a label behind them have to work extra hard regarding promotion and campaigning. Farrago are on their own label but the effort required to get their music out there; gigs booked and keeping on top of everything is staggering.
Each campaign-cycle consists emailing, constant contact and vigilance. It is a staggering amount to do, often, to promote a single work. The Farrago guys seem together and happy but, I wonder, whether artists need more time to focus on their material and kicking back when possible – extra support and finance provided when it comes to the other side of the business. That would make sense because I am seeing so many acts stress and tire unnecessarily. In any case, there should be more money and resource set aside for our musicians. The government is severely lacking and ignorant when it comes to the realities of the music industry. Maybe there is no instant fix but I am concerned music, today, is taking too much away from people. That might sound like a negative and scary way to start a review – Farrago are coping wonderfully and not letting things get on top. The thought occurred when communicating with Ian and the work ethic it takes getting an E.P./song to reviewers. With Farrago, of course, there is incredible musicianship and a lot of detail in their tracks – the desire to have people hear them is strong, for sure. The attrition rate in music, coupled with the hefty competition, is having a detrimental effect – is there something that can be done?! I have mooted there should be financial support provided but we need to go further. People do their best work when they can balance work and personal life; when there is room to breathe and as little stress as possible. That might sound like an impossible task but I am worried we are putting too much pressure on the shoulders of the new breed. Let’s hope changes can come about because, looking at a band like Farrago, and you know how much work and time was expended creating a song like Better Than Real Life.
What has disappointed me about this year’s mainstream best is the lack of quality albums that blend Rock and Folk. Last year, when extolling the benefits of Billie Marten’s Writings of Blue and Yellow, I was impressed by the combination of sounds and angles. There were traditional Folk embers – acoustic guitars and something pastoral – but some electric strings and cellos; a violin here and there; incredible piano ay times – a voice capable of swooning, striking and sweetening. It was no wonder that record became my favourite of the year. This year, for some reason, there is nothing that rivals that or creates the same impressions. I have yearned for something emotive and beautiful that bonds me to a rare talent. Maybe that will come in the next couple of months but I worry this year’s best albums have lacked a Folk-cum-Rock/Indie album that gets into the heart. To be fair; Billie Marten’s album erred a lot more on the side of Folk (than Rock) but, even considering that, how many genuinely stirring Folk albums have there been this year?! Lucy Rose’s latest record is a contender but there are not many joining that. Farrago are an interesting band who create music that satisfies my demands. Looking at them and they do not – not in an insulting way – have the same kind of look and style of a modern-day Rock act. The guys vary in age and, thinking about that, it is interesting looking at the demographic and variations in Farrago. To look at them and they have a real down-to-earth and relatable side. That is not meant to be insulting: the band are easy to connect with and not your marketed, slick bands you seeing grinning from the pages of a music magazine. Farrago are real and candid; they are normal and without ego and pretention. If Farrago appear grounded and tangible in terms of their image then their music is on a different plain. It mixes Folk, Indie and Rock and seems unlike anything out there.
What amazes me about their music is it has a tenderness and heart but can elevate, rouse and dizzy without warning. The players are exceptional and there are few others out there who have the same blend in their locker. Cinematic sounds, lush guitar and soaring violins; silky bass, expressive percussion and soulful vocals – every component is considered and expertly performed. A lot of the band music I have been hearing (in the mainstream) has been straightforward Rock or Indie. That is okay to a degree but I have been searching for an album/E.P. that integrates Folk and Alternative sounds into one. Farrago have been working hard and honing their sound since the beginning. That beginning came in 2009 when Ian and his partner, Ruth, played their way through Australia, New Zealand and India. They came back to London in 2012 where Ruth decided to move into books – Ian played solo before getting the band together. I will talk about that band start later but, before moving on, a further word on Farrago’s unique mixture. To look at them and it is almost like they are a stringed assortment – albeit, a modern-day equivalent. There is a Classical edge and elegance to them that is backed by music that stirs the soul and situates itself into the heart. Many will say there are other bands out there like this but nobody has the same sound and sensation as Farrago. There is something about the guys that elevates them above the competition. The incredible music has come through years of performance and practice but there is a natural instinct to Farrago that impresses me hugely. I wonder what the next move of the band will be. Whether they decide to record an L.P. – or spend next year releasing singles – I am not too sure. They have achieved a lot this year and it will be interesting to see where they go from here. I wonder whether they will add new layers and colours to their sound; how their music will evolve – whether the guys will change anything as they go forward. What they have now is their strongest collection of songs – the Oh, Beautiful Darkness E.P. is a scintillating and stirring work from an incredible force.
Uncle Onion Records is the label releasing Oh, Beautiful Darkness. It is Ian’s/the band’s own label and gives them the freedom to release what and when they want. I have spoken about artists being put under pressure and how much expectation is put at their feet. A lot of new acts chase record labels and want that backing and finance. Getting under the radar of a big label is not all it’s cracked up to be. On the one side of the fence, the artist gets professional support and has people on their side helping get the work out there. I think record labels exert too much influence and force on an artist. It is good having commercial support - but are artists being stripped of their freedom and thoughts?! The autonomy some labels exert is scaring some off. There is a lot of work required when setting up your own label but the benefits can be obvious. A band/artist can put out music they want – and not have to conform to the mainstream or fit into a particular ethos – and release it when they like. A lot of modern artists, when signed to a label, have to undergo a promotional campaign that means endless interviews and teasing songs; releasing lots of music from an album before the complete product sees the light of the day. Music, in that condition, is less about organic and personal revelation and more about marketing and strategy. I worry, because of the sheer weight of competition on the scene today; artists have to release their music this way. Say what you want about artists forming their own labels but it is brave and gives them a say in where their music goes. Farrago would probably fare well signed to a Folk label and would not be controlled and directed too firmly. I feel they would still have to compromise too much and might not have the flexibility they warrant.
It is interesting discovering why artists establish labels and the reasons behind it. For Farrago, they are a special band who all have their own commitments and are not the sort that wants to be under the thumb of a label. I am not saying all big labels are supervillains and unscrupulous but it can be tough negotiating a situation where both parties have equal say. Under Uncle Onion Records, the group are free to gig when they want and bring their music out when it feels right. I am curious whether that lack of big-money input means artists – who create their own brand – have to work extra-hard to find the money to promote their music. Remaining unsigned is no longer scary for modern musicians: many favour it and find the lack of commercial pressure refreshing. Starting a small label provides others with the chance to put music out on their own terms and not have to follow the schedule of a big label. So many artists are turning against the supposed dream and following their own path. There is no denying Farrago have a sense of freedom and movement and are creating music that means a lot to them and is what they want to do. I feel big labels often steer artists towards the mainstream/a particular mould and that can lead to homogenisation and familiarity. I shall leave this subject alone but I am glad Farrago have their own say and are making music with intense character and personality. Long may that continue as they head into 2018. I have alluded to the rather interesting start Farrago has a few years back…
Back in 2009, when Ian and Ruth started busking around the world, they couldn’t have imagined they’d be releasing an E.P. in 217. That seems like a long gap (eight years) but the fact they began as duel buskers; getting a band together and reaching the level they are now – that is quite an impressive feat and accomplishment. I wonder what compelled the couple to travel around New Zealand, Australia and India. It seems rather sensible but one speculates whether there was a need to find new musical meaning and see whether their sounds could translate further afield than the U.K. I am not sure how profitable their busking expedition was but they would have learned a lot from the time there. Not only did they drink in the vivid sights and sounds of the nations but would have heard local sounds – some, you can hear in the new Farrago E.P. India, especially, plays an important role and I sense a degree of the mystical, peaceful and spiritual in Farrago’s songs. The panoramic and wide-ranging sights of New Zealand and Australia would have made a creative impact. There are few who can deny the beauty and captivation of the three nations. India has that legendary quality and, although it very crowded, there is something extraordinary everyone takes away with them. The same can be said of Australia and New Zealand: incredible nations that spike the imagination and inspire the mind. This would have been the case for Ian and Ruth; they would have taken a lot away and been compelled to strive forward. I wonder whether the band is tempted to return to these nations very soon – as a tribute or way of coming full-circle, almost. In any case; it is when Ian and Ruth came to London (in 2012) things started to crystallise and solidify. Farrago is the result of experimentation and discovery; bringing together members who have shared intentions and passions.
I want to get down to the music itself but, before I do, a word about Abbey Road Studios. Farrago’s E.P. was engineered by two students from the Abbey Road Institute – which started as a chance meeting at an open mic. at the Magic Garden, Battersea. That is quite an honour and I can imagine Farrago spending a lot of time at Abbey Road. They have the orchestral grandeur and serene beauty that seems perfect for the legendary studio. The fact the E.P. was engineered there means the band will want to get into the space and record in the future. I am not certain whether they have plans for new material next year but is Abbey Road a possibility? Stepping into that epic studio-space is the height of any musician’s career. The history and legacy of the place is enough to scare many off but it is hugely inspirational and compelling. There is a blend of larger and smaller studios and some of the world’s best engineers under one roof. Maybe it is expensive laying down tracks at Abbey Road but it seems Farrago have a real taste for the studios. I feel, if they were afforded the chance to record an album at Abbey Road, they would be able to add more elements and instruments to their music. That might sound like changing the line-up but, in truth, it is bringing additional musicians into certain numbers. Farrago’s music is epic and extraordinary as it is but I wonder what they could create were they to really take advantage of Abbey Road’s size and technology? To me, the band is strongest when they balance intimate and humble with those bigger moments. Maybe recording all their material in that studio might take some of the former away – it would be too grand and fulsome, perhaps?! Anyway; it is amazing the band has experience with Abbey Road Studios and let’s hope that association continues. I am not sure whether they are in contact with the engineering students but those are useful contacts to have.
Better Than Real Life suggests a degree of fantasy and escape. The opening strings are spirited and racing. Acoustic guitar and harder elements push away from a traditional idea of Folk - and provide a more accessible frame of mind. By that, I mean the band lace in Pop elements and Rock contours to give a more lustrous and engaging sound. It has a definite skip and sense of intent as the song gets underway. The hero, whether casting himself in the lead role or not, sees the man on the mountain staring at the stars. Perhaps, from a lyrics viewpoint, there is more ‘Folk’ there - in the way we associate traditional Folk to concern itself with nature and something a bit dreamy. The man has no need to question why he is there and why he is looking from the mountain. Maybe there is a metaphor and a sense of searching for something bigger in life. Before long, the hero gets lost in waves of sounds and is taken to another land. The song starts to provoke images of fantasy and drifting off to another land but, to me, the song concerns fulfilling dreams and getting that start in music. Considering how Farrago began life; it is tempting seeing Better Than Real Life as those pre-conception days. Part of my mind was in areas like India and New Zealand – where Ruth and Ian spent time busking and exploring years ago. From there, via more traditional jobs, they set the band up and made their way to where they are now. If one follows the song, it is forgivable why one would draw those conclusions. Whatever the reality behind the song, it seems the hero wanted to disconnect from a certain way and embrace another one. Dreams and escape are better than real life/the world and those brief moments of darkness are brought into the light. The guitars keep strumming and racing forward but the band brings together different shades and elements; the composition gets richer and bigger as the hero’s voice strikes hard. There is a definite need to make things better and evade all the worst elements of life.
Maybe things, pre-music, were causing a huge strain. The composition is kept fairly sparse – they have introduced more Classical elements into other songs – but does pack quite a punch. The song never loses its energy and there is a constant skip in the step! Again, whether looking at his own life or someone else, our hero (Ian) is keen to dispose of the negatives and all the baggage that surrounds that. I am not certain whether Farrago are talking about the disposal of a ‘regular’ life and stepping into music. Many see the profession as a gamble but it is more fulfilling and nourishing than the mundane. Allowing music into your everyday life in such a direct way is perfect when trying to find real meaning and direction. Perhaps it is that realisation that has led to the song but, whatever its origins, one cannot help get caught up in the thrall and dance. Better Than Real Life is all about trying to make something better and making the most of the positives – that is what I got from it, at least. The vocal is constantly engaging and delightful. It goes through different emotions but retains its positivity and determination. Violin makes a big impact and gives the song another dynamic. Percussion and strings unite to keep the kick and merriment strong to the very final note. There is an addictive quality about the song - that means it gets in the head and will have you singing along. One of the great things about the song is the fact it can be reinterpreted and still sound awesome. As it is; it is brilliantly engineered but has a certain lightness and lack of polish. Better Than Real Life could, by the band or another act, suit a bigger sound or a different genre. It has that flexible quality that would do well on the road – Farrago giving the song a new take every night. As it is; the song does what it intends to do: it gets the listener involved and intrigued and provokes discussion. On one hand; there is a simple interpretation: fantasy and that outside of real life is easier to deal with (and more pleasant) than the normal and regular. I feel there is something deeper working away that is personal to Farrago. Their formation and development has been a unique one and I think Better Than Real Life is an exploration of their time in music and where they are now – how they are living the life they want to and, although it is not a boring nine-to-five job, it is much more rewarding than that.
I did not really discuss London much and why it is hard to disassociate from the city. I have been interviewing a lot of artists from other parts of the world but always find myself coming back to London. I am keen to demonstrate music is more than London: there is the assumption everything revolves around the city and that is where all the best music comes from. That is wrong, obviously, but we need to get away from the London-centric mindset that is seeping in. Farrago are not a band who prattle on about London – nor did I select them for review because they come from here – but there is a definite allure when it comes to the capital’s musicians. I am not sure what it is, to be honest. Farrago are among the hardest-working bands in London. Their E.P. launch was organised by Ian and had Tom Hyatt and Russell Joslin with them; featuring Sarah McCaig in support. The video for Better Than Real Life was played at the gig for the first time. The launch was at The Finsbury – organised by Chris and Lost in the Manor – and there has been a lot of hard work ensuring Oh, Beautiful Darkness made a big impact. The band are making waves at the moment and their numbers are rising. The year is coming to an end so they must be thinking about the future. Ian’s recent paternal responsibilities will impact the amount that can be created and shared in 2018. I know a new arrival will affect a creative mind...but let’s not hope it does not have TOO much of an impact. One of the most distressing things about music is how being a parent influences songwriting. The artist always says how much meaning and direction it gives their life and, whilst I have particular opinions on that subject – it only gives THAT much meaning if you lived quite an empty life beforehand – it does creep into music too strongly.
I know a son/daughter is going to affect the mind but I hope Ian and the band use that experience as a way to get their music to more people – rather than dominate the lyrics and direction. What I mean is the leader has a new role and responsibility in life. Whilst he will want to be dutiful and there; he has a band and there is music to spread to the masses. Having a child provides a burst of inspiration and energy – amazing considering how little sleep he will be getting! – and will broaden the horizons. I hope Farrago take advantage of the world and get to perform at some fantastic locations. Their E.P. being out there means a lot of new faces will be familiar with the Farrago sound. London will be fascinated and many venues will open their door to them. The band has a strength and translatable quality that means they could easily get gigs in Australia and areas like that. Who knows how successful they could be if they did a mini-tour over there?! The U.S. seems like a great country to get attention but, I wonder whether the lack of resources will affect ambition? Being self-released means Farrago have to deal with all the runnings and costings themselves. Oh, Beautiful Darkness is a fantastic E.P. that deserves a lot more listening and exposure. The group are still hungry promoting at the moment but, when the New Year beckons, they will be thinking about their next move. They have a great opportunity to keep the heat on and mark themselves as one of the best bands around London. It is great the city has love for them but there are so many other parts of the country the guys could find love in. I hope they consider more U.K. dates in 2018 because, once you get a burst of Farrago’s special and memorable music…
YOU become an instant and firm fan.
Pic 1, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 16 by Sebastian Trustman http://www.sebastiantrustman.com/
Pic 2 and 3 (album cover) Rhythm painted by Elise Mullen, seeded by Daria Lanz.
Pic 7 by Eskile https://www.behance.net/eskile
Pic 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 by John Banyard http://www.johnbanyard.com/