Cattle & Cane – Gullivers, Manchester – 09/05/17

Many bands have been called ‘the new Mumford & Sons’ but the kings of the ampersand, Cattle & Cane, certainly have a claim to it.

Cattle & Cane was paying its fourth visit to Manchester and playing a room that will have become familiar to the five-piece Teesside band and a fairly large section of the audience appeared to have roots up there, underlining their status as local heroes. It seems that one of the songs from their second album Mirrors, Fool for You – tonight’s closer – was played before the recent Middlesbrough – Manchester City.

The siblings Joe and Helen Hammill hold the stage up front while two other brothers and a friend very competently provide guitar, keys and percussion behind them, going largely unnoticed visually. Everything about them seems bigger than when I last saw them in The Castle across the road, 18 months ago, in what was as close to a sauna as I’ve ever been in, and it was pretty warm tonight, too. Their sound is bigger, the volume louder (perhaps the drums were a little too loud at times, occasionally drowning out voices) and their confidence as a band seems to have grown.

Joe Hammill has the presence of Eastwood’s ‘the man with no name’ who’s just ridden into town while Helen’s comes from her voice rather than her mannerisms.  In fact she still seems a little shy, often looking at the ceiling, walls or back of the room rather than making eye contact and on a couple of occasions Joe had to take control of the verbal exchange with the audience like an airline captain might take it from a student pilot. Not that the very enthusiastic audience cared much for detail like that.

The tour they are on momentarily, of which this was the seventh show, is in support of Mirrors, which was released this week and Joe said at the beginning that they would be playing quite a few tracks from it. They did, but debut album Home, which was also funded through PledgeMusic was given a good airing, with half the songs coming from it. And they got the mix just right.

While Mirrors features what might be described as more mature songs, Home is home to their more powerful material that easily induce a sing-a-long and that is what we frequently got. There was a section towards the end of the show embracing the songs Sold My Soul, The Poacher and Come Home when the place was really rocking. You’d have thought it was James up there playing their ‘Come Home’.

So why do I, and others, compare them to Mumford & Sons? Some of Cattle & Cane’s songs are of the same mould for sure, while others are vastly different. Well, whatever you might think of the West London toffs (they aren’t my cup of tea to be honest) they are utterly professional, they can play their instruments very well, they can sing, they’re dynamic, they create atmosphere and they can hold an audience’s attention absolutely. The last part of that is the hardest but C&C shares with M&S the ability to do it. Not once did I see anyone checking out messages on their phones, engaging in idle chatter, or going to the bar (as did happen at the Castle, ruining a soft ballad).

What I don’t get about Cattle & Cane, and I believe I alluded to this in the review of the Castle gig, is why a band that has been around for seven years, has had a fair bit of media exposure, and which garners unequivocally good reviews for both recorded music and live shows, is still unsigned and having effectively to crowdsource financing for their albums. Incidentally, if I understood Helen correctly Mirrors had that day entered the Official Album Chart at #53, “higher than Oasis” as somebody offered from the audience (a Man United fan I guess).  Unless retaining their current status is what they prefer, there ain’t no justice in this world.

It’s become a habit of mine to forget starting times so I arrived far too late for support act Taylor and the Mason. I caught (Sally) Mason on her own last July at this venue, supporting Little Scream, and she was good so I wasn’t surprised to hear a (four-person) band that’s even better, if only for a couple of final songs. Apparently the full band runs to eight members, a sort of PolyManic Spree, who wouldn’t have fitted on the stage. Definitely worth checking out.

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