1. King Of Rome
2. Under The Waterway
The last twelve months have been eventful for the smiling, beardy members of Goldheart Assembly. All in their early '20s, a string of sensational live shows and word-of-mouth fan buzz has swiftly been picked up on by press and radio – they scored an NME Radar feature while still without a record deal and were the first unsigned band to record a Radio 1 session for Steve Lamacq in a decade. Plus every time that they play, it's to bigger and more appreciative crowds. Their last London show, at the 350-capacity Borderline, was a total sell-out and saw the crowd full of fans who had learned all of the lyrics to the songs on the band’s MySpace page and sang back every word in unison. The next show at the ICA is sold out 6 weeks up front of the show.
Now they're about to release their sensational debut album on Fierce Panda - the legendary indie label responsible for launching the careers of Coldplay and Keane – and the next 12 months are sure to be even more busy as "Wolves And Thieves" becomes one of 2010's most-talked about records.
A bizarre internet rumour of dubious provenance has it that Goldheart Assembly met while working as zookeepers mucking out the elephants at Whipsnade Zoo. The truth is slightly more glamorous, if also a bit more prosaic: the band actually formed in West London at the tail-end of 2008 where they met as part of a scene of mutually-supporting groups playing and putting on nights at the Troubadour club on Brompton Road in Earl's Court. The legendary coffeehouse where Bob Dylan and Paul Simon played early gigs in the ‘60s had a lax attitude to licensing laws but a supportive one for new talent: after the Troubadour's doors closed and the paying patrons were kicked out, the bar would carry on serving drink to the musicians until early in the morning, encouraging impromptu jam sessions and the swapping of instruments, ideas and band-members. Often the staff would just go home and leave the bands the keys to lock up, trusting them to leave money for booze consumed on the shelf behind the bar.
It was at the very end of one of these long, magical nights that Goldheart Assembly formed, inspired by both The Band's classic Last Waltz live documentary and the Troubadour's very cheapest red wine. Jamie Dale and John Herbert were old college friends, but they recruited Iranian guitar wonder Dominic Keshavarz and poached drummer Nicky Francis and percussionist Tom Hastings from their groups. Keyboardist Jake Bowser was persuaded to abandon his lucrative but unfulfilling job playing in a Motown covers band and Goldheart Assembly played their first show together in October 2008.
Immediately they found that the effortless blend of perfect six-part harmonies and timeless songwriting, played by a group who actually look like they have fun onstage, started to prick people's ears: their debut release, a limited-edition seven inch single on London indie label Heron Recordings sold out its 500-copy pressing in a day and now commands respectable sums on eBay.
The record was followed by a UK tour and a string of summer festival appearances at Glastonbury, V, the Isle Of Wight, Secret Garden Party and Hard Rock Calling (in support of their hero Neil Young) which saw the band build up a word-of-mouth reputation which extended far beyond their low key timeslots - so that by the time they reached the Latitude festival the BBC Introducing Stage was rammed with fans.
After their festival triumphs Goldheart Assembly set to recording their debut album. "Wolves And Thieves" was recorded over two weeks last summer by the band in a studio space that they set up in among the old engines at drummer Nicky Francis' dad's steam train museum in Norfolk. Assembling their collection of vintage mics and old guitars in a makeshift studio at the Forncett Industrial Steam Museum they set about combining their harmonies and breezy West Coast guitar melodies with the atmospherics of the museum, even incorporating the sound of a 150 horsepower Vickers Armstrong pumping engine that was originally used to open Tower Bridge as a rhythm track on one song, "The Jesus Wheel".
Drawing on their collection of battered old vinyl records including "On The Beach", early Beatles, '80s American lo-fi and indie, West Coast rock and blues, the band explored their surroundings: as well as the steam engine they recorded doors slamming and other cacophonous found sounds in a way reminiscent of the more experimental tendencies of more recent Tom Waits (whose song "Clap Hands" the band occasionally cover live) records, finding that this crash and clatter served to put the sweetness of the hooks and harmonies into greater perspective.
After a support tour with The Low Anthem the band returned to London to finish recording and mixing with legendary producer Laurie Latham (Echo And The Bunnymen, Squeeze, Ian Dury And The Blockheads) at Helicon Mountain studios in Greenwich. The steam train theme was continued at Helicon: owned by Jools Holland, its design is modelled on that of Portmerion, the small Welsh village featured in cult '60s TV show The Prisoner and whose centrepoint is an old railway station.
The result, housed in a gorgeous sleeve by acclaimed designer and DJ Dom Thomas, is a beguilingly classic-sounding record that never falls into the easy trap of being too retro: indeed songs like "Anvil" and "Under The Waterway" are full of enough hooks and charm to take the band far beyond their ramshackle and wine-sodden beginnings and mean that Goldheart Assembly are sure to be one of the brightest stars of 2010. Just listen and watch.
London sextet Goldheart Assembly have been doing things the honest way for the past couple of years, charming small crowds before moving on to larger rooms and small festivals and, via a BBC Introducing leg-up at 2009's Glastonbury Festival, they're now looking likely to embrace a considerably bigger audience with the release of this debut album.
Its timing is perfect, with Mumford & Sons enjoying unforeseen mainstream recognition and Fleet Foxes still regularly popping up on daytime radio. Goldheart Assembly's sound isn't quite as folk-indebted as the former's dusty demeanor, and nor is it as magically whimsical as the latter’s otherworldliness, but there are definite elements of similarity, particularly the strong vocal harmonising. Perhaps a closer comparison, compositionally, is The Magic Numbers - take their sunshine-flecked pop at its finest, throw in a little spit and sawdust, and you’re in the right place.
Parallels aside – useful though they are for immediacy – Wolves and Thieves makes a decent stab at stamping an identity of its own once properly underway. Opener and single King of Rome is a splendidly rollicking, country-kissed pop-rocker that has wormed its way onto playlists with the same effortless ease exhibited by Fleet Foxes' Mykonos. Both songs resonate with an innate familiarity, yet simultaneously seem to present something sparkly new. Whatever the formula for such instant-of-appeal offerings is, Goldheart Assembly have it committed to memory. But they don't stick to it exclusively.
Anvil softens the mood, xylophone chimes underpinning a delicate acoustic ballad; So Long St Christopher, meanwhile, swells proudly with archaic organ tones preceding a lycan howl of freak-folk-ish temperament. Jesus Wheel is the album's dark heart, a rumbling rumination on the acceptance of inadequacy, yet the following Reminder is a quasi-shanty sure to raise a smile. The album expresses its diversity without ever distancing itself from the core components that make it work: namely James Dale's affecting lead vocals, carefully entwined yet purely organic instrumentation, and an overall vibe that's got its roots in pastoral Californian pop of the past.
It's not overly showy nor ground-breaking, and it will stir thoughts of other, perhaps slightly more accomplished performers. But such is the inherent sweetness of Goldheart Assembly's debut that the listener can't fail to be touched by its charms, slight though they are, and all signs here point to a deserved increase in popularity and perhaps a second album to truly celebrate.