Live review: Keston Cobblers’ Club at Islington Assembly Hall, 12/10/2019

Now four albums and ten years old, ultra-folksy quintet Keston Cobblers Club brought their eight-date UK anniversary tour to a close at London’s Islington Assembly Hall to a rather fervent crowd numbering around the 1,000 mark.

There is plenty of self-indulgence from the Cobblers throughout, but it is hard to begrudge them a second of it.

To have survived a decade in such a demanding, ruthless industry is quite the achievement, and deserves an opportunity to celebrate properly.

Keston Cobblers’ Club certainly managed that, in a two-part, two-and-a-half hour set that featured plenty of nostalgia, dozens of friends and collaborators joining them on stage.

There was also a cameo from their parents, dubbed FamBand, to open the second set while a recounting of the Cobblers’ tale that spawned their name acted as the curtain-raiser.

Split into two halves and without support, the band played through the highlights of their first two albums, and 2012’s One, For Words and 2015’s Wildfire, first up.

If you can’t celebrate your 10-year anniversary by opening for yourselves, when can you do it?

A sensible way of dividing up and working through their extensive back catalogue, it nonetheless put a little bit of a straightjacket on their set but worked pretty well regardless.

The five-piece, led by siblings Julia and Matthew Lowe plus old friend Tom Sweet, drummer Harry Stasinopoulos and tubist Dan, once again dazzled with their ability to switch between instruments with ease; one moment Julia would be on keyboard duties before strapping on an accordion and then taking over lead vocals, only for Tom to then do exactly the same.

The first half allowed the band to revisit old favourites, with ‘Won’t Look Back’ and ‘Your Mother’ particularly well received as the band took the opportunity to call upon a host of old friends for various tracks, culminating in a near-dozen musicians onstage for an almost orchestral version of part one closer ‘Wildfire’.

The bonhomie reached its peak for the heavily-trailed opening track of part two, as the parents of various band members were welcomed onstage for their rendition of the band’s track ‘Bicycles’. We needn’t have been warned that the quintet had not performed together before, but it was still a remarkable high-point of the show and the sort of quintessentially folk gesture that makes Keston Cobblers’ Club such an enduring outfit.

From there, the band tackled their favourites from Almost Home, released in 2015 and latest record Siren.

The unbridled love-in continued, with Julia coercing the crowd into dancing and Tom making an endearingly awkward presentation of flowers to the only girl in the band. There was also a return for previous member Bethan among others. The music, though, kept driving the set forward. ‘Contrails’ was hypnotic in its delivery, while ‘Almost Home’, almost flawless on record, reaches near-spiritual levels when delivered live, again with the help of a longtime friend – in this instance Ralph Pelleymounter.

The encore featured the band’s usual foray into the audience for an acoustic cover but, due to the sheer size of the hall, was forced into retaining at least some amplification.

Still, ‘Starman’ was delivered well enough to elicit a sing-along, even it perhaps didn’t quite match up to the startling clarity of previous efforts.

Beyond the songs, though, this was, as ever with the band, simply rambunctious and joyous and a reminder of just what it takes to last 10 years together – something remarkably few bands ever manage.

That Keston Cobblers’ Club have done it is testament to a stunning array of songs and a unique approach to spreading them. Here’s to the next ten.

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