Introducing: Sparrow & The Workshop
(well, not if you've been paying attention here already)
feature for Clash
The Scottish live music scene is about as healthy as it's ever been right now, but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of new young bands trying to live out rockstar dreams based on little more than the ability to detune a guitar. Earplugs are always recommended, to protect your ears and to protect your sanity. But sometimes you catch one: a new band several steps above the others, like athletes where sloths went before, and it all becomes worthwhile. I knew Sparrow & The Workshop were special from the moment I first saw them live in late 2008. Now they're releasing their debut album and, whaddaya know, I was right!
Sparrow formed two years ago after Jill O'Sullivan (lead vocals) and Nick Packer (guitar, bass) moved to Glasgow from London. There they met Gregor Donaldson (drums, vocals), and the boys began to put some flesh on the bones of songs Jill was already writing. Since then they've been gigging relentlessly, in support of British Sea Power, Idlewild and others, and they've also released two well-received EPs, Sleight of Hand and Into The Wild, which have now been combined to make the album. Jill's high, agile voice, like Joni Mitchell's but with a Southern twang, has instant appeal, but a great singer would be wasted without great songs, and debut album Crystals Fall has those in abundance.
"People call us 'folk noir'," Gregor says. "They say it's just a wee bit weird, in a good way, or they say it's a new take on a timeless kind of music. We enjoy making it, so I'd like that to come across, that we're having fun." Early reviews have highlighted the dark themes of their lyrics and the folk roots of their songwriting, but guitarist Nick isn't afraid of causing a racket, as in the thrilling crescendos of Crystals and Into The Wild, and the sliding solo of Swam Like Sharks.
Gregor's drumming is crucial too. He's not content to do the basic 4/4 support while the song marches on. Instead, he's always looking for gaps, chances to duck in and out, like a winger using tricks as well as pace to beat his man. It's no coincidence that his drumming takes centre-stage on some of the album's best songs, such as Into The Wild and Devil Song.
"We've had some pretty nice things said about us already," Gregor says, and those positive vibes are only going to continue.