Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Rumble Strips @ Wilton Hall, London

15 July 2009

Whether the Rumble Strips are going to be the next big thing is yet to be seen. They seem to have everything going for them – in Charlie Waller they have a cute lead singer with a voice as big as a mountain, band members who can swap their usual piano and guitar for some battered brass and a profusion of crowd pleasing melodies.

And if that’s not enough, they have a deal with a major label and none other than super-producer Mr Mark Ronson on their side.

It’s this Ronson touch that will be their biggest push into the mainstream, and this is obvious at the launch for recently released album Welcome To The Walkalone at London’s beautiful, decaying Wilton Hall.

The sought after producer has brought his usual mix of retro strings and brass to the Rumble Strips, so it was great to see them playing live, if not slightly hidden away and a bit too quiet. The trumpets, trombones and French horns are especially magical against the backdrop of the ornate stage.

But the night belongs to the band and, despite their casual expressions and chat, you can tell they love every minute of it. Playing the entire album in order means the night starts with quite an understated number, the title track, but it actually does the band a favour and lets the crowd really warm up to their sound. The dramatic horns with Waller’s deep tremoring voice make a beautifully soothing, rich sound, even with his occasionally annoying fake northern pronunciation. He is, after all, from Devon.

But his live vocals show that he’s a true frontman, worthy of the praise he has already had. Waller aside, there are some curiosities. The bass player was wearing a vest and the knackered piano, probably belonging to the venue, is pretty to look at but barely audible. But it’s all about how the Rumble Strips perform together, working off each other and gelling with their orchestra. The biggest praise should go to the drummer, who not only keeps everything tight as a jam jar lid, but brings real passion and excitement to the performance.

Daniel is one of the highlights of the night. Waller’s on fine form again, as are the strings, which cascade around his words like a Hitchcock film score. There’s a feel of ’50s crooner with early ’80s chart pop, playing at the school disco of The Breakfast Club.

Another sublime moment is listening to the great trombones in Back Bone, one of the stand out tracks on the album. Here it’s shown to be as much of a spine-tingler live as the recorded version is.

It’s not until Raindrop, the penultimate album track, that Ronson makes an appearance, slipping unnoticed into the seat of the session keyboard player. This song is like the epitome of Ronson – epic brass riff, drum rolls, ’50s-esque guitar sounds, harmonies, like some early ’60s British soul band or an early The Coral/The Zutons hybrid. It definitely gets the crowd going before they even realise that Ronson’s right there, on stage, in front of their very eyes, in a sparkly suit.

The night comes to an end with some of the band’s oldies, much to the delight on the non-media types who snapped up tickets at the sold out gig. There’s a massive cheer for Alarm Clock and another for their biggest hit to date, Motorcycle. The band lap up the praise. Maybe this is the moment they finally realise that big things could be about to happen to them.

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More on The Rumble Strips
The Rumble Strips @ Wilton Hall, London
The Rumble Strips – Welcome to The Walkalone
The Rumble Strips – Girls And Weather