19 April, 2016, 18:00
Whilst we waited for the band to make an appearance, an eclectic crowd gathered at Thekla for the performance of Eliza and the Bear. The young listeners of Radio 1 unreservedly belted out the lyrics to ‘Wonderwall’. The older members of the crowd stood at the back of the boat, nursing local ales. Interestingly, at the foot of the stage, a young lady was bobbing to the music with a puppet on her hand.
Eliza and the Bear ran onto the stage and began a lively rendition of ‘Light It Up’. The teenage listeners went wild and the older clientele applauded enthusiastically. Despite differences in the way the crowd showed their enthusiasm, it was clear the band had a strong following.
The band’s energy levels increased during songs ‘Make It On My Own’ and ‘Upon The North’. Their delivery of ‘Brother’s Boat’ changed the tone slightly, with the slower verses marching towards a crescendo chorus. ‘I’m On Your side’ begins slowly, perfectly highlighting the pop vocals of James Kellegher and the band’s impressive harmonies.
Before the rendition of ‘Cruel’ – in which the crowd swayed with phone torches above their heads, Kellegher explicitly states, “we are going to play the last song before we pretend to say goodbye. Can you think of a chant to get us back on stage?” Five minutes later, the band ran back on stage to the crowd loudly repeating, “you dirty southern bastards”.
Their energy did not wane throughout their performance, and it was clear that the band adored being on stage. They maintained a fantastic rapport with the audience and I was transported back to my teenage years, when energetic indie was at the height of its popularity. Their harmonies were reminiscent of Mumford and Sons; their energy similar to Noah and the Whale and Imagine Dragons.
However, I was slightly dismayed for two reasons. Firstly, to not hear the band’s incredible cover of Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman”. Secondly (and more importantly) the band did not acknowledge the puppet at the forefront of the crowd. Despite these frustrations, Eliza and the Bear did not disappoint.
Before beginning their final song, the newly released single ‘Friends’, Kellegher thanked the crowd and encapsulated the evening in his final words, “we didn’t sink the boat this time Bristol, but we really tried.”
On the night, I had the privilege to interview James Kellegher and Chris Brand from Eliza and the Bear. In the upstairs bar of Thekla, we talked about why they don’t have a Wikipedia page; their recent appearance on the radio one live lounge; reasons why they love Bristol and how they wangled VIP entry to Syndicate.
I bought the book you named yourselves after – a collection of poetry by Eleanor Rees. The title poem struck me as a very dark fairy tale and not reflective of your music at all. Why did you choose it?
James: Our music used to be a lot darker, but that was five or ten years ago. It wasn’t a deliberate departure; we didn’t sit down and decide to change but we figured out where our music was going. We chose it because a few members knew the poetry, and we thought it was a cool name.
Chris: We had no intentions of recording an album, we just wanted to write some music and we needed a name. We had to get a name because we couldn’t have a nameless Facebook.
James: We didn’t think that people would hear the name ‘Eliza and the Bear’ and assume I was a girl; we just assumed the people listening to us would be my mum and some mates.
Talking of a nameless Facebook, you don’t have a Wikipedia page either?
James: How do you start one? Do we need to write one? We need to step up the game and write one.
Chris: I don’t know what we’d write in the biography…forged from rock gods?
James: Rock gods! You can write anything. I once wrote on Noel Edmunds Wikipedia that he had an affair with a shark and got divorced from his wife because he was having an affair with a shark. I was about 12.
I listened to your Radio 1 live lounge. Were you terrified?
James: Oh god, absolutely. You know the countdown they do? You’ve got that in your headphones and that really gets the adrenaline going. But like a gig, as soon as you play the first note and you know the guitar is working, you are fine.
Chris: And it was probably the best we’ve played it.
What was it like inside the Radio 1 studio?
Chris: It’s a cool place, with a really modern office feel.
James: The studio was hugely kitted out.
Do you have a tour bus?
Chris: A little campervan!
James: And an Arnold Clark van that follows with all our equipment. We did a few ‘in stores’ on this tour, so we needed a people carrier that we can jump in.
Have you ever played on a boat before?
James: We are losing our boat-gig virginity today. We’ve been on party boats in Malia, does that count?
Have you had the chance to look around Bristol?
James: We’ve been to Bristol a couple of times, we love Bristol. We love hitting ZaZa Bazaar.
Chris: We’ve been to Pieminister and Laser Tag – had a great time aged 26! And, Syndicate.
James: Yes – we were on the Paramore tour. We had played in Cardiff, and then had our own gig in Bristol, so stayed here. We were walking around trying to find somewhere to go, and everyone was going to Syndicate. Everyone kept telling us it was tickets only and completely sold out, but our tour manager was convinced he could get us in. So he told us to wait down the road and look really pissed off and arrogant, then told the guy on the door we had just played the local arena and we should be allowed free entry and VIP. The guy just said “alright”. Have a look at the 2013 Syndicate archives, you will see us photo bombing all the fresher’s photos.
Who would like to duet with?
James: I would love to do “Dangerous Woman” with Ariana Grande, she has a set of pipes on her and that would be amazing.
Have you ever fallen out?
James: Me and Martin had a bust up over a girl, in Nashville. We were pissed, and started saying things like “why are you talking to the girl I liked”. We woke up in the morning like “that was stupid wasn’t it?”
Chris: Oh we’ve had plenty of bust ups over the years.
James: But we are better at not falling out now; we’ve been going for years so we now know when it’s funny to push someone’s buttons and when we need to back off.
Your songs have been ready for years, at least five, but you only just released your debut album. Why?
James: Some of the songs were written more recently but the majority has been written since day one. We felt our songs deserved a proper platform; we wanted it on Radio 1 and Radio X before we released it. We recorded in Nashville at the end of 2014 which was incredible.
You go from being on a cramped bus, to Nashville to record your album. What is it like to live these different extremes?
James: It’s mad. We got flown business class to Hong Kong a little while back, to do a store opening for Burberry. That was in the middle of the tour; we played Southampton in a pub on Thursday, flew to Hong Kong to play the show on Sunday, then back to Bedford for Monday. I was in a five star hotel in the morning, then sleeping in a single bed in a Travelodge in the evening.
Do you like touring and all the madness that comes with it?
James: We have the best job in the world. We have had a paper following us around looking at the less glamorous side to touring, and some of it is hard. But it is genuinely amazing.
Any festivals coming up?
James: We’ve got Boardmasters, Truck, Y Not… I don’t know what else has been announced, so I will say ‘just those’ for now! Wink wink, nudge nudge…
Chris: We’ve got a load of university balls coming up.
What are your guilty ‘music’ pleasures?
James: Nothing is guilty! Girls Aloud I love, All Saints… who are our competition in the album charts at the moment.
Are you beating All Saints at the moment?
James: Last I heard, we were sitting 15th. So we should have a top 20 album, which will be pretty cool.
Eliza and the Bear’s self-titled debut album is out now via Capitol Records.