Photo: Duncan Cruickshank
After almost a year of writing, rehearsing and recording, indie four-piece The Malago Ballroom welcome their debut EP In Between Lives into the world with a cosy night in at Hydra Bookshop and a more stripped back version of their signature noisy, uplifting brand of indie.
The night opens with solo banjoist Jamie Cruickshank and an unexpectedly moving rendition of traditional folk song ‘Black is the Colour’. From the off, Jamie’s soulful vocals and delicate banjo style (who knew that was possible?) creates a palpable atmosphere in the room. He explains that this opening song “about being grim in Scotland and mourning your dead lover” is going to be followed by a song “about being grim in Cornwall and mourning your dead brother” – a theme is emerging. Jamie’s clawhammer banjo style is reminiscent of country and bluegrass, but he’s crafted a sound that’s all his own, drawing on folk styles from this country and across the pond and mixing it up with some more indie hooks. His final song, ‘This is Where Mosquitos Breed’ is a triumph, shifting effortlessly between slow and fast, major and minor, loud and quiet sections with a chorus that sends shivers down your spine.
With the mood set and the room full (and almost entirely sitting on the floor – this really is a cosy night in), The Malago Ballroom take to the stage…or rather to their seats. This is clearly an unfamiliar set up for them, not helped by vocalist Dave’s lingering cold and cough, but undeterred, they crack right on with the opening song on the new EP, ’11 Years’ – a quintessentially lively indie number with a proper rousing chorus. After a swig of herbal tea (rock and roll), the band kick into ‘The Guilt Again’, probably my favourite number of the night lyrically, so it’s great to be able to hear the lyrics really clearly in this more intimate performance.
A valiant effort at reproducing the EP’s uplifting instrumental interlude leads into probably their biggest anthem of the night, ‘Too Tired to Sleep’, with a huge chorus that I’m definitely going to be singing for days. The penultimate track on the EP, ‘Minds Like Oceans’, is a stunning gradual build through a gorgeously textured loop of ethereal guitar lines – and kudos go to Dave for soldiering on through some undeniably high vocal parts with an obviously sore throat. ‘Together’, the beautifully floaty final track from the EP leaves us all wanting more, and the band deliver with a lively unreleased number ‘Pure Joy’, which does everything it says on the tin, not least thanks to the bonus shaky egg accompaniment.
It may not be their usual performance, but it was a real treat to see this accomplished debut record played in full in this snug setting. We’ll definitely look forward to seeing them back in Bristol on 15th December at The Louisiana.