January 6, 2022

Varied guitar sounds are layered seamlessly over each other in an impressive tapestry of tone…

It’s great to hear Cornish surfer dudes Wille And The Bandits back in the studio; it’s been two years since their last album, Paths, hit the shops in February 2019. That release arguably changed their profile from west country heroes to bone fide rock’n’roll idols, as their reputation took off and their horizons widened to Australia and the USA. Since then of course, it’s been a nightmare for all gigging musicians; Covid slaughtered touring and recording alike, but the power trio that recorded the album had already fragmented and gone their separate ways. Main man Will Edwards is now back with a new line-up, a four-piece this time, with Harry Mackaill replacing bass wizard Matt Brooks, and Tom Gilkes coming in for Andrew Naumann on drums and percussion. They now have a dedicated keyboard player in Matthew Gallagher, who also deputises on second guitar, with Edwards taking the lead vocals, lead guitar and pedal steel roles. In truth, it’s a shame; the trio were all multi-talented, imaginative musicians, and to see them reproducing their full studio sound in a live setting, sometimes playing two instruments at once or swapping mid-number, was a truly wonderful sight.

But that shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of the new line-up, who are also great musicians and reproduce the band’s trademark Acid World Rock sound to perfection. Edwards still writes the songs and the varied influences are all still there, with his excellent, gravelly voice at the front. Also still there is the mix of heartfelt balladry and rocking social comment. Album opener Caught In The Middle kicks off with a heavy, grungy riff, but the verses are actual rap, drifting into soft R’n’B, with the grungy riff coming back in periodically. The song dreams of never having to fight a war or live in a metaphorical cage. The production on the six-and-a-half minute I’m Alive is ear-catchingly superb, as the track manages to cycle between heavy and light sections, even though Gilkes keeps up a frenetic pace on the drums. Varied guitar sounds are layered seamlessly over each other in an impressive tapestry of tone.

Having said that, less emphasis is placed on the voice than on the multi-faceted instrumentation this time out, and the lyrical content is lost to some extent, which is a shame, as Edwards always has a lot to say. Without You is an epic song of suffering and loss, with fingerpicked arpeggios and soaring slide alternating with anvil-heavy riffage, but the message is somewhat slurred and submerged. Never mind, Good Stuff, a great choice for the second single, brings back the rhythmic, feelgood vibe with a hard and heavy groove backed with a classic organ sound. In This Together bemoans the appalling impact of the Covid pandemic, exacerbated by political infighting and points-scoring, as an almost rockabilly beat gradually settles down into a more standard blues-rock sound.

The theme is continued with the rocking lead single Will We Ever (featured at the foot of this page), which basically asks whether life will ever get back to normal, and whether the gig culture will ever revive, although the vocals are swallowed even more in this one. Even so, the band strive to present some good in all of this madness, with title song When The World Stood Still; a slow, end-of-evening blues with jazz-brush drums, upright bass, acoustic guitar and piano and a bit of Hammond. The song relives the beginning of the lockdown when, tense and frustrating as it was, the manic pace of life was forced to take a back seat, aeroplane contrails all but disappeared from our skies, and nature was briefly given back the reins.

The band explores their groovier, funky chops with Move Too Fast and Broken Words, but pop-rocker Daylight showcases Edwards’ emotional side, with this heartfelt, uplifting ode to his new daughter – a kind of companion piece to Watch You Grow on the previous album, written for his elder daughter. Refuge returns to the theme of the pandemic, lamenting the effect it had on the music industry, and on musicians as individuals, but the album finishes on a soulful highlight with the 8-minute Solid Ground, a lament about the future of our planet and our children. A sweet, atmospheric, late-night ballad forms the backdrop for some pretty despondent lyrics, with the final words almost whispered as the album fades away to darkness.

Fans of the band will not be disappointed; although the old guard has been replaced by new musicians, Will E is still at the core of the action, writing the songs, driving the social comment and underpinning the music with a range of guitar skills. But still, he himself says it’s all about live work for him and the boys, and with the last tour destroyed by the lockdown, it will be fascinating to see if the new band comes out fighting.

Wille & The Bandits’ new album When The World Stood Still will be released on 28th January 2022, on Fat Toad Records