Yankee and the Foreigners storm the Red Lion
Every so often you get that feeling that you just have to go and see a band. When a good friend of mine shared a link last week of a band due to play in Winsford, I got that feeling, and got in the car and drove 2 hours to go see them. Never has a gut feeling been so well rewarded - I think I may have a new favourite band!
The link that drew me in was a cover of Fat Bottomed Girls by Queen, always a favourite song of mine, and a notoriously difficult song to pull off with the beautifully layered vocals. But pull it off they did, and they made it their own, making it sound like it's always been a song with bluegrass roots. Now there was a danger with such a quirky cover that this was just an attention grabbing gimmick (and it certainly grabbed my attention), but it was no gimmick, this high energy and consumate musicianship pured out of every ounce of the music they played last night, an absolute joy to behold.
So who are Yankee and the Foreigners? Well pretty much what it says on the tin, a five piece act with Connor and Molly on guitar duties, Zach on the drums, Sam on the bass and Tim on Banjo. The first three being from the US, Tim from Ontario and Sam wafting in from the exotic realm of Essex. And every single one of them contributed to the vocals. They started life busking on Boston Common in onesies, which is no mean feat. To be a successful busker you need more then just musical talent, you need to be able to grab your audience and take them out of their day for a few moments, to stop them just passing by. This was readily apparent in their live act as they grab you from the very first bar.
Probably the two things that grab you straight away are the pure energy of the performance, and the vocal harmonies. With up to five layers at any one time the harmonies were incredibly tight, almost studio quality tight, not quite putting Queen to shame, but probably the closest I've ever seen a band come to giving Mercury and May a run for their money. This energy and harmony style puts a fresh coat on any cover they chose to perform during the night, making each one their own, but it wasn't the covers that impressed me the most.
It's always difficult seeing a band for the first time without knowing their material, no matter how good it is, if it's mixed in with covers then it can lose out to "stuff you know". But not so for these guys, for a first run out they managed to get some of their songs under my skin. The first notable candidate was Little Elephants, a lovely little song with an early Train vibe to it. Sleepy Queen was another one with its infectious Woos, that weren't exactly where you thought they were if you tried to join in yourself. We had two shots at their single Honolulu, one in the first set and again in the second set for those that weren't there early enough for the first set, and I got it again this morning as I woke up with it going through my head. Then given banjo is such a prominent part of the sound we also had two bites out of the Banjo Song, another one I think is going to be stuck in my head for days.
Of course the true measure of a band is keeping going in the face of adversity, OK maybe not adversity, but I did quite like it that when Connor broke a string, we didn't all have to wait for his guitar to be restrung, instead the band reconfigured to a 2-piece and gave us a song during the restring.
The energy just kept going all night with the crowd lapping up every moment of it, and the audience participation in 500 miles was a joy to hear, but eventually it had to end, though I'm hoping that's not the end of the story. I bought the CD and a couple of T-shirts, and told them I'd be back to see them the next time they're over here. If you haven't checked out Yankee and the Foreigners, then make it your mission to do so, it's criminal that more people don't know about this band. Check out their media links and go buy their album, if any band deserved the big time then it's this fun loving bunch of musical masters!
I'll go see 'em next time they venture over the pond without hesitation...