Ever had that blissful relief when a band takes to the stage, and not just a few but every single person yakking clams up, gaping and grinning in undisguised (and silent) joy instead? Well that’s what Haunt The Woods brought to the intimate tables of Plymouth’s ‘B-Bar’ on 16th March.
A four piece hailing from the shires of Cornwall and Devon, they’re that sort of band where you feel as if the land’s gotten into their sound, a tempestuous drama akin to a storm over the moors. There’s a sort of brotherhood about them too, with the on-stage and recorded efforts of Jonathan Stafford on vocals and guitar, Phoenix Elleschild on lead guitar and vocals, Alex Skinner on bass and Olly Bignell on percussion and vocals synchronising and harmonising to such an astounding degree that it’s easy to wrongly assume there’s a blood-tie involved.
Grandiose statements these are not. With their own brand of the type of folk rock which bands like Half Moon Run, Fleet Foxes and Mumford And Sons have more than popularised, Haunt The Woods have managed to accomplish the not-so-easy task of knocking the wind out of a pre-existing fanbase, wowing audiences at festivals like Boardmasters and winning over the tricky audiences of the capital.
How you ask? Well firstly there’s the sheer endearing charm of them. All are fresh-faced and eager, and all but bassist Alex could donate their hair and make a charity very happy indeed. Their passion on stage is just downright irresistible, as evinced by the amusingly earnest bobbing heads all around the room.
Secondly, there’s the song construction. Take a track like their recent single ‘Architecture’. A slow burner of electric and acoustic twangs and delicately ethereal harmonies, you’re engaged from the start, but in something of a distantly appreciative way. That is, until the whole thing takes a low-key electro vibe, with subaquatic sounding drums and the electric guitar taking a delicate lead, teasing you towards the anthemic final verse and middle eight. It’s something of a masterclass in back and forth, in the employment of subtle motifs throughout a song and the importance of dynamic changes. Perhaps most impressive though is that they can maintain this level of craftsmanship across an entire set, through older numbers like ‘Out There’, current singles and brand new numbers, like the stunning ‘Orpheus’.
Thirdly and most importantly are the vocals. Those vocals. Good lord. There’s a reason why when listing the band members, it’s necessary to state that all members are vocalists. They don’t just sing ‘backing vocals’- nothing so primitive as that. What they do is interweave their varying textures into a sound more warming than a steaming mug of Horlicks. It’s not overegged though, which is perhaps the heart of the matter; this is no ‘Glee’ type Acapella jam. Given substance by the veiled power that is Jonathan Stafford’s lead vocal, they are only ever employed just enough, toeing the perfect line between grandeur and simplicity. In a stunning turn, at one point all four left the stage and their instruments to stand amongst the audience. It could so easily have felt contrived, but instead felt genuinely magical.
It’s this toeing and toying with the line which perhaps most defines Haunt The Woods. This could just be an acoustic folk act; instead they utilise a hugely talented electric guitarist whose sporadic solos add a harsher and more rapid element to the tapestry. The harmonies could just be their thing and end up a gimmick; instead they’re used as the light to the guttural and gut-squirming passion of Stafford’s lead vocal. Haunt The Woods aren’t after a short term appeal. They want to be the spectres in your playlists for a long time to come.