Forget, “you had me at hello, “ this latest musical jaunt from TTMTMS had me at the cover illustration, one seemingly taken from an Edward Lear publication. Not that it says much about the music itself but it does tell me something about the way they think and the things they find amusing. Truth be told, they had me before that. They had me at Tightropin’ that most English of romps through the most American of sounds. And that is really the essence of the band, the ability to liberally plunder the best bits of state-side roots history, porch band culture and cowboy campfire jams but then drive a spike through the centre that is shaped like English folk tradition and quirky humour. Many can folk but few frolic so wonderfully and so brilliantly revelling in this country’s quintessential qualities.
My Banjo Player Hates Me is the perfect example of this, Appalachian folk and bluegrass vibes wrestle with jaunty homespun folk sounds, a wonderfully low-key, internal band wrangle set to music, delivered with tongue firmly in cheek (let’s hope), pint in hand and oozing with charisma, wit and frantic musical fun. And if you still can’t picture it, imagine The Levellers if they stopped trying to change the world and developed a sense of humour!
The title track also neatly demonstrates why I love and relate to this band so readily as main Man Mark explains it being about his “obsession with reading great books as a youth and how I actually thought I was the hero when reading them. I would honestly believe I was Owen Meany or the next Bilbo Baggins, escaping reality through literature.” Yes, been there sir. It’s a smoother groove, fashioned of tinkling piano’s, an easy accessibility and infectious chorus, a song that neatly illustrates that whilst some of their more majestic clattering roots sounds might have a more limited, cultish audience, much of their music is a commercial shoo-in, given the right champions (Bob Harris we need you more than ever) and a fair wind.
Make The Bed wanders into that quirky, kitchen-sink drama territory that The Beautiful South excelled at, in my opinion s again, something only a British band could make, a low key love song that dwells on the gritty realities of relationships; snarky and endearing in equal measure, the cold shoulder before the reaffirming of a couple’s devotion. Honest, relatable and as always brilliantly done.
The Two Man Travelling Medicine Show deserve a bigger audience. They combine clever and concise songs with great composition and deft delivery. They make very English songs for a global audience. They explore the minutiae of everyday life and do so with humour and honesty. It’s like The Kinks had a second chapter as residents at Cambridge Folk Festival. Imagine that?