Introducing The Holcombe Family String Band

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I always try to open my mind and ears when it comes to music as I like to look for sounds which are a little different to the usual suspects already in my music collection. The Holcombe Family String Band definitely fit this requirement as they bring a blend of Ragtime, Hokum, Viper Jazz, Country Blues and Western Swing. I know, some of you are reading this and thinking that this blend might not be for you, however I recommend that you continue reading as you may be pleasantly surprised with what you will hear. I’m not going to lie and pretend I know a lot about this type of sound but all I know is that my ears like what they hear. These guys have been part of my collection when they used to be called ‘We Died at Sea’ and since then they have evolved their sound and to the name they have today. The guys are back with their debut album ‘Ragtime! Hokum! Western Swing’.

So, who are The Holcombe Family String Band? This Leeds band is made up of C.D. Wallum (vocals, guitar, tenor banjo), Rob Bromley (fiddle), Jonathan Scully (trumpet), Francis Watson (drums, washboard) and Felipe Petry (upright bass). They have supported the likes of CW Stoneking, Sheesham & Lotus & Son, Curtis Eller’s American Circus, Simone Felice, The Dad Horse Experience and The Stray Birds. They have also had numerous festival appearances as well as airplay on BBC Radio 6 Music and BBC Introducing. The Holcombe Family String Band have won over fans of traditional and early roots music, taking something steeped in the past but giving it a modern relevance.

To talk more about the band, I caught up with C.D. Wallum who was happy to answer some questions that I had. We talked about the band name, influences, the new album and more. This is what he had to say:

How did The Holcombe Family String Band come together and is there a story behind the name?

Fran (washboard and drums) and I (Chris) met a lifetime ago, studying music at Stratford Upon Avon College. We both moved up to Leeds together at about the same time, give or take a year. We met Rob (fiddle) just through playing in various bands around Leeds and Felipe (upright bass) shortly after. Jon (trumpet) joined about a year ago. He plays in a swing band called The Big Easy so we were frequently bumping into him. Not long after first meeting him, I asked him to join and fortunately enough, he did!

How would you describe the bands sound and which musicians have helped influence this?

The band takes influence mainly from the early styles of music from the first half of 20th century America. The hot jazz, early country and string and jug bands of the 1920s, the country blues and western swing of the late 20’s and 1930s etc.

Some influences would be Cannon’s Jug Stompers, The Mississippi Sheiks, The Riverside Ramblers, Blind Blake, Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys, Spade Cooley, Cats & The Fiddle, The Harlem Hamfats, Jelly Roll Morton.

Which is the bands favourite song from the new album and why?

I can’t speak for the others but my personal favourite is probably The Great Fire Of Armley. It’s a lot of fun to play and is particularly pertinent as it details a rather large industrial fire that occurred a year or so ago in the part of Leeds our rehearsal room is located in.

If you were headlining a world tour and you could choose are 2 support acts, who would it be and why?

The Most Ugly Child from Nottingham and The Ninetree Stumblers from Bristol.

Daniel from The Most Ugly Child is one of my favourite song writers in the country and a lovely chap to boot. They play Golden Age country influenced high lonesome, honky tonk stuff and do it unbelievably well. Their ep ‘A Wicked Wind Blows’ is in constantly heavy rotation at my house. www.themostuglychild.com

The Ninetree Stumblers are an old time string band. They’re a trio that swap about between guitar, fiddle, harmonica, mandolin, 5 string banjo, ukulele, autoharp and probably a load more. They play ludicrously obscure old fiddle tunes, rags and polkas and are about as good a band as one could hope to hear really. They also do a fairly regular podcast of old string bands and the like. www.ninetreestumblers.co.uk

What are the future plans and goals for the band?

Well, 2015 saw us open for the likes of CW Stoneking, Sheesham and Lotus and Son, Curtis Eller’s American Circus etc. We also released our first full length album ‘Ragtime! Hokum! Western Swing!’ on Gin House Records and recorded a genuine 78rpm gramophone record with Lathe Revival using an original 1930’s Presto Lathe…

2016 will see a load more touring in support of the album and it might be nice to get out of the UK for a bit in the summer… We shall see!

Let’s talk about the new album ‘Ragtime! Hokum! Western Swing’. Personally as a long time fan, I am so glad that the guys got the chance to give the world a proper showcase of their talent and sound. Their previous EP’s are good but they always left me wanting more when I finished listening to them.

This album has a wonderful old school feel when things were simpler and music was about the music. For me, this album is all about the music and it’s upbeat energy gets your foot tapping along even when you don’t realise it. I like how each member of the band stand out with their contribution, but also blend together to create this must hear sound, which their song ‘Oh Celestine!’ perfectly demonstrates. With so many different instruments used throughout the album it is no wonder that each song has an audio depth that is difficult to not get caught up in. Personally, I love the use of the trumpet on this album from Jonathan Scully. This is an instrument I don’t normally give enough respect to, but on this occasion I want to applaud the skills on show. Check them out on the song ‘The Great Fire Of Armley’. Like I said before this is a genre that is still fairly new to me so I am still finding it difficult to translate what I’m hearing into words. All I can say is that I like what they have created.

As much as what the band have produced musically is great to hear, the vocals from C.D. Wallum take their music up another notch. The way he delivers the amazing lyrics on my favourite song ‘River, Black River’ is sublime and really shows off his talents. I love this song which showcases their retro sound to perfection and would have sounded great on the soundtrack to ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’. These vocals and story telling lyrics can be heard throughout the album supporting the music to help make this album stand out. I strongly recommend that you head over to their Bandcamp page (click HERE) to listen to their album in full. If you like what you hear then purchase the album while you are there, it’s what I did. While you are there you should check out their previous release ‘The La La Bird’ (such a cool name) as it sounds so good too. Check out my favourite tracks ‘La La Bird’ and ‘Minute Rag’.

I really like the sound that The Holcombe Family String Band have produced and I hope that I will catch one of their shows to hear it live. I imagine that their live performances will be very cool and a lot of fun. If you want to find out when they are playing or want to know more about the band then head over to their website at TheHolcombeFamilyStringBand.com. You can also follow C.D. Wallum adventures at his Facebook and Twitter pages.

This is the part when I remind you readers to support the music that matters to you. Independent music requires the help of their fans to grow and continue. If the music from The Holcombe Family String Band speaks to you and ticks all the right boxes then help spread the word about their music. Go on, do it today!