Whats in a name? Birmingham, UK four-piece Big Tent and The Gypsy Lantern conjures up images from the circus to a Romany campfire. However you read the moniker, the bands self-released debut, Richest Man Today, is engagingly diverse. The music is rich with fragile sound tapestries just as likely to be woven as strings furiously strummed. Big Tents string-driven acoustic mix works in guitar, Spanish timple, ukulele, brass, accordion, and assorted percussion, with two strong lead vocals and all four members harmonising agreeably.
While rooted in folk music, the bands quirky sound stretches into late 60’s/early 70’s prog. For a contemporary reference, Sweet Billy Pilgrim is a fair yardstick. Opener Mortals announces itself a little too gently with a long, if delicious, preamble of shimmering strings. The recording level is set low but, once volume kicks in, the song builds into a rousing anthem akin to the grand songs of the London collective, Revere. Lyrically, everyday memories of a love lost are juxtaposed with a sense that you cant escape the wider consequences, heightened by grandiloquent language (While mortals sleep the angels creep away).
Bus Ticket Sculptures twists a mundane experience (in this case a bus journey) into something creative. The delightful notion of forming small sculptures from tickets and leaving them hoping they will brighten someones day is tempered by the insecurity of all my hope is thrown away. This sense of upsides having their downsides pervades the album. For every quid there is a quo, as heard through the rhythmic urgency of 24ft March. The song looks back on disoriented relationships with the first step towards salvation being a night alongside a few beers and friends. The band pulls out all stops here, combining Mumford-like energy with the vocal harmonies of early Yes, while aggregating towards passionate builds and a mid-song change of rhythm that’s tackled by an abrupt ending.
Big Tent often use words for their sound value as much as for narrative. Hotel For The Seer defies your ability to transcribe the lyrics, while Lemon offers a suitably tart ode to an acidic young lady who’s spied climbing into an empty jar. From songs of self-analysis (Hangover, Stuck) to fond recollections (Gregory), Richest Man Today is a melodic, absorbing, and mature offering from a band that’s hardly spent enough time together to warrant such novelties.
Essential Tracks: 24ft March, Mortals and Bus Ticket Sculptures