Review: The Phantom Band, The Duchess

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Deserve to be better known… The Phantom Band. Photographs: Simon Godley

The Phantom Band

The Duchess, York

Thursday, February 5

Having once more had the distinct privilege of catching The Phantom Band in concert it remains one of life’s bigger mysteries as to why they continue to slip under many people’s radar.

Whilst a sold out show at The Lexington in London gives lie to this assertion, this evening’s disappointingly small crowd in The Duchess may be a more accurate barometer of how widely the Glasgow-based sextet are known.

The Phantom Band has existed in that specific form since 2006, a period during which they have now released four albums. The first two of these records – Checkmate Savage and The Wants – appeared in relatively quick succession of each other in 2009/10.

The last couple – Strange Friend and Fears Trending – came out within the last six months or so. Based upon that cycle of productivity we should now not expect any further releases for a few years, which is all the more reason for us to enjoy nights like this.

All four albums may have folk music at their collective beating heart, yet the greater unifying factors are the strength of the band’s long established friendships, the myriad of individual influences that all six men bring to The Phantom Band table and the security and sheer enjoyment that this sense of collective responsibility undoubtedly brings.

Despite the wide range of musical styles that lie therein – be it progressive rock, post rock, krautrock or any other kind of rock you might care to mention – togetherness is key to The Phantom Band sound.

And tonight the six Scotsmen – Rick Anthony, Greg Sinclair, Duncan Marquiss, Gerry Hart, Andy Wake and Iain Stewart – are, as ever, as one.

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Rich baritone: Rick Anthony

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Channelling a ghost through his melodica… as you do
In truth the set does take a little while to ignite this evening – perhaps testament to the small audience numbers – but when it finally does, the end result is nothing less than incendiary.

The moment it properly catches fire can probably be traced back to the ominous martial law of Doom Patrol. One of five songs played tonight from Strange Friend, it just gallops ahead, defying you to try and keep pace with its relentless rhythm.

Sweat Box seems similarly infused with sculpted defiance, whilst Into The Corn bludgeons you into helpless submission through the sheer weight and intensity of its melody.

Rick Anthony’s melodica brings some relief before his rich baritone recalls “everyone I knew there was dead”. Yet for all of that song’s apparent solemnity, the music of The Phantom Band is played with a huge smile on its communal face.

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Ahead of the chasing pack – the Phantom Band
Invited by a voice in the audience to once more get his melodica out, Anthony feigns shock and says that he hardly knows the man. But get it out he does and channelling the ghost of Augustus Pablo through its mouthpiece he invests the magnificent motorik beast that is Crocodile – a most richly deserved encore if ever there was one – with an ambiguous lightness of touch.

Crocodile, like much of The Phantom Band’s music, is not all that it seems. It may present as another cosmic race for the krautrock prize but its elusive nature keeps such broad classification tantalisingly just out of reach.

And it is this chameleon like characteristic that enables The Phantom Band to remain one step beyond the chasing pack.

Furthermore, they do not appear to crave success in any conventional sense. And whilst it probably matters little to them as they continue to produce such a natural, organic, fully integrated sound, this may well contribute towards them remaining relatively unknown.