By Ellie Lee
Photography by Robert Goode
It was clear that Villagers have a substantial fan base; before the support of the charismatic “Aidan the Canadian” had even finished, the room was already full, the ‘indie folk’ bringing in a mix of ages and people. The crowd was happy to express their enthusiasm for the music, nodding along, but there was not much dancing. As Conor the ‘front man’ for Villagers said, “there was a really intense energy” from the audience “freaking” him out, later contrasting the crowd with that of Manchester three nights before (but with Birmingham and Sheffield in between this- they were really packing a lot in…), where “everyone was off their face” on all matter of things. “This is what a Monday night in Oxford must be like”.
It seemed by this point that he had softened to the audience that was in stark contrast with an aloof and punchy start – striding onto the stage, making no deliberation and delving straight into the music. ‘Memoirs’ even incited a chorus of excited cheers. The band retained a quiet sense of amusement and a few small smiles at the applause. They knew they were good. It wasn’t until the fifth song – ‘The Pact’ – that Conor made any comment: a simple ‘thank you’.
This straight–to-business attitude couldn’t have been more different from the support, Aidan Knight, with his complaint that he was the only one talking. His soft, melancholic songs on acoustic guitar paired with his jokes gave a sense of bathos, setting the audience at ease and accomplishing a few laughs. “Any questions or comments?” He claimed that he was “the sweet topping on the dessert” of Villagers, later correcting this to the “tartare sauce to their fish and chips”. A good metaphor for the music – he shared the folk tones with Villagers, but they also differed.
It was about halfway through the set that Conor introduced the band, which included a combination of bass, drums, trumpet, harp, guitar, and keyboards all blended together; they are clearly a talented group of musicians. The music beautifully balanced all these elements: sometimes there was a combination of the trumpet and Conor’s smooth voice; other times, the harp and acoustic guitar, in songs such as ‘Dawning On Me’. Others showed a more playful edge, with a more funk tone, such as ‘So Naïve’. They knew how to raise anticipation in the audience, with teasing builds and extended instrumentals. You get more than just a reiteration of the album; it is definitely worth seeing them live if you are a fan.
There is also broadness to their lyrics, as seen when Conor introduced the song ‘Hot Scary Summer’ dedicating it “to the gays”. If you didn’t pay attention, to a lazy listener Villagers could just seem like indie folk, but some of the songs have a deeper, political edge to them. The audience gave an enthusiastic response, which the band were willing to interact with. When one individual requested ‘Courage’, Conor replied that the next one was a “courageous song but not courage”. It seemed like the pleas paid off, however, with the final song being the wonderfully wistful ‘Ego’, so in the end this anonymous enthusiast got the courage he wanted.