If Fangorn Forest had a house band, it would be Wolf People. The psychedelic rockers from Bedfordshire realised long ago that nothing is heavier than the vengeful spirit of Mother Nature, and crafted a pounding, foggy sound reminiscent of Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin. Esoteric folk and battering riffs mixed up in a hag’s cauldron. Now touring off the back of latest release ‘Ruins’, themed around nature reclaiming the earth, it’s fair to say the band have never sounded heavier. On April 6th they worked their druidic wiles on the Islington Assembly Hall, and pulled their largest ever London crowd. If their set could be summed up in a word, it would be ‘relentless’.
Not much of ones for theatrics, the band strode on casually to blast into ‘Ruins’ opener ‘Ninth Night’. The lyrics, delivered in brain-tickling, cave-echo fashion by frontman Jack Sharpe, are taken from an eighteenth century burglar’s incantation said to lull victims into a trance. Perhaps there’s some truth to the legend; from that moment on, the crowd were hexed. There was no moshing, no leaping around. Just four-hundred eyes fixed on the stage, and mindless synchronised head-banging. Between their Sabbathian overtones and occult lyrics, Wolf People are the kind of band that give conservative smalltown mothers nightmares, and inspire teenagers to start buying incense.
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From there, Wolf People grew like the vines that crumble castle walls. Swinging from song to song with barely a breather, the whole business felt as one long complex ritual. ‘Rhine Sagas’ ‘When The Fire is Dead in the Grate’ and a complete rendition of ten-minute odyssey ‘Banks of Sweet Dundee’ all featured prominently, each with a riff more cascading than the last. The twin guitars of Sharpe and Joe Hollick were the bubbles in the witch’s brew, bursting with Randy Rhodes Mr Crowley solos or else locked into a crunching riff with Dan Davies’ bass, rolling so low that it almost punched through to the underdark. But the golden star goes to drummer Tom Watt. Crisp as John Bonham on the beat, with a host of tom-heavy, galloping power fills to drive the band along. If the performance was a ritual, Tom Watt was the frenzied, sweat-dripping shaman.
The band were joined on periodic backing vocals by Nicola Kearey, singer for auld folk support act Stick In The Wheel. Her characterful delivery blended tightly with Sharpe’s, giving the reverb-drenched vocals an added shiver. They were also briefly joined by Roger Illingworth, saxophonist for the ‘Ruins’ recordings. He played the war-horn of the forest for the brash ‘Not Me Sir’ and the softer, brooding ‘Salts Mill’.
Wolf People closed off their set with new-album favourite and unashamed Sabbath child ‘Night Witch’, and then polishing off their encore with ‘NRR’, their most energetic track of the night by several degrees. Just before the astronomic outro solo, Hollick’s guitar cable came undone and brought the whole song stuttering to a halt. This broke the crowd’s collective trance, and more than one looked about in a daze, as if they’d forgotten where they were. But only for a moment. After a few ‘what’re you gonna do’ shrugs, Wolf People kicked back in full-power for the final thirty seconds of the song, and wrapped up the evening in a suitably cataclysmic manner.
Wolf People bring a whole new meaning to the term ‘roots’. They’re roots in that they have a deep love affair with old world folk music and musical heritage. They’re roots in that they’ve delved into their own influences for their latest releases, looking into the work of Sabbath, Zep, and Iron Claw. They’re also roots in that they really like ancient trees. Wolf People are a band with a lot of thought behind their sound, and it tells in the live setting. Though they’re not especially energetic to watch and have little in the way of stagecraft beyond lighting visuals and the occasional guitar nod, it’s that living breathing live sound that elevates them. That sludgy call of the primordial fens come up to drag you down.
As overheard in the smoking area, ‘Wolf People are a band you could watch for two hours with your eyes closed’.