It had been raining all weekend. The humidity and constant drizzle ensured that if outside, you were never going to dry off, and the mud underfoot was the kind that required twice as much effort to walk through. The least perfect weekend to be at a musical festival. Nevertheless the middle-aged, middle class, middle-minded hoards of south west middle England (and their offspring, including me) descended upon Larmer Tree Festival 2012 for their annual dose of feeling young and free again – or so the theory goes.
By the time By The Rivers took to the Garden Stage on the Sunday afternoon, a fair proportion of people had stopped pretending they were having fun. If they hadn’t resorted to heavy daytime drinking, they’d taken up sulking and speculations about trench foot, or just headed home early. Given the circumstances, the thought of watching a set of reggae-pop performed by six chirpy chappies from Leicester seemed, if not out of place, then downright inappropriate.
But after they took the stage, greeted by a round of applause as wet as the weather, something weird happened. The sun came out. It was like after the forty days and forty nights of the Great Flood, where we at Larmer Tree were the livestock on Noah’s Ark, and By The Rivers were the peace dove signalling that it’s all gonna be ok. Either the band were blessed by the weather, or they were empowered with divine weather changing abilities. Either way, in less than ten minutes, in an almost embarrassing display of enjoyment, everyone was pulling shapes to reggae and basking in the sun, and went home the next morning with the impression that maybe their weekend hadn’t been horrible after all.
Afterwards, my initial thoughts were, surely they weren’t that good. But three years later, I’ve gone out of my way to see them more times than any other band, and given their album a spin at least once a month. I even survived the embarrassment of dancing on stage with them with some mates, tripping on a wire, and pulling down and breaking a whole amp stack. While not entirely original sounding, their blend of reggae, ska, soul, and afro-beat is just so feel-good. Every melody of every song is catchy enough to be running around your head for days after, even after one listen. Not just the vocal melodies, which are sung in sweet harmonies by three vocalists like a reggae barber shop trio, but the trumpet and sax ones too.
While you may not have heard of them, over the past few years they’ve toured with ska veterans Madness, The Specials and The Selecter, had airtime on Radio 1 and 6 Music, played a handful of major festivals, and they’ve got a new album on the way. They’ve even been tipped by the BBC as future headliners of Glastonbury. While that’s a bold statement, I’m sure it’s said with sincerity. If Mumford & Sons can ride on a wave of folk revival to global mainstream success, why can’t By The Rivers with reggae? I’ve been saying it since 2012, but By The Rivers really are one to watch.
If you like them try: The Specials, Dub Inc, The Beat