When we saw Birmingham’s Boat To Row at least year’s Carefully Planned Festival in Manchester, we were moved to label them as ‘surprise of the day’, their understated folk-ish sound belying a real craft in what can seem – at times – an awfully crowded genre. An album, I Found You Here, confirmed that initial impression; from the clever electrics of the title track to the haunting counterpoints of ‘Time and Time Again’, this is a record to re-awaken the interest of the wearied Belle and Sebastian fan in your life.
About to embark on a short series of dates to promote the album, we caught up with Ben Gilchrist (bass/guitars/vocals) for a quick chat about the etiquette of travelling to gigs, the importance of parents and appropriate headgear – y’know, the important stuff.
Hello Boat To Row – please introduce the band to our readers, starting with the tallest to shortest member.
I’m Ben and I’m the tallest by a freakish amount. Lydia is the next tallest and plays drums, followed by Michael who plays acoustic guitar and sings leads vocals. Next up is Anna on violin and vocals, and Lizze on viola. They’re about a dead heat I think closely followed by Hannah on keys, guitar, bass and vocals.
You’re doing some dates to promote the album. Who gets to choose the music in the van? Do you ever fight about who gets to sit where?
We are and we’re really looking forward to it! We’re not really a van band usually as we don’t have the budget so we’re more of a two car convoy on gig days! The music choice usually goes to the driver, but on a journey home anything goes. You just need something to keep you awake on those boring motorway drives so anything from ‘We Built This City’ to really heavy metal to Shania Twain. The Men in Black rap can get broken out depending on the driver! The journey to a gig is much more tasteful and civilised. The only fight over seats is trying to get out of driving!
What was the most important bit of kit you’ve forgotten to take to a gig?
Probably leads or drum sticks, the little essentials!
What was the worst place you’ve ever had to stay after a show?
We often drive home after gigs so there have been occasions when we’ve stopped to sleep at services for a bit or a coffee. There’s a few ‘broken man’ moments where we just couldn’t go on any further until a break happened! When we do stay over places it’s usually on friends or families’ floors so that’s not too bad at all.
You’ve got a new video – tell us a little about that.
It’s for a song called ‘Handsome Beats’ which is from our debut album I Found You Here. Hannah filmed it and put it together for us and she’s done an amazing job. It’s all shot around Birmingham, starting in the city and moving to more rural areas and shows the contrasting sides of city life. We really like doing as much as we can ourselves and after this video was such a success I hope we can do it again.
Tell us the stupidest thing that you ever saw happen at school.
Wow, that’s testing me, it’s been so long! I was in the year above Mike at school and he says that he remembers seeing me around school in my Offspring ‘Americana’ hoody and playing guitar in the music rooms so that’s probably the stupidest thing he ever saw happen!
What was the first BTR song that made you think, ‘Y’know, we might be onto something here…’
I remember when Michael first played ‘Autumn Glow’ to me, which was one of the first songs he’d written in a folkier sound, I knew that I wanted to be in the band. When we wrote the song ‘Whistle and I’ll Come To You’ for the album I knew we’d hit on a new sound for us and we were exploring something really interesting.
That song definitely went on to influence the rest of the writing for the album so I think that would be a good example of us hitting onto something we were all really excited about it.
Which band member has the coolest Mum or Dad?
Everyone has pretty awesome parents – it depends on how you look at it! Lydia’s Dad is a film maker and worked on an early David Bowie video which is cool and her Mum is an artist so they’re the most creative. Hannah’s parents are super nice and cool; Anna’s parents drive from Cardiff to Birmingham just to make our shows sometimes and are really supportive.
Mike’s Dad is a massive metal fan and used to let us practice in his living room all the time. My Dad is the ultimate Dad rocker but still makes room for our album amongst all that Whitesnake and Def Leppard. Mine and Mike’s Mums should really work in PR as they spread the word far and wide at any opportunity!
So what I’m saying diplomatically is that they’re all really cool and have supported us in everyway they can. Lizze only just joined the band so we’ve not met her parent yet but I’m sure they’re legends!
What were the words of the first verse of the first song you ever wrote?
I don’t remember but they were definitely super teenage angsty. It’s for the best that I don’t write any lyrics, thats for sure!
If you were going to cover a David Bowie track, what would it be?
One of my absolute favourites is ‘Lets Dance’ but I reckon that BTR could do a pretty interesting cover of ‘Ashes to Ashes’.
Finally, do you think I look good in my pork pie hat?
You look lovely!
Find out more about Boat To Row via their website or Facebook page. Their tour starts tonight (Friday, 5th February) at Manchester’s Soup Kitchen and continues through to 31st March when they play London’s Old Queens Head.