TAPIR! – RESIDENT, BRIGHTON 4.2.24
On May 2nd 2023, after several years and attempts at trying, I finally saw Black Country New Road live in Southampton. One of my all-time favourite bands, their music moved me and comforted me in a turbulent time in my life as they did for many other people of my generation. I remember my barely 5’7” self trying to see through the considerably taller audience members in front of me to get a glimpse of the chamber pop sextet, but still finding solace in the musical experience. Their support act was something quizzical for me, being as I struggled to see them from where I was in the crowd, but remarkably being touched by the music. The act in question was called Tapir!, a six-piece indie folk group that enjoyed relatively decent exposure with their only two EPs at the time, ‘Act 1 (The Pilgrim)’ and ‘Act 2 (Their God)’. I remember a magnified blend of scant electronic percussion and spoken word samples, as well as frontman Ike Gray’s distinctive vocal delivery that vulnerably filled the room. Now, with the release of their debut album on Heavenly Recordings, ‘The Pilgrim, Their God And The King Of My Decrepit Mountain’, I believed that now was the prime time to re-discover these guys and catch them play a stripped back set at Resident Music on Sunday night for my 40th written review for Brighton & Hove News!
The shop stalls were decorated with five peculiar red papier mâché heads resembling the titular tapir creature, oversized in creation… I couldn’t help but think back to Penguin Cafe and the wonderful penguin heads they would don in performances! The lights would eventually dim and the crowd would huddle in between the shelfs of CDs, vinyl’s (and now books!) as four of the six core members of Tapir! approached their instruments. Respectively, regular keyboardist and drummer Will McCrossan and Wilf Cartwright were not present for this show leaving Ike backed by electric guitarist Tom Rogers-Coltman, bassist Ronnie Longfellow and cornet player and backing vocalist Emily Hubbard for thirty minutes of indie folk bliss. Tapir!, on behalf of Ike, take a moment to thank us all for coming, before kicking off with the opening track from the new album (and the title track from the first EP), ‘Act 1 (The Pilgrim)’. Tom and Ike employ some great stop-start guitar chords over a 3/4 rhythm before segueing into a slick guitar line under which Ike and Emily vocalise in unison; the track is short, but a sweet introduction to the world of Tapir!. The following ‘On A Grassy Knoll, We’ll Bow Together’ is a strong full-length song to kick off with, thanks to Ike’s elaborate folk chords and Tom’s reversed guitar reverb painting the atmosphere. Ike’s vocals are quite peculiar, there’s a slight nasal quality in his formant compared to the softer vocal that Emily brings to the table, almost sitting out of place, transcendent from his songs (this is a good thing by the way!).
‘Swallow’ adapts itself with a very complex ascending guitar pattern that scratches many rhythmic itches in my brain before Ike’s voice escalates into a haunting falsetto with occasional yelps here and there. There’s a certain atmosphere here that reminds one of ‘Spirit Of Eden’ and ‘Laughing Stock’-era Talk Talk with its fragility and religious imagery, as well as the atypical presence that Ike has against his bandmates that mirrors the solidarity of Mark Hollis. The band themselves have distinctive musical influences as the following ‘Gymnopédie’ not only features brief guitar riff-based nods to the series of Erik Satie pieces of the same name, but also a series of folk-based guitar techniques that one would find in music by Nick Drake, Fleet Foxes, or even John Fahey. The ‘Untitled’ track feels oddly rustic compared to previous cuts despite the entire set featuring more or less the same sound palate. Ike and Emily’s matching vocals give way to a multi-lyrical passage towards the end of the track that makes a nice touch to the band’s arrangement. ‘My God’ is by far my favourite track in the set; from Tom’s stunning guitar harmonics and the gut-punching falsetto vocals to Ike’s incredible interweaving of pop culture references (the lyric “iPhone 6 verse pick up sticks, a watch by Hugo Boss / Maybe it was Maybelline that put you at a loss” is hands down one of the best lyrics I’ve ever heard).
From here until the end of the set, it seems that the instrumentation with each passing song gets more restrictive, with the non-album song ‘Debt To The World’ not featuring Ronnie’s bass or Emily’s cornet, leaving Tom’s chiming bell-emulating guitar harmonics and Ike’s complex folk chords, oceanic in aura. The amazing working title for the penultimate song, ‘Hallelujah Bruv’ (Ike, I beg you, please keep this as the final title), sees Ike stripping down his guitarwork giving way to his religiously glorious lyrical wordplay that shines through the Resident Music shop like a beacon. A moment of time is spent switching Ike’s guitar from a steel-string acoustic guitar to a nylon-string one, for the closing ‘Eidolon’, now seeing him perform solo for, quote, “one more soppy song”. His guitar is oriented around an open D tuning, warm and wide in scope, yet still so quiet you could hear a tapir-shaped pin drop in the room. The character of the Pilgrim that details the album’s storyline seems to shrink further and further into the sombre marshes as the song closes the night off in a soft, soothing and comforting way. Naturally, after witnessing such a live experience, I had to buy a CD copy of ‘The Pilgrim, Their God And The King Of My Decrepit Mountain’ and get a photo donning a Tapir! head, before thanking the band for a wonderful show! Ashamedly, I have bought a ticket to see Yonaka perform on the same day as Tapir!’s next Brighton show at The Hope & Ruin on 27th March (Tickets HERE) … but they’ve big plans for their King’s Place show in London on 4th April, which I am determined to secure a pilgrimage to!
Ike Gray – vocals, acoustic guitar
Tom Rogers-Coltman – electric guitar
Ronnie Longfellow – bass guitar
Emily Hubbard – cornet, vocals
‘Act 1 (The Pilgrim)’
‘On A Grassy Knoll, We’ll Bow Together’
‘Debt To The World’