The Bollands

Live Review from CD 5 Launch Party B:


1. Chestnut
2. Distort the Truth
3. Soapbox
4. A Drunk
5. The Song That Keeps Her Up
6. When You Coming Home

Up first on a five-band night were the Bollands. Like the Carpenters, only different (not brother and sister, for a start). Hard not to type the description straight from the flyer: folksy, foot-stomping goodness. They kicked off with Mr Bolland’s clear voice ringing out about a bed of nails. The song, like the set, featured rhythmic acoustic guitar along with simple piano lines (the only keyboard of the night) and sparing harmonies from Mrs Bolland. Variety was provided by a mix of lyrical amiability and worthiness, with – thankfully – friendliness winning out. A great start to the evening despite an extended broken string incident, with their last song an exhilarating race to the finish. Nicely done, Bollands.

— Paul Mottram

The first time I ever saw the Bollands was on a sparse Tuesday night at the Wanch, when the only thing thinner than the crowd was the atmosphere. Within an hour they had proved that they’re the kind of band that can casually reverse cases of terminal boredom with their music and stage-presence, ‘cause everyone there went home good and toasted, boy howdy (what?!). So who better to start off the show with than with the sprightliest mavericks around? And they didn’t disappoint – with the (unusually) rich sound and (much) better lighting at Backstage they looked and sounded as good as they ever have. Not that making them sound good is hard to do – their simple-yet-not-simplistic aesthetic, the fact that they have two (and a bit) basic instruments and their instantly recognisable sound mean that they’re a pretty sure bet to impress with any rig. And yet things aren’t as simple as they might seem on the surface.

Joyce Bolland’s playful fills belie the heavy lifting her keyboards do for the sound. Her style blends the sweet-sounding chord-oriented tendencies that you need to play folk, and straight-out-of-the-pub, good times, blues-infused rock ‘n’ roll pianos. It’s plinky and merry, but with character – something like the late, great Nicky Hopkins’ style (one of the greatest session musicians in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, and it’s not hard to hear why) because the drive in the music is provided by her like some kind of ghost-bass. Plus, as a personal observation, she has an unusually light touch for someone with classical training – no ham-fisted shoehorning of unnecessary classical-sounding bits. And she’s got a voice that perfectly complements the edge that Chris Bolland’s usually shredded vocal chords bring, so it all balances out.

Chris’ guitar, on the other hand, moves between various styles with ease. There’s something of Irish folk in them (a non guitar-using style that adapted to using it), judicious use of major-fifths and whatnot that make for a rootsy sound. This is mixed with his style to play what I can only call ‘borracho’ chords, and this is not a remark about the musician, but rather the texture of the chords. Joe Strummer had this tendency, and it’s a little about timing and a little about the slight muffling and bending of chords; a purely stylistic quirk that makes the guitar sound a little sloppy in a funny way. When juxtaposed with the basal level of skill it takes to be a good folk musician anyway (which is much higher than with rock), this leavens the sound in a wonderful way. He also doesn’t abuse the capo like many musicians here do, which lets the sound have depth and resonance that would otherwise be sacrificed.

A Chestnut it might be, but “hoary” and “old” it isn’t; it’s instead a wonderful trick of composition; it starts of hinting at melancholia but turns tail while approaching the chorus and becomes a soaring singalong. The slightly cracked quality of Chris’ voice that night added a lot to the feel. In the tradition of the last 3 shows, the guitar maimed itself (by breaking a string) during the very first song, but it really didn’t matter. The foot-stompy Song That… was particularly sparkling, and every moment of their set was testament to their ability to hold an audience’s attention. There were some really spellbinding moments during the gentle ditty that is A Drunk. A certain observer suggested that it is a new truism in HK’s music scene that whenever The Bollands play, it is good. Well, they certainly did play. And it was good.

— Shashwati Kala

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Performances by The Bollands: