I remember it as being quite a bleak day in May that I turned up a little too early and eager outside Cardiff’s Clwb Ifor Bach (or Welsh Club as it’s known to non-Welsh speakers and lazy Welsh speakers alike) to watch a French band that I had only discovered some weeks before.
This is the kind of effect Francois & the Atlas Mountains have, their catchy tunes, infectious dance moves and clever videos filled my rented room in the city.
How I came to discover the band was, in all honesty; a complete fluke, as I scoured the line-up for the Paris-based Rock-en-Seine festival coming up that summer. French artists and their music had been grabbing my attention for some years before and I don’t mind admitting that I’m a sucker for a good band name… Naive New Beaters, Lilywood and the Prick and more had all managed to draw me in and made me a big fan.
I would be lying if I said F&AM were any different, studying that line up; a catch of my eye and a brief grin at the name later; I was on YouTube humming along instantly with the first result that came up: “Les Plus Beaux,” taken from their latest release and the reason for their current tour, E Volo Love.
From the unfortunately near-empty venue that May evening in Cardiff, I’ve tried to make the most of each of their visits to these shores. With further gigs in Francois’ adopted hometown of Bristol to Liverpool and Manchester, the crowds have significantly improved from Clwb to club.
March 28th 2014 – Leaf – Liverpool
There’s plenty that could be said about the streets of Liverpool on a Friday night, but they won’t be written here, and after all going to see a French band perform in an over-sized tea shop is surely one of the more refined ways to spend a night on the city’s streets.
Up the stairs at Leaf on Bold Street was the venue, a cosy tea shop / bar by day and trendy bar / tea shop by night. Liverpool wasn’t a new city for Francois, neither was Leaf as a venue, having played here back in 2012 also.
It’s likely that some in front of the stage were here back then as the band were greeted with cheers and the crowd in turn were roused and encouraged into dance as is so easily done by just listening, let alone watching and attempting the carefully choreographed moves taking place on the stage.
This current tour was on the back of the release of the band’s latest full length; just a handful of weeks earlier, titled ‘Piano Ombre’. The record was written at a time of change in Francois’ life, reflecting the inevitable issues that come with moving between places, and which have been universally felt by anyone submerged in such a period in their own life. However, like F&AM’s previous releases (Plaine Indonable and E Volo Love) the sense of sadness conveyed is always balanced with an air of hope, just as in life; when it is kind enough.
Listen to any of the band’s releases and you’ll see what is meant by this. On Plaine Inondable, there’s an unquestionable audible difference between such songs as Moitee and Be Water. E Volo Love presents the thought-provoking Cherchant des Ponts and yet will have you whistling along to Les Plus Beaux. Piano Ombre, as suggested is no different; as a song such as La Fille Aux Cheveux de Soie keeps your feet on the ground while The Way to the Forest will have you instead air-guitaring your way through 6 minutes and 8 seconds worth of upbeat melody, and humming along for hours later.
It’s this balance between songs that makes the music of Francois and the Atlas Mountains so accessible while their blend of world-inspired music can only help this idea as no musical taste is left out of the mix.
March 30th 2014 – The Roadhouse – Manchester
The venue 48 hours later couldn’t have been much more opposite if it tried to upstairs at the tea-shop as we descended the stairs this time to the dark cavern of the Roadhouse club in Manchester. Arriving a little later than hoped, we stumbled mid-set of the support group for the tour; Barbarossa. But seeing their full set in Liverpool 46 hours before, we knew what this Manchester crowd were in for and the dancing shoes would well and truly be fitted by the time Francois took to the stage.
The differences between the venues were surely just as noticeable to the band as a few of its members measured the distance between them and the roof to ensure their energetic leaping about wouldn’t see their night cut short.
Additionally, the far smaller venue in comparison offered no foreseeable space for Francois’ usual frolicking with the fans mid-performance. However, neither this or the wall of amps that enclosed the stage would stop the front man as he was soon lost in the crowd; those of which were equally becoming lost in the sound that was still being produced from the squashed stage.
Despite its size, and as is often said, the best things really can come in smaller packages and this is a ‘tag’ easily applicable to Manchester’s Roadhouse. Of course it can only help to have one of the continent’s most energetic and melodically infectious bands on the stage in front of you.
Tomorrow, there will be a an exclusive short interview with Francois on the band’s recent release, short tour and what to expect in 2015.
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