The last time I saw Mandolin Orange they were playing a pub in Sheffield, just last year. Last night they were closing out their European tour at the historic Assembly Hall in Islington, London.
I photographed these actually in 2016 at the Glee Club in Nottingham, a small place, couple of hundred people. So It was strange seeing songwriter Andrew Marlin (vocals/mandolin/guitar) and Emily Frantz (vocals/fiddle/guitar) having to fill such a big stage, though they were assisted by their what seems to be now full time members Clint Mullican (Bass/Baritone guitar), Joe Westerland (Drums/Percussion), and Josh Oliver (Acoustic/Electric guitar/keys) who is the only musician to have appeared on all there releases since there first full length This Side Of Jordan back in 2013; in fact I think he used to support them everywhere as well.
So it seem’s logical really, the last two albums (Blindfaller and February 2019 release Tides of a Teardrop) they’ve implemented much more eclectic array of sounds which have stepped away from the subtle songs we were used to hearing from them; but still instilling that Bluegrass and Americana vibe throughout although it is pure folk underneath. They’ve now adopted to bring these guys on the road too, and this has somewhat drifted that form of intimate feeling as well; previously it was just the duo so you’d get such stripped down performances. Though the new album is not a step back from previous material, lyrically at least with the first time Andrew talking about the death of his mother, but I feel as a sound there is much more going off to take you away from the feeling from such songs as Echo, Doorman or Blue Ruin for example. In fact Andrew even said last night the best he can express himself through music is his anecdotes of love and sorrow and it’s something he’s done from the beginning a decade ago. Got to say songs such as Hard Travellin’ and Gospel Shoes do bring some chirp to the shows and a nice country feel.
But as live spectacle, they’re very current. Something they have always done. Pretty much all of the set last night was from the latest two albums and I would definitely say this has to be there biggest UK show to date, which they sold, and the audience were quite vocal throughout. So things are looking good for them.
Words & Photos by Tom Holley