“Can we get some New Orleans brothel lights in here?” asks co-lead singer Conrad Bird as Holy Moly & The Crackers prepare to charm their audience with a unique layering of rasping vocals over a wooden agogo block, trumpet, strings, guitars, “squeezebox” accordion and set of drums.
The band modestly describe their sound as “gypsy folk rock”, because let’s be honest, it’s not commercially viable to forever explain what they really are: a wild and raging six-piece who sound like they’ve run away from the circus to somewhere in France in the pursuit of exploring every musical genre they can. Expect a combination of soft folk, speed gypsy, racing Spanish rhythms, rock ‘n’ roll and a traditional Jewish wedding march blended into a richly gratifying tapestry of sound.
Having failed to catch Holy Moly & The Crackers at Boomtown Fair this year, we were in no way prepared to miss their performance at the Greystones’ intimate Backroom on 12th November. Sure they sound good on Spotify, but how good in real life?
The band is eccentrically electric from the moment they walk on stage; a beret crowning co-lead singer Ruth Patterson, whose smooth rolling vocals and delicate fiddle glide against the dark gravelly tones of Conrad Bird, who wears a feather in his pork pie hat. Opening with “Sugar”, bassist (Jamie Shields), guitarist (Nick ‘Sharon’ Tyler) and drummer (Tommy Evans) bring the rock-heavy stamping beat, characteristic of their latest album “Salem”, that introduces The Crackers as they mean to go on.
Presenting their track “Cold Comfort Lane” with a mix of pride and hesitance, Bird disclaims how the song was recently borrowed for a US credit card advert. Although an unnatural match with their bohemian image and self-proclaimed “mongrel band” status, it is nevertheless gratifying to hear such well deserved recognition awarded as a testament to the quality of their music. The track’s punchy vocals and heavy circling bassline go down well and the audience is clapping along on queue within seconds.
Holy Moly move through their set with a sense of graceful chaos and wild energy that is truly infectious. Patterson and Bird alternate between singing and serenading each other with fiddle and trumpet solos, which layer effortlessly over their contrasting voices. Each song is different and pulls you between euphoria and tragedy within seconds, all the while fully acted out by Bird who brings a theatrical element to the show with his onstage jigging, floor dropping and pirouetting in between lines.
Introducing the hedonistic “Let Go”, Bird playfully requests that each member of the audience removes one element of clothing to mirror their wild experience making the music video – a request that amuses but is mostly ignored, likely due to a combination of factors including the Sunday evening slot and the fact that most people are already down to the bare necessities by this point, having worked already worked up a sweat dancing in the packed venue. In a raucous carefree festival atmosphere, however, I imagine the audience reaction would be a whole lot different…
Ruth’s strong and seductive voice pulls the audience in with a sprinkle of danger for “The Woman from Spain”, where racing Spanish rhythms build momentum as the band reaches their fantastically balanced sound. Next up, everyone is encouraged to stamp and clap along to Zemir Atik, a brisk traditional Jewish wedding song.
As the set draws to a close, Bird voices the band’s battle with pressures to compartmentalise their sound, paraphrasing Louis Armstrong as he declares to the audience: “All music is folk music. I’ve never heard a horse sing a song”. For Holy Moly & The Crackers their refusal to conform to a limited set of genres is exactly what generates their raw energy and magnetises you towards them. They have every symptom of a rogue group of rascals but their sound is serious. It is measured and calculated, brave and bold, and you can tell they are abundantly proud to make this dense melting pot of sounds work together with such ease.
Catch Holy Moly & The Crackers at The Bodega, Nottingham, 15 August. Then touring the UK until 26th November. See full dates here.