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Treetop Flyers

Venue: St Edith Hall
Town: Kemsing, Kent
Date: 20/10/17

Can there be a better group of their genre currently active than Treetop Flyers?

Tonight the band named after a Stephen Stills song brought St. Edith Hall alive with an intoxicating performance which left the appreciative audience stunned with awe and wonder.

Since winning the Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition in 2011, releasing a highly acclaimed debut album, The Mountain Moves, in 2013 and appearing at Cropredy in 2014, the wheels began to fall off the Treetop vehicle which appeared to have so much promise. Over the past two and a half years current members of the band have experienced the loss of parents, broken marriages and the near-death of a close friend, as well as the departure of their long-time bassist, this, together with numerous behind-the-scenes issues, could well have seen the band sink without further trace. However, rather than be dragged down by this litany of malaise, the group took strength from the situation and used music as a catharsis. We should be highly grateful that they did.

For those new to the group, a quick trail of reviews of their two full-length album releases finds authors comparing the Flyers' music to that of CSN (&Y), Byrds, Faces, Rolling Stones, Mick Hucknell, Beth Orton, Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac, Portishead, Father John Misty, My Morning Jacket, Sam Cooke, David Bowie, Steely Dan, Booker T, Procul Harem, Blue Oyster Cult, Stillwater, Allman Brothers, Lyndsey Buckinham-era Fleetwood Mac, Little Feat, Doors, Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Mumford & Sons, Fleet Foxes and America!

Well make of that what you will, (I'll be adding my two-penn'orth below), whether folk, soul, rock, country, Americana or any combination in-between, it matters not, for last night they delivered quality, self-written music, across the spectrum.

The line-up for this show comprised long-standing members Reid Morrison - vocals, guitar, Sam Beer - vocals, guitar, Laurie Sherman - guitar, together with Rupert Shreeve (Barker Band) - drums, and Aaron Griffiths bass. As it transpired, the evening was very much akin to a BOGOF experience as those present were treated first to an acoustic set by the trio of aforementioned guitarists, before being joined by the rhythm section for the full-on electric line-up of band. And what a treat it was too.

Of the 15 songs performed tonight, six songs from Palomino meant that this sophomore 2016 release was well-represented, with four cuts coming from The Mountain Moves. A further four as-yet unreleased numbers were also aired, together with one cover, which gave the evening a fine balance, both tonally, sonically and temporally.

From the outset, Fairytales & Lullabies, gave a good, early indication that the evening was going to be special. With the three acoustic guitars blending mellifluously, this song about death and the need to carry on despite the grief endured was delivered with poise. Following this, as it does on the album release, the trio played 31 Years, another song about loss, featuring some particularly mournful slide from Laurie.

An early Christmas present, in the shape of the first of the four new songs, I Knew I'd Find You, was more upbeat, boasting an instantly catchy chorus, with tight vocal harmonies over picked acoustic guitars and more slide.

St Andrew's Cross, a profoundly moving tribute to Reid's father, was delivered much like the recorded version, a simple acoustic guitar accompaniment and stupendous harmonies. The lines 'I look at my mother, crying outside, I look at my brother, missing his dad' showcased his powerful voice to the full. Rarely can this venue have witnessed such raw, vocal passion in a single song. Sublime.

Is It All Worth It, the contemplative, rhetorical, closing track on the debut release, ushered the first of a four-in-a-row from that album, and with tonight's delivery it is easy to see why the earlier mentioned comparisons with CSN have been made. Things Will Change saw the appearance of the rhythm section on stage for this bustling foray into what, (two-penn'orth alert no.1), for me, was pure Sutherland Brothers & Quiver territory. The soulful Making Time slowed the tempo down somewhat with, (two-penn'orth alert no.2), more than a nod to the late, great Morty and Racing Cars, before Rose Is In The Yard, with its country feel, brought the glorious first half to an end.

Hearing songs stripped back from their studio production values, and presented as 'acoustic' in name, (if not exactly conforming to trading standards definitions), can often be a revelation, and for many may be a totally satisfying adjunct to the recorded output. Treetop Flyers certainly did themselves no harm in so doing tonight with this first set.

Suitably refreshed, both audience and full band took their places for the second, 'electric' set. Sleepless Nights kicked off proceedings, with its jangling, dual lead guitars and exhortations to 'takes these reins from me and let's go wild', an offer readily accepted by tonight's supportive crowd. (Two-penn'orth alert no.3, - Sassafras anyone?)

For many people, presenting three new songs in a row might be deemed foolhardy. Tonight, it merely served to show a band high in confidence and thus having the cojones to do just that. They were amply rewarded, as the responses of the full-house confirmed. Warning Bell and Kooky Clothes saw a front line attack of three electric guitars as Reid took up his Fender Strat; the latter tune featuring Sam on lead vocals, before Sweet Greens & Blues saw him move to keyboards as Reid reverted to acoustic for this good-time number. On this outing alone, I would take a bet that these new efforts will be 'keepers' and worthy of inclusion on the band's next release.

A return to familiar territory next, with Lady Luck. Building from Sam's keyboard and lead vocals to the crescendo of mighty fine virtuoso Laurie guitar solo, this song alone was worth the entrance money. The penultimate offering of the evening, Dance Through The Night was a ten minute epic tour-de-force involving, variously, pysch-type keyboard playing, triple leads guitars and achingly heart-felt vocals.

This venue has possibly never seen such a rapturous standing ovation as the one awarded tonight's headline act, and an encore was, unsurprisingly, demanded. The choice of a cover of The Rolling Stones' You Can't Always Get What You Want, was a perfect ending to a perfect evening, and, given the group's recent travails, hopefully the sentiments expressed in the title will prove unfounded. This group deserves greater success.

There is a line in Lady Luck, 'Lady Luck save me from this shipwreck', tonight the Treetop Flyers did indeed show that they have emerged triumphant from their dark, difficult times. Finally, to the reviewer who wrote of their first album, 'But the songs are not really about anything', you are wrong sir, oh so wrong.

David Pratt

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