I Am Kloot’s ascent towards popular approval has been a long, drawn-out process. It’s only from their previous two albums, 2010’s Sky At Night and the recently released Let It All In, that the Manchester trio has enjoyed real exposure. Under the wing of big brothers Elbow, Kloot rode the ‘nice guys/sad songs’ wave all the way to a Mercury nomination in 2010 and have since found a safe home alongside Guy Garvey and co. in the shelf marked ‘national treasures’.
The band is acutely aware of the legion of die-hards which have followed them from their early days on the pub circuit, and in many ways their Albert Hall show is a tribute to the fans. Despite the cover of their most recent album forming the stage backdrop, Kloot aren’t on a marketing mission. They drop in a handful of tracks from the record but at no point does John Bramwell (guitar, vocals) attempt to promote the album with anything more than a jocular quip.
Kloot knows its audience and, in a very personal sense, its audience knows them too. Bramwell rests his guitar on one knee as he props himself up on an upturned crate of lager, lightly bantering the crowd with pub talk from years gone by. Bassist Pete Jobson gets a cheer when fans are treated to an unexpected glimpse of him on two feet (his well-known style is to perform sitting down), while drummer Andy Hargreaves’ broad, bearded grin warms the room as he raises a pint in salute.
The more refined setting is initially awkward for the band, with the barrier between artist and audience more rigid than the boozy surroundings usually associated with Kloot. But the wall is quickly broken down as the band delves deep into its now accomplished back-catalogue, beginning with the much-loved ‘From Your Favourite Sky’ and breakthrough single ‘Northern Skies’, before reeling off a string of tracks from their latest album. The typically Kloot trumpet line on ‘Some Better Day’ caps a run of songs which enables the band to showcase the development of its compositional style; on its previous two albums, Kloot has significantly expanded its range of sounds by embellishing tracks with brass and other orchestral instrumentation, serving to amplify the bigger numbers (‘Radiation’, ‘These Days Are Mine’) while at the same time furthering the nostalgic Englishness which runs through their music.
Soaking the crowd in this lush instrumentation only adds to the poignancy of Bramwell’s solo interlude when the others slink off for a well-timed fag break (the singer jokes that this routine conveniently ‘sparked up’ around the time the smoking ban was enforced). Without the rhythm section, what is left is the pure essence of Kloot. Bramwell softly picks an acoustic melody while his wisened lyrics spin yarns of self-deprecation and wit, but which also transcend on a much deeper level: “I admit that I have spent some time in confusion/ Not knowing what is or is not illusion/ Riddled with myself and destruction … But the bald, raging flame of your heart is making me stay.” He melts ‘Astray’, ‘No Fear of Falling’ and ‘I Still Do’ into a beautiful medley which marks the set’s high point and ushers in the show’s final act as the booming chords of ‘Radiation’ drift softly into ‘Proof’, a song so good it made it onto two of their albums.
Shows like the one I Am Kloot put on at the Albert Hall are a reminder to critics not to be so flippant in filing the band under their usual ‘beards and beers’ tag. Underlying the ‘no frills’ exterior is a band with a phenomenally strong collection of songs which tug at the heartstrings in a way few of its contemporaries can match.
…Jack is listening to Belle & Sebastian – ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’