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Limelight: A Formal Horse

“2014 was A really good year for us considering we only put out 20 minutes’ worth of music,” reflects Russell Mann, bassist with Southampton’s A Formal Horse.

Their self-titled debut EP was released in June last year, and what it might lack in length it more than makes up for in the quality, dexterity and inventiveness of its five compositions.

Delivering rocking, bone-shaking riffs that can suddenly switch without a nanosecond’s hesitation into intricate, spidery arpeggios scuttling off into terse, introspective reveries, A Formal Horse have been developing their own compact and concise style since their formation in 2012.

“Although our songs are quite short, a lot of people have compared what we do to the progressive rock of the 70s, which is really very flattering as in my opinion the early 70s is a golden era of prog,” says Mann.

The four-piece band, all in their early 20s, turned heads when they played last year’s Resonance Festival. Such are the fiery dynamics of the group’s playing, they usually manage to get crowds onside, despite occupying the support slot.

“We haven’t done any headline shows in our right, so the people who’ve seen us so far haven’t really been our audiences as it were,” says Mann. “It’s quite fun to see their reaction to some of the bizarre things we play, but the good news is we haven’t been booed off yet.”

The band’s name comes from a throwaway line uttered by cartoon legend Peter Griffin in an episode of Family Guy. There’s also a rather droll sense of humour informing the lyrics of songs such as I Lean, Sexbooth and Rosensage, whose wordplay has a whiff of Canterbury-esque whimsy. “The lyrics are anything but straightforward. I never know what they’re about!” laughs vocalist Francesca Lewis. “Our guitarist Ben Short writes the music and words. He reads a lot of poetry and I try to find out from him what it’s all about but he won’t ever tell me.”

Lewis says that while the band enjoy their time in the studio recording a follow-up release, they definitely like working it in front of an audience. “Playing live is so much fun. I love the fact that it’s different every time. The audience are always a little bit surprised by what we do.”

Reunited with Rob Aubrey, who produced their debut, the band have put the finishing touches to a follow-up. Like its predecessor, it’s an EP. Morning Jigsaw will be on the merch table this month.

“We keep the CDs cheaper than whatever the cheapest pint is at the bar so people don’t think twice about buying them,” admits Mann. “A shorter record also gives people a chance to get to grips with what we do because it’s not easy‑going music, really.

“The plan for 2015 is to play live to as many people as possible. We’ve already started writing a full album but we can’t afford to record it yet, but that’s our grand plan.”

PROG FILE

LINE-UP

Francesca Lewis (vocals), Russell Mann (bass), Benjamin Short (guitar), Mike Stringfellow (drums)

SOUNDS LIKE

Dense, adrenelised, Crimson-esque complexity collides with strong melodies and smart wordplay

CURRENT RELEASE

A Formal Horse via aformalhorse.bandcamp.com

WEBSITE

www.aformalhorse.com

Sid Smith
Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.