Folk is one of those genres which can pigeonhole an act into oblivion. Folk is a full stop. To any but the most dedicated fan, you are swiftly categorised as “not of interest”, when you're folk. Folk as a genre has guardians who defend it against such apparent philistines as Bob Dylan, who was shunned during his electric phase. Folk is closed, gentrified even. This at least was the case until the phenomenon of Mumford and Sons, who proved, incredibly, that folk-or at least a Grimshaw-friendly version of it- could not only be popularly saleable but there could actually be a trend centred on this genre. Rising in the wake of their vapour trail are The Dredgermen.
The Dredgermen are a folk act, but of the incontrovertibly modern stripe. They're a three piece band, hailing from the Medway Towns, but with roots faintly traceable to the centre of the folk universe: Ireland. The lead singer elaborated on their Irishness by means of the following “I'm called Patrick, our guitarist is Brendan, and our bassist's last name is Carson.” Their Irish heritage may be limited to name basis, but their folk heritage is beyond legitimate. Patrick, for example, plays a mandolin- one of the marks of authenticity (I mean, it's possible to half-ass the folk thing with a ukelele, or no-ass it with acoustic guitars, but none of this for The Dredgermen). Their classical folk credentials are further buttressed with a story song which marks the centenary of the First World War, and details the exploits in that war of Engelbert's great-grandfather. It is characterised with artful mandolin runs which strike the right balance between melancholy and honour. The Dredgermen of taste; they know how to make a point, musically.
The band have also shown a firm grasp of more direct styles of songwriting, such as with the lead track from their debut E.P. Man Overboard, in which Patrick pulls together various nautical terms to storyboard a romantic piece with a genuinely lovely chorus of “I was a man overboard, you threw me a rope”- a chorus which, in its last and lasting repetitions, emphasises the clear strength of feeling behind the words. Engelbert signs off with the vow “We will never run aground” -which completes both the metaphor and the song's personal meaning.
They're also at least as multi-faceted and dynamic as any pop-folk act you could name. For example, their song 'Honey Is The Truth' a lightly satirical air is established as a twee love song is ironically delivered in baritonal, almost crooning fashion. The thing is wittily rendered all throughout, ending on an unresolved seventh chord. Despite this the band intuitively know that a pastiche can lack staying power if it's all joke and no song. 'Honey Is The Truth' is so sweet, with shades of John Lennon's 'Oh! Yoko' in its harmonica solo, that it has lived with me for days after hearing it live.
In this live context the band confidently deploy many songs, only one or two of which appear on their forthcoming E.P. Some of their most memorable are not yet recorded, such as the hairy ballad 'Be I A Beast, Be I A Man', whose title alone is a kind of hook- posing a question we've all wondered at in our own cases. 'Rub Salt In The Wounds', which is rolled out as their set-opener, is possibly their most dynamic song. This might possibly account for its selection as first single. It's where the groups' competing harmonies find fullest expression, with back up vocalist Brendon Esmonde almost reaching equal-billing with Engelbert.
Their E.P will be officially launched this weekend and, with the confident stream of songs the band have already amassed, an album cannot be far beyond their sights. It is not known at this point whether the current cache of folk music will swell their sails, or blow them off course, or neither. There isn't an oracle, and I'll make no predictions. What can be said is their place in the firmament of folk is assured, if only the vicissitudes of life will allow them a clear run.