London folk-pop duo, Bear’s Den, captured my attention earlier this year when they performed at a tiny charity fundraiser in St Stephen’s Church, Shepherd’s Bush, with their friends Mumford and Sons and fellow Communion artists Daughter and Michael Kiwanuka. They left the stage, huddled in the aisle with guitars and performed, to a silenced audience, a beautiful unplugged rendition of their 2014 track ‘Bad Blood’. I stood a few feet away and listened as their lush three-part harmony reverberated; naturally amplified by the old church’s hollow nave. It was the stand-out song of the night. And while I think it might be challenging to replicate that special and intimate moment tonight, given the vast Art Deco auditorium of the Hammersmith Apollo – bursting with 5,000 people – there’s certainly no dampening the atmosphere as they emerge on-stage; it’s vibrant and excitable.
Bear’s Den, made up of Andrew Davie and Kevin Jones emerged to prominence in 2014 with the release of their debut Islands, which established them as interesting and serious contenders in the modern folk revival. Although, their sound has developed remarkably since then – bringing in Americana influences and bigger, more spacious arrangements – they’ve done well to stay true to their roots as they’ve evolved and moved onto that difficult second album. Tonight’s sold-out show is the final UK night on a 19-date tour of the UK and Europe, and Davie and Jones are accompanied by touring member, Christof van der Ven, and a talented trio of multi-instrumentalists who provide an extra level of colour and depth with brass, keys and a solid rhythm section.
They open confidently with ‘Red Earth & Pouring Rain’, the 80’s tinged title track from last year’s aforementioned second LP. New single ‘Greenwood’s Bethlehem’ is delicate although it’s the lovely lift of ‘Isaac’, which provides the first of many sing-along choruses to get stuck into. The poignant and stripped-back ‘Berlin’, a wonderful blend of interweaving guitars and emotive horns, warms our hearts.
They plough through material at quite a pace and it’s not until over half way through the 90-minute set when Davie finally takes a breather and opens up: “tonight far exceeds any ambition we had as a band…we are lost for words”. They weren’t being ambivalent, they were humbled. And that sums up Bear’s Den quite nicely – they are genuine; playing and writing with a level of authenticity that’s proving harder to find these days. Saying that, if anyone can nurture and encourage that in their artists, it’s Communion.
The popular ‘Above the Clouds of Pompeii’ rounds off their set before they re-emerge for a three-track encore, which includes Bad Blood (although just slightly amplified this time) and the crowd pleasing ‘Agape’.
You can see Bear’s Den at Reading and Leeds Festival in August.
Check out their new single ‘Greenwood’s Bethlehem’:
Red Earth & Pouring Rain is out now on Communion.