Formal progressive rock? Could that be a new genre? Another artist to impress at this year’s Resonance Rock Festival was the quartet from Southampton in Southern England, A Formal Horse. Adding to the diverse blend of up and coming musicians who played alongside some well established icons, the band were noticeable for their very smart, formal attire as well as, probably, the best E.P. cover of the whole shebang!
The line-up of Benjamin Short (guitar), Russell Mann (bass), Mike Stringfellow (drums) and Emily Tulloh (vocals) recorded the E.P. at Aubitt Studios with the well respected Rob Aubrey (IQ, Big Big Train) producing and mastering. When Tulloh upped sticks and departed to Tanzania to take up a teaching role, her place behind the mike was occupied by Francesca Lewis at the mixing stage of the E.P. We may find whether Lewis’ vocals change any dynamics on afuture recording but, for now, it is Tulloh’s voice that I shall be writing about.
Their self-titled E.P. consists of five tracks and has a running length of around twenty minutes, surely that’s long enough to get a handle on this exciting band.
Sexbooth begins all saccharine sweetness with a jangling guitar note that, backed by the subtle bass, leads us into the song. All hell is let loose and we are hit by some frenetic, jarring riffs and energetic drumming before Short starts firing off some licks that are reminiscent of Robert Fripp and Mann’s bass is given a similar prominence to that enjoyed by such a luminary as Chris Squire. Tulloh’s vocals really compliment the dense chords and sound that the band produces. Clear, yet with a sultry back note, it drips sensuality. You can sense hints of the Canterbury scene musicians from the late 60’s and early 70’s throughout the music but this is edgier and darker with occasional snippets of jazz thrown in for good measure. The next, wholly instrumental track, Fleeting Silkworm, is driven headlong by a thumping bass and chugging guitar, almost like a steam locomotive at full pressure, pulling multiple carriages at a steady lick. The contrasting bass and guitar section that follows will be immediately noticeable by fans of looping expert Matt Stevens’ solo work, high praise indeed. The song then closes out with more of that emphatic, initial, grinding note before chopping straight into the pensive I Lean. Apprehensive and melancholy with a moody undertone, Tulloh’s vocals add a slow and measured note to the song as it steadily climbs a stylistic incline. The resulting climactic guitar notes that Short fires are intensely blues tinged, like Stevie Ray Vaughan had gate-crashed the party. Softer sections wind around a funky edged guitar and bass as you are led to a tentative conclusion.
Again, there is no pause before the drums herald the second instrumental and shortest track on the E.P. Unison 2. Compact and condense, it showcases the technical ability of the band with a funky, driven bass line complementing the staccato licks of the guitar. The final track on this impressive release is Rosensage and it is here that Tulloh finally gets to be centre stage. The hectic, rapid rush of the introductory lick is tight and precise before a superbly deep and dark riff picks you up by the collar and drags you along. The interplay between the bass and guitar is brilliant and the percussion is there, just out of earshot, driving everything along to a definitive tempo. When the vocals start there is a sheer beauty to them, an almost operatic aura that transfixes you. Full of searing emotion and drama, Tulloh holds a note of yearning in her polished delivery. The guitar of Short then delivers a chaotic, discordant solo that impresses with its elaborate intricacy. It is Emily Tulloh that adds the finishing sheen to this excellent track though, with her powerful and theatrical vocals.
The lack of keyboards on this release could be seen as a hindrance but, with Short’s guitar and Mann’s bass filling every conceivable hole, there is nothing missing from this relatively unique band’s repertoire. Energetic, driven and with a youthful disdain for regurgitating the music of their predecessors, A Formal Horse have a very bright future ahead of them.