In a world of slick production and generic guitar driven rock, it’s refreshing to hear raw talent playing original music with honesty and passion. To define rock or blues (or whatever genre takes your fancy) is becoming increasingly difficult as bands blur the lines between genres by playing what they want rather than what the masses want to hear.
One band, who are emerging from the live circuit and making the aficionados take notice, is Man Shaped Wolf. Their self-described blend of ‘funky blues rock’ draws on several influences and the band, featuring - James Holdsworth (Vocals), Aldo Ziranek Wilson (Guitar), Alec Albury (Drums) and Connor Lempriere (Bass) are a genuinely exciting prospect.
The band may have an altogether unusual name but they are actually entirely pleasant and unlikely to harm you should you meet them. I know because I had the pleasure of speaking with vocalist and guitarist - James Holdsworth and Aldo Ziranek Wilson, and I survived to tell the tale. The band in its current format hasn’t been together for long and the journey to this point has been one familiar to many musicians, “It all started a while ago. On Gumtree first of all! There was a guy called Ed and he was a singer and he got me (Aldo) and he got a bassist in. Unfortunately we didn’t bond with the singer that well so even though he started it all, we had to replace him with this guy (James). The bassist got his friend in and then he left. I can’t remember where he went. New Zealand? Then I had a friend of a friend from school. We’ve been running this operation for roughly a year now”.
Those blurred lines in the style of this band are truly interesting and who better to describe the music than the band themselves, “It’s a difficult one. It’s like trying to paint a self-portrait (laughs). We’re just sooo unique (laughs). I grew up listening to a lot of Flanders and Swann. It speeds up, it slows down. Obviously James is a brilliant linguist but the music itself tells the narrative. I quite like it when you can focus on each individual instrument – at the same time leaving space for James to do his thing. We all come from different areas. Connor is a punk, heavy rock, almost metal background. Alec comes from psychedelic, really interesting stuff. You could compare us to Rage Against the Machine meets Chilis-ish. That’s what people say”.
The band has only released two tracks on Spotify and these are wonderfully fresh in their delivery. The live performances on YouTube prove that the recorded material is emulated well on stage or perhaps more accurately – the band have managed to record their spirit in the studio setting.
‘Afraid to Die’ is a smooth, bluesy song that has a cool groove and a sublime laid back feel to the point where the song opens up into a full-on funk monster. The early musical parts provide a subtle background allowing Holdsworth space and for each of the band to add the slightest flourishes to compliment the vocals. The funky close to the track is up-beat and features frantic drum and bass with Lempriere providing wonderful melodic bass work and Wilson playing tasteful six string soloing. What is particularly engaging is Holdsworth’s switch from a Finlay Quaye style early in the song to a full on soaring vocal attack that shows the range he has in his tool box.
Whilst James and Aldo give an account of their influences and perhaps who they have been told they sound like, it’s genuinely difficult to draw comparisons with other bands (and almost as challenging to define the genre of the band). I hear Hendrix-like guitar lines, Chic disco-rhythm parts and some Zeppelin in the overall passion and raw feel of the production, all wrapped up with a twist of indie rock akin to early Franz Ferdinand.
I asked the band about their focus given the scarcity of recorded tracks on the usual platforms. They conceded their focus has been on live performance and that is clear from a trawl of the various YouTube recordings of live performances, “Above everything, you get studio bands and we’re definitely a live band. We’re learning to reach out and grow the following - the band becoming our lives essentially. It would be nice to have more evidence – there are songs we have that we have. We all know the songs and could go into a gig and play the songs but don’t have any evidence that they exist. It’s like the Coca-Cola recipe. There’s only two people that know it and they’re not allowed on the same plane together (laughs). So we’re looking for studios in London to record us”.
On listening to the second track ‘Montreal’, there are Electric Six references in the use of disco drum and bass. Albury and Lempriere drive the song from the outset with a sweet clean picked guitar part flowing over the top alongside Holdsworth’s more frenetic vocal delivery. Like all good funk songs, the band never crowd each other in the structure instead allowing each to take a moment to play up. Lempriere’s bass work on this track is accomplished as is the rest of the band such is their musical talent.
With that modest online material presence working at odds with the band’s strong enthusiasm and belief in themselves, I asked what the plan was for 2018, “It’s all about the progression really. We want to build the following, start looking for record deals perhaps – looking for sponsorship and the like. To get better and better gigs, we’re really grateful for all the gigs we’ve been put on. We want to start climbing the ladder. Get more material out online for people to listen to. We’re really hungry. Glastonbury next year (laughs)”.
The good news for the growing fan base is that the band is recording at the moment and they intend releasing more tracks in coming months. The eagle-eyed enthusiast will find a third track on Soundcloud if they search for the band and that track is as strong as the others on wider release so get hunting! I’d also recommend the live videos on YouTube where more material is available and actually does provide that evidence that the band have a wealth of material that is strong, funky and accessible.
For a band as engaging as Man Shaped Wolf, it should always be the band that has the final word and this is it, “We're like the hairy chaps with the snouts, except we’re more upright....and we rock harder”.
You can find the band’s tracks on Spotify / SoundCloud: