Norwich. Once the second largest city in England, nowadays apparently famous for its cathedral and the manufacture of mustard (thank you Google). With Radio One ‘big dog’ Tim Westwood and Hear’Say singer-turned-classical pianist Myleene Klass fighting it out for the title of ‘most exciting export’ in recent years, one thing the city isn’t really known for is its music scene. Let’s hope Port Isla can change that in 2013.
Formed two years ago by music students at Norwich’s UEA, the four-piece favour upbeat folk-rock songs much in the vein of Fleet Foxes, had Fleet Foxes been raised on the East Coast of Britain rather than the West Coast of the USA. Whilst the two bands may have much in common musically, lyrically Port Isla are far removed, referencing Arthur Ransome and maritime imagery in a way that somehow seems very British. Recent track Alexandra’s lament for lost love couples chiming guitars with impressive close-harmony vocals, whilst the thumping drums of Swallows and Amazons demonstrate that they know their way round a good beat.
Following in the footsteps of another four-piece they list among their inspirations, the band travelled to Hamburg this summer, though performing at the Reeperbahn festival was perhaps a less debauched experience than the seedy clubs of St Pauli would have been in the early sixties. Port Isla really are a treat witnessed live, with frontman Will Bloomfield’s soaring vocals solidly supported by tight instrumentals played with an energy and enthusiasm that gives their songs an anthemic quality. Hoping to build recent success, the band are planning on touring extensively this year, with a tour of university cities in the pipeline.
One sure-fire favourite at these upcoming gigs will be their recently-released debut single Sinking Ship, available for free on the band’s website, with its howling vocals, thumping piano chords and frantic handclaps. The band sing that they’d ‘rather be a gunman than a captain on a sinking ship’, but judging by the strength of their songs and live performances, I don’t foresee them struggling to stay afloat.