A review by Dan Theman
When I first picked up a pen to review local gigs I would never have guessed that I would be writing about a band that had just played Glastonbury. Neither would I have anticipated writing about a band that had invented a genre of music. Now imagine my pleasure at being invited to attend the EP launch of Kent’s very own rising stars ‘CoCo and the Butterfields’- a band that has done both. With their unique mix of Folk, Pop and Hip Hop, CoCo and the Butterfields have created a truly original sound called ‘Fip Fok’ and their music combines the best bits of each genre. You get the upbeat foot stomping energy of folk and bluegrass, the catchy sing along chorus of pop music and the infectious beats of hip hop all rolled in to one. Throw into the mix five very talented musicians, superb vocal performances and beautiful songwriting and it’s easy to see why CoCo and the Butterfields have just won the ‘One to Watch’ award at the East Kent Culture Awards.
Band members Tom Twyman (guitar & vocals), Dulcima Showan (violin & vocals), Jamie Smith (beatbox), Micah Hyson (double bass), ‘Handsome’ Rob Wicks (banjo) are friends who started their musical journey busking together on the streets of Canterbury. From these humble beginnings two years ago they have evolved into one of Kent’s most popular bands and have appeared at venues and festivals up and down the country. Now fresh from Glastonbury they are performing to a packed venue in their home county and based on the excitement of the queuing masses, tonight’s gig is beginning to feel as much a triumphant homecoming as it does an EP launch.
The first thing that struck me when entering the Winter Gardens was that it’s a very grand venue in both its size and its decor. The second was just how busy it was. There must have been around fifteen hundred people in attendance and I couldn’t pick one demographic that made up the bulk. CoCo and the Butterfields clearly have a broad appeal because there were people of all ages, including many families.
Tonight’s first support act was Phoebe Warden – a local female singer/songwriter whom I have had the pleasure of seeing before. Having seen her perform previously at a very intimate venue with an audience of less than one hundred people, I was curious as to how her enchantingly delicate voice would carry across such a large stage to a noisy crowd. It turned out her voice filled the room and her performance was well received. Phoebe is a beautiful girl with a beautiful voice and I would challenge anyone to watch her perform and not be captivated by her. Anyone wishing to take me up on that can catch Phoebe at the ‘Lounge On The Farm’ music festival in Canterbury on the 2nd of August.
The second on the bill was Hullabaloo, an energetic Jazz swing band that really knew how to get the crowd fired up. Their set featured some well-known covers such as Frank Sinatra’s Mack the Knife and Misirlou by Dick Dale (the track the Black Eyed Peas sampled on Pump It) which went down an absolute storm with the younger members of the audience and saw the double bassist climb on his instrument whilst playing. I’ve been to a lot of gigs but that was a first for me. I found them thoroughly entertaining and judging by the people dancing and the huge round of applause at the end of their set, the audience did too.
Rather than make a grand entrance, CoCo and the Butterfields kept the suspense going just a little longer by appearing on stage one at a time. First Tom, then Rob, Micah, Jamie and Dulcima. With each newly emerging band member the crowd screamed and applauded with the sort of vigour often reserved for chart acts. Any band that can get that response from such a large crowd is surely going somewhere.
They opened with an obvious crowd pleaser, ‘Five Bells,’ and the floor started to shake from all the dancing and stamping of feet. This was followed up by ‘Fly’ which sees Dulcima’s voice reveal its true range as she graduates from soft dulcet tones to something much deeper and incredibly powerful.
Next came ‘See the Sun’ – the title track from the new EP, which required “the help of some special tiny people” – the TKAT children’s choir. As well as the eighty piece adult choir on the stage (lead by Sam Palacios), the upper balconies housed almost one hundred and fifty children from five local primary schools which together make up the huge choir. CATB were also joined on stage by two additional violinists (Karen Jolliffe and Kammy Pike), a cello player (Mike Bacon) and a drummer (Dan Lucas of Anchor Baby Recording). I can see why they chose ‘See the Sun’ as their title track because it didn’t take long for the audience to start singing back the chorus line “There’s always time for one more song”. I think it’s safe to say this one will be another crowd favourite and tonight’s grand performance was a great way to unveil it to them.
How do you follow up your brand new EP’s title track, I hear you ask? With a song about falling in love with an astronaut, a pirate and a dancing girl of course! ‘Astronaut’ is a light bouncy song which featured more guest musicians. This time a trumpet (Jack Bennington) and trombone (Sion Jones) which gave this rendition much more of an upbeat ska sound than can be found on the original recording. ‘Tipperary Boy’ was preceded by the phrase “we’re gonna have a hoe down!” and hoe down we did. There is definitely a sweet spot in the musical spectrum where bluegrass meets hip hop. Until now you probably didn’t think such a spot existed but I assure you it does. Then came the song which according to Tom “started the whole folk hip hop thing” – their cover of ‘Just a Dream’ by Nelly. Although not their own, CoCo and the Butterfields have put their own stamp all over this and deliver a rendition which I prefer to the original – conclusive proof that anything can sound better with a banjo and a beatboxer. Tonight’s version also featured another special guest artist, Adam; who at just eight years old blew the crowd away with some amazing beatboxing skills.
Now bringing the tempo back down a little was ‘Alone’ which features some wonderful vocal harmonies and on this occasion the choir and recorder player (Jo Rumary). The audience were obviously familiar with this one because there were several hundred of them singing along to the melodic chorus. After a few birthday shout-outs it was time for my favorite CoCo song ‘Scarecrow’ which was preceded by a salute from the bandmembers to one another and to the audience. I absolutely love the violin on this song and I must confess to putting down my pen and pad to join the audience and dance. As it was approaching their bedtime it was time to say goodbye to the children’s choir who left the venue to a serenade of ‘Auf Wiedersehen Farewell’ from the Sound of Music – very cute indeed. This was followed up by a haunting vocal solo from Dulcima who pushed her voice to even greater heights. I couldn’t help but laugh when she thanked the audience for listening – I don’t think she realises just how good she is.
With the rest of the band back on stage we were treated to a laid back and rather soulful tune called ‘Little Boat’ which featured Tom’s brother (Dan Twyman) on saxophone. This was followed by the much more energetic ‘Mother’ which soon had people dancing again. It’s worth noting that the CD version of this features ‘Gentlemen Of Few,’ another great local band who recently got through to the finals of the BBC Young Folk awards. What came next I was not expecting – a cover of ‘I Will Always Love You’, a song which I really don’t like. Luckily for me CoCo and the Butterfields soon steered away from the version made famous by Whitney Houston to a much more enjoyable foot stomper, that when delivered with Dulcima’s powerhouse vocals made me make a little note in my pad – “Damn this girl’s got lungs!”
The next song struck a chord with me that was shared by the band themselves and probably a fair few people in the audience. ‘King Of The Corner’ was released on the ‘One Heart, One Love, One Soul’ album to commemorate the life of Daniel ‘Taihg’ Lloyd – a local busker and friend who sadly died. I knew Taihg and hearing this song performed on such a grand scale was very moving.
‘King Of The Corner’ was followed by ‘Hip Hop Song’ which is another of my favorite CoCo and the Butterfields songs. Performed with all the backing musicians it took on a sound somewhere between ska and swing and was very well received. A lot of bands introduce their new material alongside a few old crowd pleasers that sound just like they did the first time you heard them. CATB didn’t take this approach. They consistently added a little something extra to their older songs and additional layering of instruments and backing vocals really shows off their evolution since the original recordings were released. ‘Hip Hop Song’ also gave a chance for each band member to perform a solo with Jamie’s beatboxing performance injecting a little extra comedy in to what was already an entertaining evening. After each members solo performance the whole band launched into the theme tune from ‘Fresh Prince Of Bel Air’ which sounded fantastic. It felt like half the audience (the older half) were singing it with them, me included. This little sing-along was well placed before what can only be described as an epic beatbox battle between Jamie and Dom Wolfe (AKA Mr Wolfe beatbox). Now you don’t get that at many gigs where you also find a banjo player! From banjos and beatboxers to a song about platonic love called ‘So Long’ which was written by Tom and dedicated to his friend Cameron who was in the audience tonight. It’s clear from Tom’s lyrics and moving vocal performance that this one was written from the heart and it was a fitting way to end tonight’s show.
As Tom, Dulcima, Micah, Rob and Jamie said their goodbyes the backing singers carried on singing and continued to do so – an encore was definitely on the cards. Returning to the stage to screams and thunderous applause, CoCo and the Butterfields played a song that everyone had been waiting for – ‘Warriors’. This was the point I gave up on note taking all together and left my spot in front of the barrier and joined the audience for another dance. I would recommend checking out the video for ‘Warriors’ YouTube because it’s very creative and way above the standard of your average local band music video. That being said, CATB are well known for their creativity and not just in their videos. Dulcima makes her own stage costumes and even the bands tour van (affectionately named Frank) was painted by them. The evening drew to a close with a bluegrass version of ‘Jump Around’ by House Of Pain. The younger members of the audience were probably unaware of the original but they jumped around all the same.
Not many bands have such wide appeal these days. The younger generation are drawn to the vapid pop music found in the singles chart and real music connoisseurs tend to listen to underground acts. CoCo and the Butterfields put on a show that appeals to everyone and as they don’t feel the need to add hip hop’s love of profanity to their unique ‘Fip Fok’ style, they are fun for the whole family. Next time they come to town I’m taking my kids because I know we will all enjoy it. Follow the links below to check out the band’s Facebook page and website where you can download some free tunes, buy the new EP and check their gig diary for a show near you.
Words: Dan Theman