The Hummingbirds’ description of themselves as 5 lads and a box seems appropriate enough, but would this latest set of recordings justify their self-proclaimed title of “pioneers of modern skiffle”?
I’ve seen the band play live a couple of times in the last six months and whilst their stage presence was pretty good, I found that there was a lack of variety from one track to another. It was pretty clear that early Beatles songs and the Merseybeat sound are the biggest influence on The Hummingbirds’ songs to the point that by the time they played their rendition of Day Tripper, I wondered whether I’d missed any other covers along the way. So, I was quite excited to see what these guys would have come up with in the studio and hoping for something which would set out their stall for an original sound and I could hear what all the fuss was about.
The musicianship of these guys is undoubtedly very good and there is no doubt that a lot of time has been spent practising and polishing this selection of songs. The band sound tight and the vocal performance is generally solid, if a little unsure in just a few places. The problem for me is that there’s nothing inherently wrong in playing music and playing in a style of your favourite bands or artists, the danger is always the possibility of producing something that is completely pastiche. With so much exciting new music out there competing against everything else for airplay and exposure, where does a band making music that so closely imitates a fifty year old genre fit in? Perhaps it’s a question of taste and having read a previous interview and watched a very endearing behind the scenes video on their website, The Hummingbirds certainly seem to have the courage of their convictions in believing that going back to an older sound is the best way forward.
Let’s start with The Ballad of Jon Doe – it ticks along and for a song asking whether the eponymous (and anonymous) Jon Doe is dead or not, pretty jolly. Again, the standard of playing is great and the guitar break in the middle works really well, but because their influences are so clear it becomes a distraction trying to avoid stopping to work out which other songs this track reminds me of. The second song, the title track of the EP, has the same feel but with leanings towards the kind of thing you might hear on an episode of Heartbeat.
Next up is “More Too [sic] See”, an up-tempo track in the same vein as…well, ok, you get the point, all of this sounds like other things so there are probably enough comparisons already for you to get the picture! And if you like Merseybeat and skiffle and get nostalgic about it or have just discovered some of those classic tunes, you’ll like this. A lot. However, it was refreshing to hear something quite different with the next track, Pieces of You, even if the opening put me in the mind of (sorry, there I go again) a great track called The River by another up and coming Liverpool artist, Luke Fenlon. For me, this song is the best one on the EP, it feels like The Hummingbirds have put a lot of soul into this. Whilst the other tracks would work great for a pub audience, it’s this unexpected gem that I can imagine being played to a full stadium (lighters and all).
Finally, with a faux vinyl hiss I’d expected to hear much earlier, Tonight. It’s just over a minute and a half long, but to spend anything like that here labouring the above points would be precious seconds wasted.
So, pioneers? Not by a long way. But, entertaining? Certainly, if you enjoy being reminded of some of the greats that graced stages before rock n’ roll happened and everything changed forever.
In addition to writing reviews for liverpoolacoustic.co.uk, Luke Moore is a freelance composer, arranger, session musician (cello/piano/bass guitar/double bass) and songwriter. With a business that aims to be a ‘one stop shop’ for bands and artists, Luke works with a lot of bands and artists in Liverpool, sharing their passion for original new music.