The wonderfully named Holy Moly and The Crackers burst onto the stage at the Old Fire Station on Friday night with the intent of a) getting every member of the audience up and dancing, and b) blasting the roof of the OFS away. They achieved their first objective handsomely and came close to achieving their second. The band successfully introduced themselves to the residents of Oxford as one to watch and showed once again the versatility of the OFS as a venue suited to all forms of art.
The seven-piece 'gypsy folk rock' group hail from Newcastle Upon Tyne and are on the precipices of launching their second album. Their songs are toe-tapping treats, which are darkly hued and brimming with stories. Introducing their accordion player midway through the set as 'Squeezebox Rosie', Conrad Bird promptly launched into the story of how Rosie had joined the circus and come back to the band with a song from Russia. Whether this was the truth or merely a story for the night it gave the show a lived-in quality, a sense that Holy Moly were sharing something special with us, their lucky audience. The fact that this story preceded a fantastic instrumental track, titled 'River Neva' (the river through St Petersburg), made it even more special.
Drawing from both their first and soon-to-be released second album, Holy Moly and the Crackers brought a roster of finely-crafted songs, with standout numbers including opener 'Bluebell Wood', 'Cocaine' and current single ' Cold Comfort Lane'. The pairing of Ruth Lyon's soft, lyrical tones with Conrad's blues-inflicted growl of a voice gives Holy Moly a unique sound. Aiding the collective are the five other members who each individually enhance the band from frenetic drumming to a breathtaking brass section. The band members are extremely talented, and this comes across throughout the show. Whether it is watching Martha Wheatley switch between instruments mid-song (from trombone to cowbell to triangle and back to trombone) or seeing Conrad bounding around the stage to alternate between singing and playing the guitar or trumpet, the talent of Holy Moly and the Crackers is at the forefront of their performance. But it is also a band that is charmingly rough around the edges, lacking in an artificial gloss; the band stops so the trombone can be tuned on stage, the guitarist fixes a broken guitar strap with gaffer tape. Here is a band that feels lived-in and, more importantly, real.
The band were ably supported by local country rock act, The Deadbeat Apostles. As well as having perhaps the two best dressed lead singers this side of the Atlantic, the band brought to the stage an old-fashioned, American-tinged style that is as endearing, as it is familiar.
Holy Moly and the Crackers are a great live band. Their show had an Arcade Fire-like carnival-on-stage quality that was simply marvellous to watch. The band are certainly talented, but they also have fun as they perform, clearly loving the experience of being onstage and in front of an audience. Bring this band back to Oxford sharpish and give them the biggest stage you can find. They deserve it!