Ed Power delivers the inside story on Mumford & Sons' extraordinary rise and unique relationship with Ireland.
Marcus Mumford once shared with me the secret of his band’s phenomenal success in the United States.
“It’s because everyone out there thinks we’re Irish,” he said. “You go out there and you discover that Americans fucking love the Irish – love them.”
Mumford and Sons are quite fond of Ireland too, as it happens. They first played here in 2009, performing to a tiny audience at the Dublin Academy’s underground second space.
Word was soon getting around. With single ‘Little Lion Man’ riding high in the charts, they returned the day after St Patrick’s Day in 2010. The venue was rammed, the band visibly moved by the reception.
“When we started out we’d be lucky to perform to two men and a dog,” laughed bassist Ted Dwane. “Everything that’s happened to us has been mindblowing. You do find yourself constantly having to pinch yourself and realise this is all actually happening.”
Along the way they have, it is true, weathered the usual opprobrium. Indeed, for a few years it was very fashionable indeed to criticise Mumford and Sons as among the worse things to ever befall rock 'n' roll. The Fall’s Mark E. Smith even got in on the act slamming the group as “retarded Irish folk singers”.
“All musicians are insecure, and as a group we are naturally self-deprecating. However you get to the point where you think, 'Fuck it, we like what we do and it’s fine to feel that way,” Mumford told me. “If other people don’t like it, well we aren’t going to force them to.”
Especially striking was the vitriol directed at their dress sense – a hodgepodge of flat-caps and tweed. Little wonder that, with 2015’s Wild Mind LP, they overhauled their image, swapping waist-coats for leather jackets.
“I started wearing a waist-coat to conceal my belly,” said Mumford. “I sweat a lot on stage so I didn’t want to wear a jumper. That’s the only reason I did it. I’m wearing a t-shirt today. That’s about as rock 'n' roll as I get, wearing a white t-shirt and not caring what anyone thinks.”
“For whatever reason, our appearance tends to make people to think we’re a folk band,” added Dwane. “You know, labels are a lazy way of categorising stuff. We’re all guilty of it and it’s something you have to live with. Personally, we’ve never seen ourselves in those terms. Of course, if the folk angle is a way of leading people to our music then we shouldn’t complain too much.”
They’ve conquered Irish festivals previously, most memorably at Electric Picnic in 2010. This time is different: the quartet are bringing their Gentlemen Of The Road revue to Marlay Park, with a curated programme that will see them share the stage with afrobeat musician Baaba Maal. Also on the bill at their behest are soul man Leon Bridges and singer-songwriter Lucy Rose. What is striking is that, even as they have grown to stadium-filling success, they’ve tried to keep their feet on the floor. Mumford and Sons are as normal as anyone at their level can probably be.
“There's no room for prima donnas in our band,” said Mumford. “We keep each other in check. If there’s any hint of an ego, someone will keep the other person in line. There’s no getting too big for your boots. It isn’t tolerated.”
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