- 11 Jun 19
Mumford & Sons have established their place among the most important music phenomena of the past decade. Ahead of their back-to-back dates in Malahide Castle this weekend, Marcus Mumford tells Hot Press that there is a special pleasure in playing to Irish audiences – and hails the talent of rising Irish star Dermot Kennedy.
Mumford & Sons are one of the powerful new breed of crossover folk rock outfits that are so important in music globally right now.
Formed in 2007, they made the vital breakthrough with their debut album Sigh No More. Released in 2009, it took its time to hit the heights, gradually building momentum before going to No.2 in the UK six months after its release. It fared even better in Ireland, reaching No.1 here – establishing an affinity between Irish audiences and the band that remains mutual.
Sigh No More did well in the US too, selling well in excess of 3 million copies there, including over a million in digital sales – a figure bettered only at the time by Lady Gaga, with The Fame. The follow-up, Babel, released in September 2012 was a monster. It was the fastest-selling album of the year in the UK, shooting straight to No.1, before going on to sell over half a million copies in that territory alone. It debuted at No.1 in the US and Canada, selling close to 3 million copies in the States. And it also went to No.1 in Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Belgium.
While it didn’t catch fire to quite the same extent, their third album Wilder Mind was also a global smash, going to No.1 in seven key territories, as well as No.2 in Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and elsewhere. That Mumford & Sons had developed into a bona fide phenomenon is to vastly understate it.
“We’ve Always Been Pretty Independently-minded”
There was no let-up in the campaign for world domination, following the release of their fourth studio album, Delta, last year. A more expansive record, its commercial performance was not quite as stratospheric as the bands opening triple salvo – but it still reached the coveted No.1 slot in the US. And, of course, the campaign around it is ongoing. Since shortly after its release, Mumford & Sons have been on a non-stop touring schedule, opening in Dublin’s 3Arena in November. They return this weekend to play two back-to-back dates in the bucolic surroundings of Malahide Castle. There’s very few bands who could take on a double-whammy of that kind.
Mumford & Sons have already played over 90 shows in arenas around the world and have launched into festival season on top of their game. They’re particularly looking forward to the buzz of playing to an Irish audience.
“The spirit is high and the shows keep getting better,” an ebullient Marcus Mumford tells me. “We love playing outdoors and there’s nowhere better to play outdoors than in Dublin. People really know how to get involved and there’s an engagement that happens with the Irish crowd which is hard to beat. There’s passion but also a real musicality. Though the crowd are there for a good time, they’re not just there for a good time.”
The Malahide dates come hot on the heels of playing the All Points East festival in London, and are part of Mumford & Sons ‘Gentlemen of The Road’ project, which is about benefiting the local community in addition to putting on a great show.
“We like the idea of trying to leave places better than we found them,” Marcus explains, “rather than leaving scorched earth behind us. So part of it is working with local organizations and charities, making sure the show gives back in some way.”
All Points East benefitted a charity that helps young offenders, as well as supporting the Grenfell Foundation, which was set up for the survivors of Grenfell Tower, two years on from the tragedy.
From the band’s perspective, the initiative also involves having a more direct say in the running of the shows.
“We’ve always been pretty independently-minded and liked the idea of doing things on our own terms,” Marcus says. “So when we got the chance to put on our own events and dictate the terms a bit more, we took it. We try to avoid too much of the things that we don’t enjoy – like too much sponsorship. We also spend a lot of time curating a line-up that feels organic.”
“I Don’t Look at Streaming Numbers”
Indeed, this weekend sees a particularly exciting line-up, featuring rising Irish star – scratch that, rising Dublin star, Dermot Kennedy in addition to Hot Press 'Hot for 2019' cover stars Wild Youth and AURORA.
“It’s quite a privilege,” Marcus says of topping that kind of depth-charged bill. “Dermot in particular is having such a moment. I saw his show at All Points East and he must have had 15,000 people screaming every word back at him. So it will be really special to play with him in Dublin – and it makes us up our game as well (laughs)!”.
The massive success of Delta, which debuted at No. 1 in the US, gives them the perfect platform for big shows of this kind. The sound on the album is more experimental, but it retains all of the passion and energy that initially shot the band to success. Interestingly, they don’t pin down an exact setlist until the day before the show – but their gigs in Dublin are set to feature a mix of old and new material. It’s the way Marcus Mumford likes to do it.
“I think you have a responsibility to play the old stuff,” Marcus says, matter-of-factly. “I always get frustrated seeing artists I love when they only play new songs – it’s like, ‘come on!'. Because even if I see them every couple of years, I want to hear what I know. So we’ll definitely be mixing it up. Delta is quite a dense record. It has a lot of longer tracks, but I’ve found as we’ve gone on people have got to know the record more.”
That is one of the big challenges: bringing your audience along with you on a long-term musical adventure. For Marcus Mumford, that is the ultimate test: how audiences respond to new material in a live setting.
“That’s the way I test how things are going – with the shows,” he says. “I don’t look at data or streaming numbers. Instead, I care about whether people are getting engaged with the newer stuff and the narrative of the record. As we’ve played more shows, the audience have really benefited from time with the record, which is amazing to experience.”
Dublin awaits. It’s going to be a good one…
• Mumford & Sons play Malahide Castle on Friday, 14 June and Saturday, 15 June 2019. They are supported by Dermot Kennedy, Wild Youth and Aurora.