Elephant Sessions – Live Review – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

Elephant Sessions – Live Review – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds (2)

By David Schuster, May 2024

Elephant Sessions have attained that holy grail to which so many groups aspire, finding a sound both unique and flexible. This makes their tracks instantly recognisable, but provides the musical freedom to explore new creative possibilities. It’s a simple premise; layer traditional Gaelic folk elements, fiddle and mandolin, over electro, dance, funk and rave samples. It’s a juxtaposition that could easily sound crass if done clumsily but which, in the hands of talented artists, delivers joyous and engaging dance music.

Underlining this different approach, drummer Greg Barry is first on stage, triggering a rhythmic vinyl crackle introducing the opening number, ‘After Hours’. The band look different too, all four dressed in minimalistic black t shirts and jeans against a sparse backdrop of neon tubes. It’s a consciously electronica setting that would make Gary Numan, teleporting in from the early 80’s, feel right at home. Then Euan Smillie’s fiddle soars in, and you’re in territory which Elephant Sessions have made entirely their own. The opener is followed by ‘Tingles’, from the group’s second album All We Have Is Now, and ‘What Makes You’, the title track from their third release. The latter’s staccato beat, interspersed with co-frontman Alasdair Taylor’s plucked mandolin riff, and underpinned by Calum MacQuarrie’s thumping bassline, epitomises their dance/ceilidh party vibe.

There’s a clear rapport between the quartet, visible in the grins exchanged between the musicians. This gives them pin-sharp timing, a tricky thing, particularly when they are matching to the samples triggered by Barry. And they work hard! Many of their tunes contain fast repeated mandolin and fiddle melodies, and I see both front-men shake cramp out of their fingers between songs. The effort pays off, and by the fourth number the crowd are dancing and clapping along, hands in the air. It’s no surprise then that, later in the evening there’s an interlude where Taylor and MacQuarrie temporarily leave the stage whilst Smillie plays the beautiful and haunting ‘Riverview’.

Elephant Sessions – Live Review – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds (1)

“Growing in confidence”

It’s a clever set, combining fast and more contemplative moments. Particular highlights include ‘Moonwake’, from their latest album, 2022’s What Makes You. This shows that they are a band still growing in confidence; the bass drum, tip-tapping woodblock and repeated riff are infectiously danceable. You could drop this into any Ibiza beach club and be assured that it would fill the floor. Then there’s the funky ‘We Out Here Now’ and the appropriately named ‘1990’ with it’s distinctive 90’s rave stabs. This last song produces a fantastic audience reaction, the whole room jumping along.

All too soon they have finished the main set, returning for two well deserved encores. They end with ‘FM’ and a funk-fuelled re-working of the joyful ‘Wet Field’. They’ve played for close on an hour and a half, but I’d happily have listened to a lot more.

Elephant Sessions are headlining the Black Isle Calling festival in mid-September on their home turf, just outside of Inverness. If you can get there, I’d urge you to go; they are a band that’s well worth seeing live.

images: Ryan Buchanan


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