Butcher Boy are an indie-pop band of the old-school. They formed in 1998, though of the original line-up only singer John Blain-Hunt is still there – the rest of the current members, according to Wikipedia at least, started to coalesce some seven years ago.

The band is of the old-school in terms of its sound, too, which is a curious mix of jangling C86-style indie pop with darker, more strings-led material. Both parts of the band got an outing tonight, in the genteel but laid-back surroundings of Cecil Sharp House in North London.

The building is the home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, and both Blain-Hunt and support act Darren Hayman express at different times their joy at being able to perform here. It’s a large, high-ceilinged room with wood panelling, school-assembly rows of plastic chairs and a low stage at the front, which was crowded with the instruments and accoutrements of Butcher Boy’s eight members.

On stage the band seemed in tune with their surroundings, and a wide array of instruments was on display, with a cellist and violinist to one side, one member switching between accordion and the venue’s own beautiful grand piano, a mandolin and more.

The opening song is played to a military beat on the drums, with a mournful lead vocal from Balin-Hunt. Unlike many of their fellow bands, Butcher Boy don’t rely on harmonies – for most of the gig it’s only Blain-Hunt singing, while only occasionally one of the others stepped up briefly to the other vocal mic on stage. Otherwise the band let their instruments do the singing, which worked very well.

After that the second track was faster and poppier, with hints of compatriots Belle and Sebastian but also hints of something darker, calling to mind 1990's Bristol band Strangelove, strangely enough. After that comes the band’s first single, 2006’s ‘Girls Make Me Sick’, which has opening chords reminiscent of ‘Ready to Go’ by 1990's also-rans Republica but swiftly redeems itself with a combination of preppy, poppy drums and guitars and miserablist vocals.

The set continued with ‘This Kiss Will Marry Us’ and the superbly downbeat ‘Helping Hands’, released last year from their third album of the same name, and which was led beautifully by the grand piano. Your reviewer found himself preferring the more sombre songs to the upbeat numbers - other highlights are ‘Anything Other Than Kind’ and ‘I Know Who You Could Be’.

They didn’t say much – apart from jokingly acknowledging the amount of retuning they’re doing between songs the band remained taciturn, but before the penultimate song of the main set, ‘I Could Be in Love with Anyone’, the guitarist shyly said: “Thanks for coming along.” Blain-Hunt, mock-hurt, replied, “I was going to say that before the last song – that’s my chat done.”.

After leaving the stage the clamour from the audience was loud enough to prompt the band into coming back on for what appeared to be, almost uniquely among modern gigs, a true impromptu encore of two tracks. The final closer, ‘Days Like These Will Be the Death of Me’, was led by a heavily bowed sombre cello and eschewed the jaunty pop melodies and sent the audience out into the winter night on a downbeat note, but a satisfying one.

Butcher Boy don’t look much like a rock band – in fact, if you say them out without their instruments you might assume that they were out on a teacher-training away day. But looks are of course deceiving, and they really have a spark on stage. It’s not just that they can all play, and Blain-Hunt can sing, but the band have a confidence and stage presence that some bigger groups lack.











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