Campfire Social’s harmony-driven indie pop wins over Boaty Weekender cruisers

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Photo by Marie Claire Ashcroft

As noted in an earlier article, I’m going on another music festival cruise. This one is “The Boaty Weekender,” which is basically Belle and Sebastian’s once-in-a-decade music festival, The Bowlie Weekend, at sea. As the bands in the line-up slowly began being confirmed, earlier this year, a contest was held for 10 little known hopefuls to join the bill/cruise. We spoke to all three winners, as voted on by the cruisers: Campfire Social, Wet Look and Wojtek the Bear. All of them hail from Britain, and two come from what has to be one of the most amazing indie rock live scenes in Scotland: Glasgow. In a trio of articles on Independent Ethos, we will introduce each one of the bands, from their music to their feelings about winning The Battle For Boaty. First up: Campfire Social.

This quintet calls Llangollen, a small town in Wales, home. Their sound is driven by upbeat melodies and beats and features harmonious layers of vocal parts. Their first single, 2016’s “Nothing, Nowhere, Never, Now,” features a variety of guitar play — from strumming to perky plucking to tremolo — and a rhythm that rides a pounding, rolling beat that gives way to some sweet glockenspiel for the finale. Guitarists Tom Hyndman’s and Christopher Hembrough-Done’s vocals coo along until Chris takes his part to emo levels of pining screaming.

“Tiny Specks of Dust” is their latest single, and there is clearly a subtler approach to the music, but it’s no less intricate, popping out of the gate with a rocking piano by Carrie Hyndman, Hyndman’s wife, driving acoustic strumming and heroic electric guitar lashes. The song opens with the lines, “I’ll spend the night alone tonight/with nothing but my thoughts to cause me harm.” For all the somber mopiness of the lyric, the band members’ voices tangle harmoniously, speaking to the group’s rather optimistic edge of togetherness to their music, not to mention a Beach Boys influence.

The band began as an acoustic trio with guitarist/singers Tom and Christopher accompanied by Carrie on keyboards and vocals. All three had played together in bands in the past. Tom explains, in 2017, he, Carrie, and Chris really came together as a consistent, mostly acoustic trio “in order to fill a hole that was left in our lives having taken time away from playing music and singing together in several bands for years before that.”

Bassist/vocalist Rhys Mather joined very shortly after they group officially formed along with drummer Tom Mason, who recently left to focus on his own project called Denuo, earlier this year. Ben Thomas Mathews picked up the sticks soon after. He also sings. As intricate as their music is, vocals are obviously key, with lots of wordless singing, adding a layer of non-instrumental harmony below the lyrics.

Besides a split vinyl 12-inch with Ennio The Little Brother, the band have only released digital singles. They currently have plans to head into the studio to record their first full-length album at the start of October. Right now, the focus is on calming their excitement for playing this music festival at sea. Speaking via email, Tom offered some insight into how the band felt about being among the winners of the competition and how they feel about playing on a cruise ship. There’s some real self-deprecating humor in it that speaks to his kinship with those on a boat filled with mostly twee bands. Here’s our Q&A only slightly edited for clarity.

Hans Morgenstern: How did you celebrate when you learned you were booked for The Boaty Weekender?

Tom Hyndman: We shouted at Si (king of the emails) for lying about the result. We still have our suspicions. It’s becoming quite the elaborate conspiracy now that you have gotten involved as well. Joking aside, I purchased some shorts, I didn’t own any shorts and now I do. I am very proud of my shorts.

So what is it like to have your music among such a great set of bands?

Bewildering! the very idea that we would even be considered was overwhelming enough. We are very self-deprecating people as a collective so to be chosen for the first 10 was enough of a shock, then followed the existential dread of realizing we had to get people to vote for us if we wanted to get any further. Speaking for myself, I’m not sure I’ve ever really won anything, so I’m considering this as a cumulative win of a lifetime and putting aside my hopes of ever winning a game of basketball. The very fact that we get to perform alongside some of our heroes is still something I’m struggling to comprehend.

Photo by Marie Claire Ashcroft

Do you have any special plans for the shows?

I’m seriously considering playing in my shorts!

Is anyone in your band worried about sea sickness?

I’ve been told a copper bracelet will solve this problem. I have fashioned a sleeve out of piping I found in a skip.

Have you ever performed on a moving cruise ship? Do you have any concerns about it?

We did a show earlier this year on a river tour boat that travels up and down the river Dee, with our extended [Chester, U.K.-based record label] Mai 68 family, to celebrate the release of our single “Ginnie & Margot.” It was a great night, but something tells me this will have a bit of a different vibe. I’m hoping there will be a bit more room.

Have you checked out the venues hosting your shows?

Obviously the first thing we did after finding out was jump on Google Images like excited children. I’ve had to stop myself from doing that now as I was getting too excited.

What might be some challenges with being booked where and when you are booked, as far as attracting an audience (think about your competition, the time slot)?

We have looked at the clash situation, but we have faced serious clashes at festivals before. The glory of this festival is that everyone is playing more than one show, so hopefully, anyone that plans to come and see us will be able to attend at least one of our sets.

What events or excursions might your group (or any bandmate) be attending or exploring and why?

I’ve heard there’s a basketball court, so I’m definitely up for losing a few games of one on one. I’ve personally never been on a cruise ship, so I don’t know what to expect. I will mostly be drinking coffee, enjoying the sun and going wherever my friends are going. Typing that sentence has just made smile!

Hans Morgenstern

Besides the basketball court, you can find Campfire Social performing during the cruise at Magnum’s Champagne & Wine Bar, in the middle of Deck 6. They play Friday, Aug. 9 from 11:15 p.m. – 12:15 a.m. and then Sunday, Aug. 11, from 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

If you are thinking of booking a cabin, there is still space available. Here is a link to some discounted prices. If you use my Sixthman ID (hans_m) as a referral when you book your cabin, you will get $100 on-board credit (you can learn more about the referral program by jumping through this link).

Magnum’s on the Norwegian Pearl. Image courtesy NCL.com
(Copyright 2019 by Independent Ethos. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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