Right Place Right Time

15 March 2012 | 10:08 am | Michael Smith

What began as a love affair with the song has thrust four young songwriters who play by the name of Ahab into the ‘next big thing’ category before they’ve even cut an album.

Now before we get started, it's important to mention that the following tale of the unexpectedly speedy rise and rise of four young songwriters based in east London who go by the name of ahab are not to be confused with the German metal band of the same name, which is why they insist on the lower case version of their name. Sorted? Then let's begin.

Currently being touted as “the alt.country Mumford & Sons”, the ahab story begins a little over two years ago when an 18-year-old singer/songwriter named Callum Adamson turned up to a gig he was playing in central London with his blues band.

“Dave [Burn, guitar, vocals] was supporting my band,” an obviously breathlessly excited Adamson explains, on the line from the house the now five-piece, with the addition of drummer Graham Rolfe, share living and breathing all things ahab together, “and I was the only person the crowd watching him and he was phenomenal, so straight after the show I was, 'You know what? I'm gonna leave my band – d'ya want to write songs together?' And he said, 'Yeah'.”

The first important point to make about ahab is that it's actually more of a collective, four individual songwriters who by divine providence almost seem to completely naturally subsume their individual voices into something that is recognisably a natural, organic sum of the parts. As Adamson admits, “even when me and Dave were hangin' out with our mates, everybody else, you know, when you're twenty, twenty-one, everyone's sayin' 'I wanna be a rock star,' all I ever thought was I want to be a songwriter. And it's the same with the other three members of the band.

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“So [Dave and I] did a record together, just, like, at home and then the guy from Tootsies – I've no idea how he got a copy; nobody does – he dropped us an email saying, 'Look, Tootsies is one of the biggest venues for country music in Nashville. I want you to come over and play in Country Music Awards week,' which was amazing.

“We didn't want to go over as a duo and we knew that Seebie [Llewellyn, bass, guitar, vocals] and Luke [Price, mandolin, vocals] were playing in bands around Hackney, and the thing with country and alt.country, like Ryan Adams, Uncle Tupelo and the whole No Depression scene and Steve Earle and all that, everybody that plays in bands in Hackney absolutely adores them because that's what music is. They might turn up to a gig with a keyboard but they'll go home and put on a Justin Townes Earle record or something. So we asked Luke and Seeb if they'd like to come and do this, it'll be fun and you never know what might happen.

“So we went and had an absolute blast for a week, came back to London and decided to continue collaborating as a four-piece, started busking one night when we were drunk and so many people stopped to watch, we did it during the day and filmed it and then the guy that manages Cropredy, the Fairport Convention festival saw it and put us on and we've been on tour solidly for the past two years. That's virtually my whole life story!”

Well, not quite of course. At that Cropredy festival, in 2010, one 'Whispering' Bob Harris, who has a regular Saturday night programme on BBC Radio 2, was watching them barnstorming the 15,000 happy punters from the side of the stage, who immediately invited ahab into the studio to record a session. Meanwhile…

“In the crowd was John Leckie,” Adamson continues, mentioning the noted album producer. “Now John did [Radiohead's] The Bends, he did Bellowhead's Hedonism, he did a whole bunch of fucking amazing albums and he came back stage and we'd been doing a couple of radio pieces and were walking off when John stopped us and said, 'I'm John Leckie – can I give you a business card?' And we're, like, who? Got back and googled him and went, 'Shit, that John Leckie!'

“At the same time John got interested, Navigator Records got interested so we were able to say this guy John Leckie wants to do a record with us so can we do it now and they said, 'Yeah, go ahead'. So went and did the kmvt EP in Real World in Bath, Peter Gabriel's studio and just played live for three days, so it and the ahab EP one that we did on our own are just basically what we've played live for the past year.”