Low Chimes arrived on the UK live scene during the surge of interest in acoustic and roots music around 2010. The band played several of the early Communion promoted shows under their former name, Hot Feet, and appeared on Communion Records’ first release, a showcase of artists connected with the scene including The Staves, Passenger and Angus & Julia Stone. Having a largely acoustic sound at the time, the band fitted easily into a movement which became known as “nu-folk”, although it was a label the band never warmed to, as guitarist Jack says “It was folk in the widest sense. We’ve never written, or even particularly listened to, traditional narrative-based folk music. Our music owed much more to the singer songwriter tradition of the late sixties and early seventies, which I think went for the majority of bands grouped together by the press at the time.”
Despite these misgivings, the resurgent folk scene provided the young band with plenty of gigging and festival opportunities and attracted label interest. By the time the band released their debut EP, they had already played Glastonbury three times. Marianne says of those early years, “It took us out of our local area and onto the road, turned us into working musicians and introduced us to a lot of the established artists we still look up to today - Laura Marling, Bombay Bicycle Club, Johnny Flynn.” The band weren’t yet ready to take some of the opportunities thrown at them, but as Marianne continues, “We were just very lucky to be learning from those established bands as we were finding our way as artists.”
It was at one of their early Glastonbury appearances that they met Laura Marling and her then band member Pete Roe. Pete would later become a good friend and musical mentor to Low Chimes. The band booked Pete, a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter in his own right, for their local arts festival the next year and they agreed to tour together, along with Sam Brookes and Emily and the Woods, for a series of shows under the banner “Because The Night”. Pete offered to produce the band’s debut EP, Wood House, and the day after his last show with Laura Marling in 2012 he headed into the studio with Low Chimes. Pete’s collaborations with the band continued as he produced their 2014 EP, Mist Is Dust, and then became a touring member of the band in 2016, by which time they had become UK festival regulars, playing Green Man, Blue Dot, Festival No. 6, Secret Garden Party, Kendal Calling and Truck that year alone.
Another early encounter landed the band their first national radio exposure when BBC 6 Music DJ Marc Riley stumbled upon them at a small gig in Ramsgate, Kent. Marc became an instant and loyal supporter, inviting the band in for a live session on 6 Music in 2013 which led to support from fellow 6 Music DJ and Elbow frontman, Guy Garvey. “We’ve a lot to thank Marc and the others at 6 Music for. That first live session gave us a lot of faith in what we were doing and I’m sure we’re not the only alternative artists who feel like that about the station” recounts bassist Lachlan. Gaining this exposure as independent artists sowed the seeds for the band’s later approach.
After a number of industry disappointments and near-misses, the band set about funding the recording of their debut album by holding pizza and music nights in their local venue. As active members of a thriving arts scene in their hometown of Stroud, it was a natural step to begin putting on nights themselves, something they’re now doing more formally under the name, Bellow Presents (a name shared by their own label, Bellow Records). Rob explains “It’s exciting bringing bands we’ve met on the road back to our hometown. Involving the community in these shows helps build the kind of musical networks that we’ve benefitted from so much in the past.” This is part of a DIY ethos that also saw the band crowdfund their album release campaign. “It’s not that we think self-releasing is preferable to releasing through the right label, but the way things are now the labels expect to see you building a fanbase and you can only go so far without an album for fans to get their teeth into” continues Jack.
Low Chimes recorded their debut album, Illumine, over a series of sessions with producer Greg Freeman (Goldfrapp, Portico Quartet, Sam Brookes). It’s a record that moves towards a more progressive sound, layering synths and samples onto their core live sound. It is the nuanced, complex sound of a band moulded by years of writing and touring together. As Marianne explains of this progressive direction “We naturally arrived at this sound through experimenting in the studio, and from having the freedom in between recording sessions to develop sounds and textures at home.” As Clash observed in their review of single, Blood Orange, “Low Chimes seem to have arrived remarkably fully formed.”
Speaking of other influences for the album, Rob adds, “There are also shades of Jazz and World Music in there.” A listen to Illumine confirms that there’s no deliberate intention to fit squarely into any one genre and very little concession to commerciality. It is a visceral, expansive work, which sounds as organic as the natural themes running through Marianne’s lyrics. Lachlan gives an insight into the writing process: “Rob and I have been playing together since we were 13. He knows what I’m going to play on my bass before I do!”
A recurring theme of the album is letting go of the past and moving on. Marianne says, “We’ve grown up together as a band and as people. There are inevitably some experiences you’re happy to leave behind, but also a lot of excitement about what’s to come.” One thing the band has let go of is their previous name, Hot Feet. “I’m not sure where the name came from in the first place but it definitely didn’t suit the music any more” Jack explains. “It’s not the only reason for the change though: if you want to find our early songs on YouTube you’ll have to scroll through the foot fetish videos first.”
The four singles Sleepwalking, Blood Orange, Sulphur Silk and Dust Will Blow picked up support from 6 Music DJs en masse and acclaim from respected tastemakers The Line Of Best Fit, Clash and Gold Flake Paint. The debut album, Illumine, was released on Bellow Records on 6th October 2017.