Nestled in the back corner, hidden away from the bustling atmosphere of Oran Mór, Washington Irving, Scotland’s best kept secret prepare for their first show of 2013. This could be their year, despite being a member down; they still have the same passion for music from when they started and with new music to come this year, their fan base can only grow.
The majority of the band hails from Oban – aside from Mandolin player Rory MacDonald from Aberdeen – but having lived in Glasgow for about 6 years, it now feels like home.
“We’re not Glaswegian, but we may be a Glasgow band,” guitarist Martin Anfield plainly states.
Despite their new home they still remain true to their Oban roots:- “We definitely intentionally called ourselves an Oban band as well, if BBC Alba offer us an opportunity to do something then, yep we’re from Oban,” bassist Kieran Heather coyly adds.
Their sound – which has changed recently with the departure of their flute player – can be summed up as a mix of strong folk influences pulled into the 21st Century with electronic guitar and bold drum fills.
“I think there was a base when we started, we liked a lot more of the same music, but as we’ve all grown older, we’ve kind of all found our own little bit that influences the sound,” drummer Chris McGarry explains.
They are clearly a hardworking band, having spent most of 2012 touring festivals; from the Hebridean Celtic Festival in Stornoway, to Deer Shed down South and Wickerman in the borders – they managed to cover a good part of the country over the summer.
“Most of the times when we go to festivals, nobody knows what’s going on anywhere. At HebCelt they were all completely on it, they just knew everything,” drummer McGarry praised the festival.
“I guess that’s cause we’re pretty much playing the shed at the entrance to the Festival, but this time we were playing a decent sized space…usually people don’t know where our stage is,” Anfield interjects.
Despite the small stages they play the one thing to take from this band, is that Washington Irving are just genuinely lovely guys, they have been on the touring circuit for years but are still some of the most friendly and easy going people I have come across.
They are happy to play any festival and share their stories, including on one occasion where they ended up playing the Game of Thrones theme tune at a show.
“We were at Deer Shed and we thought for a laugh – cause we didn’t really know what the crowd was gonna be like – so we’ll play game of thrones, and one of the guys from the show was at the gig and came up to us afterwards and started chatting to us and he really liked the cover,” McGarry recalls.
Their first show of the year is their homecoming in Glasgow’s Oran Mór as part of the Celtic Connections Festival. The show has just sold out and downstairs in Oran Mór is packed with the bands friends and family, who have travelled down especially from Oban.
Oran Mór holds a special place in the bands history, “one of our first proper gigs was actually downstairs…it’s a little bit like home this place,” shy but polite lead singer Joe Black comments.
The atmosphere is electric as Black’s howling vocals echo round Oran Mór, setting the crowd in great spirits with their raucous Celtic sound.
In the studio, the band have been planning and talking about their debut album for a while, which has met many complications.
“We’re at a really strange place with a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes and not a huge amount going out,” Black explains.
“I think we’re gonna release songs in the not too distant future, but the medium in which they will be is not confirmed,” McGarry interjects.
“So we went from maybe releasing an album, to maybe not releasing an album,” Black announces – an honest, yet confusing answer.
Washington Irving have a lot of great material which they recorded in split studio time between March and November of last year but gladly don’t want to make the mistake and fall into the unsigned band black hole.
“We have an albums worth of songs but if you just release everything yourself you might find you never get beyond a certain point, but it’s also about just being able to release songs cause you’re a band, a band writes songs, to make an album and release it,” McGarry honestly argues.
Despite their trouble in the studio the band are about to release their first single since 2011, Holy Company, which is a loving folk track combined with Black’s howling but sentimental vocals to create a rousing folk track.
They have been playing the track in their live set for a while but finally found the time to release it, “We’ve had such a busy year doing festivals that we decided just to take our time, there’s no rush,” Black highlights.
Along with their new single the band are going on their biggest tour to date, supporting Frightened Rabbit in February and hopefully will be going on their own UK tour in May before hitting the festivals hard in the summer.
The Frightened Rabbit show will be great exposure for the band, unfortunately they won’t get to play the world famous Barrowlands in Glasgow, losing out to good friends Three Blind Wolves, but you can tell it won’t hinder their most successful year to date.
Holy Company is out February 4th.