The Lowly Strung
Maidstone-based Lowly Strung, an exhilarating five-piece Americana/bluegrass band, have been building a sizeable and passionate following across Kent for their vibrant and exciting blend of country and bluegrass music that has had younger music fans whooping and hollering with enthusiasm.
The band, comprising Toby Starks (lead acoustic guitar, lead vocals), James Starks (mandolin, vocals), Jonny Starks (fiddle, vocals), Malcolm Peet (Dobro) and Jon Fuller (double bass), have recently released their acclaimed NO TOMFOOLERY debut album.
Toby and his younger twin brothers James and Jonny were raised in a musical family. They’ve been playing in their father, Paul’s, Starks Family Band, since they were aged around ten, performing a widely diverse musical mix of pop, rock, reggae, soul, country, folk and blues in an exciting, entertaining and unique styling.
Later the three brothers branched out into playing a more folky style leading to Jonny, Toby and Jon Fuller forming Wheeler Street with school friend Pete Wheeler, some ten years ago. The funky seven-piece band brought a burst of youthful exuberance to the once staid UK folk scene with appearances at the Cambridge Folk Festival, Glastonbury and several highly successful UK tours.
In 2009 they released ROODUMDAH, their astounding debut album that saw a top-notch band coming together in the studio to work and play, having a blast, and capturing that energy on a record. They gained extensive radio plays and were featured regularly on BBC Radio 2 and also regional radio.
The band members were all aged between 17 and 20 and the decision was made to resume their education and put their musical aspirations to one side. In the ensuing years they regularly visited the Cambridge Folk Festival, and as they absorbed the folk music from around the world on offer, they fell under the spell of bluegrass and Americana music through seeing acts like Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, the Stray Birds, Nickel Creek and Sarah Jarosz.
Just under two years ago Toby, Jonny and James, along with Jon Fuller, started playing around with bluegrass tunes. Liking what they were creating, the four-piece under the name the Lowly Strung, played a few low-profile gigs before recruiting Dobro player Malcolm Peet to join them.
The Nottingham-born musician has enjoyed a lengthy career in music beginning in his early twenties when he moved to London as half of a duo that were commissioned by the BBC and ITV to compose and perform the title and incidental music for various television dramas. This led to an EMI record contract resulting in recording a single in EMI’s famed Abbey Road Studios. This was followed by a tour of a long-forgotten musical supported by an Arts Council grant.
Some years later Malcolm played slide guitar on Maddy Prior’s first solo album CHANGING WINDS. At this time he was mainly playing blues and rock lead guitar and bottleneck guitar in various bands around Kent and the South-East, where he now lived. He became passionate about bluegrass music after watching the O Brother, Where Art Thou film and immersing himself in the soundtrack album. This led to more great bluegrass and Americana musical discoveries. He switched to Dobro when he realised that he couldn’t really play bluegrass in the bottleneck style and went on to also master mandolin and lap steel. Over the years he has played in various acoustic country and bluegrass bands and accompanied such American singers as Sally Barris and Lydia Miller, and brings much experience to the band.
The Lowly Strung’s NO TOMFOOLERY succinctly captures the band’s exciting genre-bending of bluegrass, old-timey and Americana musical styles. They mix in distinctive renditions of the Stray Birds’ No Part Of Nothin’, Old Crow Medicine Show’s Sweet Amarillo and the Wood Brothers’ Firewater. Then there’s the reckless excess and bluegrass breakdown of 8 Dogs 8 Banjos contrasted neatly by their reverent rendition of Randy Newman’s timeless Louisiana 1927.
It all adds up to a neat introduction to the Lowly Strung, a new young band with bags of musical experience that isn't afraid to push beyond bluegrass music’s borders as they boldly take this music to a new young audience that is not confined by musical straitjackets but accept the music for what it is … vibrant, exciting, contagious and brilliantly played and sung.
(All photos Credit Greg Hitchcock)