There is something magical about a room full of people who really want to be there. Particularly, there is something magical about that same room being filled with the voices and music of Matthew and the Atlas, the five-strong band fronted by Matthew Hegarty. A collective renowned for their folky-synth music, Matthew and the Atlas has cultivated a strong following over the past five years since the release of their first LP, Other Rivers. Since 2014 they have grossed over a million listeners on Spotify every month. Although this number is no doubt impressive, having attended one of their live performances, I can’t help but think it rather misses the point of Hegarty’s music.
At their recent gig at The Wardrobe, a coolly rustic venue at the edges of Leeds, the heart of their performance was the tangible connection between listeners and performers, not the numbers in attendance. The audience itself could have been no more than fifty, but standing there in the midst of the musical haze, it is easy to tell that each and every one of us felt a deep affinity with Hegarty’s lyrics. The owner of a voice which lulls you with its worn beauty into a mellow trance: Hagerty and fellow vocalist Emma Gatrill sing, and we all seem to sink into the same dream. Couples draw closer, friends smile at each other knowingly, and all look on, transfixed. Through vocals by turn profoundly intimate and soaring, and lyrics reminiscent of English folk in their delicate narrative quality, Matthew and the Atlas unquestionably manage to draw an audience with whom their music resonates deeply.
There were several cheers from the crowd as the first chords of several of their older songs such as ‘Cali’ and one of my personal favourites, ‘Elijah’, were heard, but those from their new album, Morning Dancer, also fitted seamlessly into the set. More synthy and polished, their newer music nonetheless retains the soul of the older pieces, ‘Pyres’ in particular, showcasing their ability to marry Hagerty’s gritty velvet voice with immersive hooks and the seamless fusion of instruments.
The cosy nature of The Wardrobe also lent itself beautifully to the tone of the band’s music. There is an immediacy to the scene, with the band standing only feet away, the enveloping sounds of guitar and drum circling back off the brick walls to swallow the crowd. It is this intimacy which again, is fundamental to experiencing the group’s music. Towards the end of the gig, after good-humoured and swift calls for an encore, the band removed any remaining vestiges of the fourth wall by joining our small crowd on the main floor. As we huddled around their circle, a warm hush fell over the assembled group. This felt special, and homely, reminiscent of campfires and storytelling, and beautifully rounded off the evening, getting to the core of why we were all there. To hear music that resonated with us played on a guitar in a dimly lit room, surrounded by people who had sought out the same, is a spectacular brand of magic.
All Photos Credited to Robert Lloyd