Flashes of colour, mixed separates, clashing patterns and contrasting cloths - this season is all about experimentation with traditional fabrics. As demonstrated by England’s foremost nu-folk romantics Noah and the Whale.
Charlie Fink has milestones on his mind. The first came the weekend after the Esquire interview: the fifth birthday of Noah and the Whale, the band he set up with childhood friends in 2006. “Five years isn’t that long, but in band terms it’s ancient,” says the 25-year-old singer-songwriter from Twickenham.
“In the future, the living you make as a band will come from performing live, and there’s no better way to garner a good crowd than by having a big back catalogue.”
It might not all have been the “fun, fun, fun” that Fink envisaged in the band’s break-out hit “Five Years Time”, but the last half-decade has certainly been eventful. Noah and the Whale — Fink is joined by Fred Abbott, Tom Hobden, Matt “Urby Whale” Owens and new drummer Michael Petulla — have recorded three albums that, if not quite schizophrenic, mark them out as one of our most inventive and restless groups.
They launched an English nu-folk revolution and then stood back as contemporaries Laura Marling and Mumford & Sons took it global. Fink dated Marling and — small consolation — wrote an epic break-up album, The First Days of Spring, Noah and the Whale’s second.
Fink describes that record as “romantic” and “cinematic” but concedes that “miserable” might be more appropriate. The experience of pouring out his heart to live audiences inspired him to write a “life-affirming” follow-up, Last Night on Earth, released in March.
It has become Noah and the Whale’s most successful album, launching the summer soundtrack “Tonight’s the Kind of Night”, and even gently breaking through in America, where the band played David Letterman. “I don’t want to spread a message of pain or whatever,” says Fink. “I’d like to have a diverse message that reflects who I am.”
The other milestone that is preoccupying Fink is his grandfather’s upcoming 99th birthday. Fink has become fascinated with Englishness — as evidenced by the band’s shift to smart, three-piece tailoring — and he thinks his grandfather, who has lived through two World Wars and whose father lost his leg down the mines in Sheffield, might be an inspiration for the fourth album.
It will, he promises, be unlike anything you have heard from Noah and the Whale. Again. “It’s important to be brave, if it even is being brave,” says Fink. “Maybe it’s just being stupid.”
Words by Tim Lewis