Polar Bear @ Hare and Hounds, Birmingham 21.04.15

Seb Rochford’s Polar Bear has been grooving its way through the jazz and indie world since the release of Held on the Tips of Fingers in 2005. The movement in style since that first release has not been vast, but it has taken in a greater range of instrumentation and influence. The latest offering, Same As You, was released in March this year. And it was the sounds from that album, with the growing electronic input from Leafcutter John, which dominated the dark wooden room at the Hare and Hounds in Birmingham.

Apr 21st, 2015 at Hare and Hounds, Birmingham / By Ian Stanley
Polar Bear The first thing noticed about this set is just how much of a back seat the drumming of band leader Seb Rochford takes. His input is subtle, and when he introduces the band at the start of the gig with his soft Scottish accent he does it calmly and quite swiftly. A much more dominant place in Polar Bear’s music is taken up by the double bass bouncing and bobbing throughout bringing an almost tribal feel. Then there’s the unconventional, to the point of almost electronic, staccato saxophone from Pete Wareham. These are the dominant forces driving forward the night.

In fact, until Rochford has a chance to sing on ‘Don’t Let the Feeling Go’ he has been fairly silent. Behind the drumkit Rochford always looks more satisfied with others’ work than his own. And as the bass gathers up a tempo like a golf ball traveling down a drain pipe throughout the songs Leafcutter John’s electronics add layers to fill in the gaps between and link up changes in pace. The combination of all of this brings involuntary hip movements, and swaying in the crowd – which stays reasonably still, but appreciative. The latest efforts from Polar Bear are by no means slow, or progressive, it has a pace that struts on throughout its minutes.

This pace continues throughout as the two saxophonists, Pete Wareham, formerly leader of Acoustic Ladyland, and Mark Lockheart, formerly of Loose Tubes, complement each other’s polar opposite style. Where Wareham’s delivery is short and staccato with bursts of notes, Lockheart is languid and flowing, and he loops everything into each other.

Once more Rochford speaks: “The last song we’re going to play is on the theme of human love.” There are some pauses in Rochford’s sentences as he looks down to Pete Wareham trying to repair the spike on his drumkit. He stops his introduction. “It’s alright Pete, I’ll do it. I know how to do it.” It’s all very relaxed and Rochford’s soft Scottish accent drifts over the room which goes quiet while he passes around the microphone to band members. “While I fix this Mark is going to tell you about love.” Nervously, Lockheart takes the microphone, and passes on around the band, until Tom Herbert, the bassist, speaks up to define more about how Polar Bear works for the musicians within it.

“Seb said he wants us to play without fear or anxiety. And that’s quite hard to do, but I think it’s something we should all aspire to. To do everything with positivity and love.” Warm applause. And with that (and just as the spike is fixed on Rochford’s drum kit) Polar Bear meander into one final song finishing a gig that chilled to the bones and showed why this band has been generating involuntary hip grooves since 2005.

Read Bearded's interview with Seb Rochford HERE