This is the Kit is a band that plays what you might call alternative folk. It’s the vehicle of the multi-talented Kate Stables, who sings and plays guitars and banjo, with core members Rozi Plain on bass, Neil Smith on lead guitar and Jamie Whitby-Coles on drums. Folk is certainly at the core of the sound, but there’s jazz, some world beats and lyrics that could be part of the psychedelic era.
I first came across the band in 2015, courtesy of Marc Riley on BBC 6 Music. The song that caught my attention was All in Cahoots, which must have been a single at the time. It was off their album Bashed Out, which was their third, and their most polished by far (as I discovered when listening to its predecessors). Some big hitters connected with Aaron Dessner of The National were involved in the making. All in Cahoots summed up the appeal of This is the Kit to me: a wistful melody, beautifully sung, an insistent guitar strum, some gentle brass and lyrics that that did and didn’t make sense. Let’s call them abstract – you make of them what you will.
Bashed Out became one of my favourite albums of 2015. In fact, I made it No 3 in my Best Of that year. Here’s what I said in my review:
Fronted by singer, banjo player and guitarist Kate Stables, This Is The Kit play the most beautiful, wistful folk, with a modern and occasionally quirky touch. There are hints of John Martyn when they go electric – that really comes out live. Favourite tracks include “In Cahoots”, which is the one that introduced me to the band, and the lovely opener, “Misunderstanding”. That one echoed through my head during our summer holiday in Antibes. It felt right in a place I where had so much time to think and imagine, sitting on the balcony on balmy evenings. This is a wonderful, rather moving album from start to finish.
I’ll still go along with that, especially with the reference to Misunderstanding. I think that remains my favourite This is the Kit song, though there are plenty of contenders.
I first saw the band play at Latitude in 2015, on a stage called Other Voices, along the lake. It was a one-off for that year, Latitude’s tenth festival. The band had almost missed the gig because of a massive traffic jam along the A12 that year – Rozi Plain had a solo set that went by the wayside. They were still a bit flustered when they took to the stage, but soon settled to play a beautiful set of songs. It was then that I realised how powerful Misunderstanding was live, when Neil let rip on the echoey guitar at the end. Very much in the spirit of John Martyn.
I’ve seen the band a few times since: at the Scala, King’s Cross in November 2015; at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in January 2018; and End of the Road in 2018 on the Garden Stage in the sunshine, straight after the metal/punk thrash of Amyl and the Sniffers! A wonderfully soothing comedown that one. All the shows were really satisfying. There was a real quality to the playing, exemplified by Kate Stables herself, switching between acoustic and electric guitar and the banjo. A new album, 2017’s Moonshine Freeze, took centre stage in those 2018 concerts. It was a bit more upbeat musically and jazzier than Bashed Out, but the quirky lyrics hadn’t gone away – from Nits on Bashed Out to Riddled with Ticks and Solid Grease on Moonshine Freeze. What was Kate trying to say? The funny thing is that if you didn’t pay attention to the lyrics, all three of these songs were just lovely folk tunes.
And so to the Albert Hall, a couple of weeks ago. The concert was originally planned for 2021, as part of the Albert Hall’s 150 year celebrations. The pandemic knocked it back to 2022, and probably allowed for more ticket sales – I didn’t get mine until this year. On the night it was pretty full, if not sold out – it’s a big place for This is the Kit to headline. Kate made that point more than once – she was living the dream being there.
There was another album to accommodate in tonight’s show: 2020’s Off Off On. I must admit, that after a couple of initial listens, I rather dismissed it as more of the same, after the previous two. But I gave it more of a listen beforehand, and started to appreciate it more. And that applied especially to the closing track, Keep Going. It’s a long piece, with some lovely guitar. And a message that resonates in these troubled times. It had to play a part in the night’s proceedings…
We – my wife Kath and I – had great seats, right at the front at the first tier above the stalls. We got there in time for the support act, Jessca Hoop. I’d seen her at Latitude a few years ago on the Sunrise Arena. I like her recorded music, and tonight I thought she was very good, if a bit obsessed with her monitors and the sound. Some wry Californian humour thrown into the mix. She came back for a duet with Kate during This is the Kit’s set.
And then the main attraction. More musicians than ever, with a full brass section, who really did the business. But some lovely solo Kate too – just her and her banjo. Songs mostly from Off Off On and Moonshine Freeze, but Bashed Out still got a look in, with the title track (part of the encore), Silver John and, to my delight, Misunderstanding, as atmospheric as ever. Bullet Proof, from Moonshine Freeze is up there with Misunderstanding for that wistful beauty; and Moonshine Freeze, Hotter Colder (encore) and This is What You Did provided that more upbeat groove, incorporating sounds from around the world. And yes, Keep Going provided a fitting end to the main set.
As with previous concerts, it was a performance of the highest quality. Retaining that essence of folk, but exploring so many other genres, and doing everything just right. On top of that, Kate’s joy at being there was so palpable, and was clearly shared by her bandmates. For them it was a real celebration, and so it was for us, the audience, too.
A wonderful evening of music and celebration. This is the Kit always leave you feeling good about the world.
I’m so glad that you enjoyed This Is The Kit. They are one of my favourite bands (on record and live). I last saw them in an old railway building in Stroud a year before Covid so they have moved up in terms of venues!
Yes, it’s good to see the success they are having. thoroughly deserved.
I remember having read of (quite a lot) This Is The Kit some years back and listening to them. I had liked them and then they went off my radar completely as often happens with so much music being released. Thanks for the reminder, John!
A very reliable band – a relaxing listen.