Mountain Firework Company: Aiming for the summit
From humble beginnings above a pub, this ambitious quintet are just waiting for an explosion of fame, as Belfast-born frontman Gareth McGahan tells Andrew Johnston
With the likes of Mumford and Sons and Noah and the Whale filling arenas and topping charts, Mountain Firework Company are hoping to be the next 'indie folk' outfit to scale the heights of success.
"It's great to see such an appetite for this sort of thing," says the band's Belfast-born frontman Gareth McGahan. "I think people will always gravitate towards folk and roots music in all its forms. The only way to see how high this mountain is is to keep climbing, and there's no danger of stopping us now."
After five years of hard slog on the UK circuit and three critically acclaimed albums, the band look set to go 'bang' in 2014. Gareth formed the group above the Sidewinder pub in Brighton, which he formerly ran.
"I first came to Brighton to go to art college," the vocalist recalls, "but I mysteriously and against all cultural stereotypes ended up somehow in the pub trade. I took on the pub with one eye on the space upstairs, where I figured I could rehearse a band for free. It was just a case of finding the right people to do it with."
The 'right people' turned out to include fellow Belfast man Grant Allardyce on drums ("We never knew each other till we met in the pub in Brighton," marvels Gareth), along with guitarist Matt Oldfield, double bass player Simon Russell, and fiddle and mandolin maestro Mike Simmonds.
Gareth drew on his roots as an acoustic finger-picking guitarist, combined with the diverse influences of his bandmates. "All the other guys are fantastic, versatile players with a wide repertoire of musical loves and styles under their belts, and we all share a love of what we are doing," he says. "I write the songs, then we all put them together. It's not a case of me having a backing band."
The fivesome recorded their first album, A Rough Guide to Feeling Rough, live and in one take above the pub, quickly following it with opuses two and three, Samurai and The Lonesome Losing Blues.
Gareth cites his influences as "folk, blues, country, bluegrass, acoustic roots of all kinds from African to zydeco, soul, pop... the list is endless".
The musician's background certainly lends itself to eclecticism. "My mum was a very keen singer, and her and my dad played in a wee folk trio in the Sixties, " Gareth explains. "My uncle was a semi-pro local musician, so when I was growing up there was always plenty of music and instruments around.
"I lived in Zambia from the age of four until I was nine years old, and I remember seeing street musicians there playing guitars made from old oil cans."
Despite his well-travelled past, Gareth still sings in his native Ulster brogue, a combination of accident and design. "When I first started out on the guitar, I sang with an American accent," he says. "After a while, this really began to bother me, but once I was really writing from the heart, it just came naturally to be more natural."
All along, the hard-grafting combo have played live shows anywhere that would have them, and the dedication is starting to pay off, with some major bookings lined up for 2014. In February, the band depart for Kansas City to take part in the annual Folk Alliance International event, while in May, they will appear at Glasgow's prestigious Celtic Connections festival. A return to Belfast (the band played the Open House festival in 2007) is also on the cards.
So, with all this activity, where does Gareth see the Mountain Firework Company this time next year?
"In a big limo somewhere dead posh, with the double bass sticking out the sunroof!" he laughs. "But we have a fair bit to be getting on with before then."