The Sheffield-based popular acoustic indie troupe may have called it a day, but thankfully lead singer-songwriter Nat Johnson is going solo
I was gutted when Sheffield-based band Monkey Swallows the Universe announced last December they were to go on ‘indefinite hiatus’.
The acoustic folksters released two beautiful albums, 2005 debut The bright carvings and last year’s follow-up, The casket letters, both of which were critically acclaimed and won them legions of fans.
They band first caught my attention in 2006 when I heard the quirky and beautiful Sheffield shanty (the song that spookily describes the city being flooded) on BBC 6 Music and I’ve been a fan ever since. Lead singer Nat Johnson‘s fantastic songwriting and beautiful voice – reminiscent of Beth Orton – combine with melodic, folk-pop arrangements into mouth-watering blend.
Live shows were always a treat, too. The various other band members (Kev, Cate, Andy and Rob) would swap between a variety of instruments including guitar, cello, drums, violin, recorder, mandolin, glockenspiel, penny whistle and melodica. Gigs would sometimes verge on the shambolic, but the strength of the songs and the band’s humble charm meant that they got away with it – and actually, you loved them even more for it.
Publicly, it was never quite fully explained why MSTU was put on hold. Kev becoming a father and Cate moving back to the Midlands could have been factors, but as groups of this genre don’t often break into the mainstream, I think they probably realised that existing and touring as a five-piece was never going earn them all a living.
The good news is that the talented singer-songwriter Nat has embarked upon a solo career, and is sounding as good as ever. I was lucky enough to see her play live recently and in place of a full band she now uses a sample pedal to build up layers of vocals, backing vocals, hand claps and guitar to create waves of sound. “It’s witchcraft!” someone shouted, which wasn’t far out considering just how magical the lush musical orchestrations were sounding.
The question is, will Nat get the recognition she deserves as a solo artist and prove to be even more successful than the band, at least enough to make a proper living? I hope so.