Watching Eliza & The Bear has become a regular occurrence for me from the first moment I saw them live at Barn On The Farm in 2014. Since then I’ve seen them grace Scala, Islington Assembly Hall, and two more BOTF and they have never disappointed.
Performances have always been fuelled with a joy of performing that was tangible. Every gig was laced with an easy confidence and swagger that makes everyone in the audience feel like a member of a special gang. When lead singer James sings ‘we’ve got friends, we’ve got family here’, it seems like an anthem for the way that the entire audience is feeling at that very moment. They are a band that have played Reading and Leeds and V festivals. They have played a sold out UK arena tour with Paramore and their debut album made the top 40 in 2016. But it seems that behind the easy confidence, behind the huge festivals and the top 40 albums there were anxieties that were besetting the band. Indeed if you listen to the superb eponymous debut album carefully, and scrape away the veneer of anthemic sing a long choruses and memorable melody, there are lyrics that suggest some hidden turmoil. Maybe this was just the emotions of the band finding flight in lyrical form but definitely this was a hint of what was to come.
After the whirlwind of their first album and it’s success things seemed to take a different unexpected direction. They parted company with Universal and became a four piece band. Often, when a group break through into the mainstream of public awareness, they have been singing and touring the same set of songs for years and then these songs become a debut album and for people discovering the band for the first time this is their sound and they love it. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen Rag’n’Bone man sing ‘Skin’ over the last four years but for many this is a new song from a singer that came out of nowhere. They are not new songs, they are not new bands. They have been working their backsides off, touring, writing, pushing their music to audiences starting with single figures and working up to the huge festival crowds.
It’s almost impossible not to wonder sometimes, I’m sure, is this worthwhile? Does anyone care? Music evolves, changes. Ask yourself if your musical taste is exactly what it was four years ago? And so I’m sure when a big label, and this is purely a guess, says to a band more of the same, any creative, evolving, growing artist has a crisis of confidence. The music that Eliza wanted to write and record had grown into something new. It still had many of the great qualities of older material but there was a more dance like vibe. Maybe, and again this is just a guess, Universal weren’t happy. Big labels like guaranteed sales, change means risk.
And so we come to a new album ‘Group Therapy’ that will be released in early October and the story behind the writing and production of that body of work carries an important message and one that lead singer James shared on the band Facebook page at the beginning of a July. He said the following:
“Some people face life’s problems head on, some find a way around. I’m in the company of people who prefer to ignore it, and hope it somehow gets better. Talking for me was never the easy route, so I never took it. But now a new conversation has been started, too many times we wake up to news of another suicide, and it’s becoming more frequent in the entertainment industry.Dealing with anxiety/depression/whatever your mind does to f*** up your day,shouldn’t be a solo effort. For too many times I keep quiet about my issues through fear that no one would really care or they’d think I was just being dramatic and tell me to get over it. But that’s not true. People care, people understand and most people feel exactly the same way you do.Sometimes we are lost, sometimes we are found but we are never alone.This record was written during some tumultuous times for Eliza, after breaking from the haze of a major label whirlwind where one day your the man, the next they can’t remember your name, we didn’t know if anyone still gave a shit about us or what we had to say.It became clear that we were all suffering in different ways, with different things. These different things became songs and those songs became group therapy.We hope ‘Group Therapy’ means as much to you as it does us. Don’t suffer in silence.”
This brave statement gives an important insight into the mind of a creative group of men who are in an industry where sometimes being brilliant doesn’t seem enough. As I said, if you really listen to the lyrics of the debut album there are hints of the mindset of the band but with this new album James and the band are coming from a different place. Having parted ways with Universal, they are now launching this new release into a world they think might have forgotten them.
I had the pleasure of seeing Eliza & The Bear play new material at Barn on the Farm and then a couple of weeks ago at an intimate gig in Tunbridge Wells Forum. The new material sits comfortably next to older stuff in terms of quality and songs like ‘“First Aid’ offer a moving insight to the struggles that have gone before. If James is worried that people won’t like it, or care, he’s wrong. The love for the band at both gigs was tangible and real. They say you should never meet your heroes but I had the pleasure to chat with James after the BOTF set and again at TW and his openness and kindness with fans was a joy to see.
He’s right when he says “people care”. They do! I’d like to think that as music fans we should all stand together and look after the people that look deep into their soul and give us the music that makes our day, our life a better place. The music of Eliza & The Bear has been that friend, that support that ray of sunshine for so many people over the years and it’s our turn now to look after them, be their friend, their ray of sunshine. Remember “we’ve got friends, we’ve got family here”!
Watch out for our review the moment my pre ordered vinyl arrives! But, until then spare a thought for the anguish our favourite singers go through on a regular basis when they stand in front of a microphone, on a stage or in a recording studio, and let us look into their world. If you saw Eliza & The Bear perform and saw the comfort of James on stage you’d never guess the bravery it takes to step in front of that microphone. For his music, for his honesty and for the help he might have given others in pain with his statement I applaud him and his band! Thank you!