Updated: Aug 19, 2020
Written by Tom Carnell
Narwhals Live. Photo Credit: Tom Rout.
Narwhals were formed 10 years ago and their debut album, Two Dark Windows, represents a body of work going back as far as 2007. As such it reads as a diary, documenting singer/songwriter Jacob Cordingley’s life from break-ups as a young man, his struggles with depression, the death of a close friend and his boredom with the drudgery of the 9-5.
We spoke to Jacob to learn more about the band.
The Flipside: Introduce us to the band (members and what they play etc.)
Jacob Cordingley: So there's me, I mostly play guitar (although I dabble in keys, mandolin and occasional bass) and sing. I'm also the main songwriter within the band although the next record will feature songs co-written by Mike Ward.
Speaking of Mike Ward, he's our resident multi-instrumentalist. I've been making music with Mike since we were in our mid teens - nearly 20 years. Although he joined the band in 2010, having had some success as the guitarist in Fear Of Music. He's a good egg.
Mike's brother Phill mixed and mastered Two Dark Windows for us and joined us on bass for a couple of gigs in 2018. He's a freelance producer and theatre musician by trade. So he's an on/off member too.
We actually, just a couple of days ago parted ways with our drummer for most of the last 11 years, Tim Norman. All on amicable terms. So if there's any drummers reading this get in touch.
The Flipside: When was the band formed and how did it come to be?
Jacob: At the end of 2007 I was chatting to my mate Ben and saying that once I graduated from uni the following summer we should start a band. So we did. Tim joined a year after we started and Mike a year after that. Ben left around 2015 due to a combination of tinnitus and being a busy doctor so I guess I'm the only original member.
The Flipside: How would you describe your music for someone that has never listened before?
Jacob: Imagine if The National had a secret love child with Mogwai and made Ian Curtis the godfather.
The Flipside: Which artists influence you the most?
Jacob: I'm a huge fan of Frightened Rabbit. I was utterly devastated when Scott Hutchison died in 2018. I never met him personally but his music helped me through my own battles with depression. He was without a doubt one of the greatest songwriters of my generation. The way his lyrics always search for hope in the darkness, find humour where you least expect it. Particularly in recent years I've found that my own songwriting leans into and borrows from his philosophy.
The Flipside: Two Dark Windows, your debut album was released in 2018. Are you happy with how it’s been received so far?
Jacob: It would be great if more people heard it. But we've had nothing but good feedback from those that have. We're all very pleased with how it turned out.
The Flipside: Have you found your musical style and writing process has changed since you first started?
Jacob: Absolutely! I think I'm more critical of myself, probably to a fault. It takes a lot more to make me happy with a song. As a result I'm probably less prolific than I was 10-15 years ago when I was starting out as a songwriter, but I feel like I'm a better songwriter because of it.
The Flipside: What does the future hold for the band?
Jacob: Who knows what the future holds for anything anymore! I hope live music happens again. I feel a little bit lost without it. We're currently working remotely on our next album. Unlike the last album which included about 10 years worth of songs, all of these have been written since 2018. So it's a different process and I think they feel more like a coherent group of songs because - without wanting to be too specific - I've had some pretty big personal upheavals the last year or so, and I've been writing my way through that grief.
The Flipside: What’s your favourite gig memory?
Jacob: I think my favourite ever Narwhals gig was at Manchester Roadhouse in 2012. We were loud, it was sweaty and I had a megaphone.
More recently in 2018 and 2019 I've played a couple of tribute nights in Manchester to Scott Hutchison who I mentioned earlier. I've met some amazing people through that and having a whole audience singing along with you is an incredibly special experience.
The Flipside: Where is your favourite venue to play?
Jacob: We've played at The Castle in Manchester so many times I've lost count. It's so intimate and it feels like home.
Listen to Two Dark Windows on Spotify here. Photo Credit: Tom Rout.
The Flipside: What’s been your nicest experience with a fan?
Jacob: Probably a long time ago now, but one guy came up to me after a solo gig and told me that one of my songs in which I sing about the grieving process, really resonated with his own feelings when his brother died and that he really appreciated it. That's what songwriting is about for me. I'm always brutally honest and if someone finds they can connect with that then there's hope it will help them in some way.
The Flipside: What’s been your weirdest experience with a fan?
Jacob: Our bassist in our early days Ed had this girlfriend who came to all our gigs. For one gig she'd bought a pack of knickers to throw at us. We each got a pair of (clean) knickers in the face during our set.
The Flipside: Assuming that live shows will be able to resume next year, which festivals/venues are you planning to go to and play?
Jacob: To be quite honest I don't know if I can think that far ahead at the moment. We decided to take a year off gigging in 2019, in part due to living in different places and having busy lives. I have a young son and we all have jobs. I hope we can gig again, but who knows when that'll happen.
The Flipside: Give us five (or more) artists that you think we and our readers should be checking out.
Jacob: I shared the bill (I think we were both the support acts) about 8-9 years ago with a band called Fuzzystar from Edinburgh. I remain Facebook friends with their front man Andy. They released their debut album Telegraphing not long before we released ours. They're very good.
Mike and Phill's sister Emily is an incredibly good musician and rapper who goes under the name Rebel Without A Coat.
Jo Rose is an excellent singer songwriter from Manchester. Mike was in a band Fear Of Music with him back in the 00's. Not sure what he's up to these days but he's put out a couple of excellent EPs in recent years.
My friend Dorothy Jaffa is one to watch. Not sure if she currently has anything released that you can listen to. I did start a band with her at the start of this year and hopefully that will pick up again. She will be making a guest appearance on the next Narwhals album though.
I met this guy Tom Lee who performs under the moniker Tea Leaf last year. Such a beautiful songwriter. His work is raw, honest, vulnerable and his voice is stunning.
The Flipside: How do we follow and keep updated with Narwhals?