This has arguably been the summer of Mumford And Sons’ career. Following their headline slot at Glastonbury in June, sales of their second album Babel rose by 400%.
And it was closely followed by headline shows at the new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford and T In The Park in Kinross, before their own series of five international Gentlemen Of The Road Stopover events start with this weekend’s appearance in Lewes.
But the summer could have been so different, after bassist Ted Dwane was found to have a blood clot on his brain while on tour in North America last month.
“We discussed cancelling the whole summer,” says frontman Marcus Mumford, sitting in Lewes District Council’s High Street offices during a short visit to the town, the day before they play the Olympic Park.
“Ted is more important than all of it. We were adamant we would crack on only when Ted was feeling up to it.”
“It was an incredible reminder of how we are friends first and a band second,” adds bandmate and keyboard player Ben Lovett.
“We were willing to cancel everything. There was none of that ‘The show must go on’ – Ted had to be all right.
“It reminded us of how our dynamic lies.”
As it turned out, Dwane was more than happy to get back on the road once his operation was over.
“The day they let him out of hospital, he was ready to go,” laughs Mumford. “We had to sit him down and tell him he needed to sleep for a bit.
“The doctors couldn’t believe what a hero he was.”
The first sign of problems had been a recurring headache on tour.
“We were told the headache was the equivalent of being hit around the head with a baseball bat,” says Mumford, almost in disbelief.
“He was playing six shows to 100,000 people, while popping Nurofen. Every day we were asking how he was. After a week the tour manager said he ought to get a head scan.”
Luckily the procedure to remove Dwane’s blood clot was described by doctors as routine – just unusual in someone so young.
The only sign at Glastonbury was a hat covering Dwane’s shaven head for the operation, which is now beginning to grow back into his previous unruly mane.
Choosing a venue
Dwane was part of the reason why the band picked Lewes for their second summer of Gentlemen Of The Road Stopovers.
“Ted lived in Brighton for quite a while,” says Lovett. “When we mentioned Lewes on the longlist and then the shortlist, Ted was saying Lewes was the place to be.
“Lots of people have been coming out of the woodwork and saying they have links here – my brother’s girlfriend’s family all live here, Winston [Marshall, banjo and guitar] has got some family not too far from here, nearer to Folkestone.”
“We did Stopovers in Huddersfield and Galway last year, so we knew we had to do something in the south of England,” adds Mumford.
“For the past few years we have been inspecting towns and seeing what was right for a Stopover. The first thing was always whether the town would be up for it, and Lewes has a history of welcoming visitors from all over the place for their Bonfire Night celebrations.
“Once you’ve been to Lewes, you get why we wanted to come here. It’s unique – and that is what we were looking for.”
Speaking less than a week after their headline set at Glastonbury, Mumford admits the band are still winding down from the experience.
“I’ve spent a week lying on the sofa not doing anything,” he says. “We’d had a break not playing gigs for two weeks before Glastonbury – we normally play five shows a week. Glastonbury was almost a warm-up for the Olympic Park and Lewes.”
Unique festival feel
Despite the big headline events, Mumford and Lovett say the Gentlemen Of The Road Stopovers are what they have been most looking forward to this year.
As well as Lewes, they are playing Stopovers in Simcoe, in Canada, and in the US in Troy, Ohio; Guthrie, Oklahoma; and St Augustine in Florida.
“They are our own festivals,” says Mumford. “With both Glastonbury and the Olympic Park we were guests, whereas with Lewes we set the festival up with the help of the town.”
Lovett adds the idea of community is key to the festivals.
“It’s balancing all the different personalities, classes and walks of life in different communities around the world,” he says.
“It’s amazing how many different places with different characteristics there are in the UK. It’s one of the reasons why we love touring – we love visiting places and getting to share all the different cities, towns and villages around the country.
“It’s our natural nomadic desires that we are celebrating. We don’t just turn up and play a show but come and celebrate what makes that town tick, what the people who live there are most proud of.”
The idea for their own festivals was inspired by some of the international shows the band have played.
“Our favourite festival experiences have been immersive,” says Lovett.
“You get to know a lot of bands in that climate – especially when festival organisers encourage you to interact with each other.
“We met Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeroes [whose self-titled album will be the first non-Mumfords release on the band’s Gentlemen Of The Road label] at the Sasquatch Festival [at The Gorge, in Quincy, Washington State].
“There’s a great bluegrass festival in Colorado called Telluride which was part of our inspiration for the Stopovers – it is in a great part of the world, in a great town, with just 10,000 people interacting, appreciating the music in among the musicians. It’s not something we’ve seen much of aside from Loopallu in Ullapool, north-west Scotland.”
The band has handpicked the whole bill for the Lewes show, which includes Friday night headliners Vampire Weekend, backed by White Denim, Youth Lagoon and Brighton’s own British Sea Power.
Supporting Mumford And Sons on Saturday will be Bear’s Den, Deap Vally, Johnny Flynn And The Sussex Wit, The Mystery Jets, Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeroes and The Vaccines, with The Very Best Soundsystem playing up to the curfew.
“There are lots of like-minded musicians,” says Lovett. “Everyone in the line-up is in the spirit of what we are trying to do here.”
“We have spent a lot of time thinking about what goes on around the music,” adds Mumford.
“What food people eat, the beer [which the band brewed with the town’s Harveys brewery], we’ve put thought into the whole experience.”
The weekend includes several fringe events organised with Lewes Council, and a five-a-side mini football tournament, pitting Mumford And Sons against members of Lewes FC, Bonfire United and more at The Dripping Pan, in Mountfield Road, Lewes, from 10.30am today.
“We really care that people have a nice time,” says Mumford. “The line-up is f***ing amazing, though – I’m going to watch every single one of those bands!”
Mumford says the live experience is at the heart of everything the band does – even when it comes to recording their albums: 2009’s Mercury Music Prize-nominated Sigh No More and last year’s chart-topping Babel.
“I don’t really give a s*** about the album,” he says on being congratulated for its sales jump after the Glastonbury show.
“We originally made an album to play more gigs. You can do that if you have an album out – it’s a good promoter for gigs. We have never thought about the gigs as a way of promoting an album. It’s cool that people listen to it, but the gigs are the things we are invested in.
“Once we put an album out it feels like we did the hard work when we wrote and recorded the songs – after that everyone else is doing the hard work to sell the album as we are back to playing gigs. The album was made ages ago – it now has a life of its own.”
That said, the four-piece spent the best part of 18 months putting songs together for the album, with a series of writing sessions and workshops to gather material.
“Babel was a mash-up of writing songs on the road and in private moments, and the four of us hammering away,” says Mumford.
“There wasn’t one particular way of writing a song.”
Indeed, some methods were more experimental than others. In one, the band set themselves a task of writing ten songs each in a set period of time while holed away in a farm in Somerset, with no regard to quality. According to the band’s website, the session revealed Dwane’s love of a murder ballad and spawned album track Reminder.
“There were lots of different approaches,” says Lovett. “We didn’t go out to try all the different techniques under the sun – we had more than 18 months to make a record so different things happened over the course of that time, and at the end we had the record. Who knows how we are going to do the next one!”
Mumford deflects any suggestion that the next album might reflect the band’s increased live status.
“Our set-up hasn’t really changed,” he says. “We’ve added a couple of friends to play horns and strings on stage but most of the song arrangements haven’t changed – the core is pretty constant.
“It’s the four of us lined up on stage, exactly what we want it to be. We’ve nailed it!”
Friday, July 19
Arena opens: 5pm
Youth Lagoon: 6pm to 6.30pm
White Denim: 6.50pm to 7.30pm
British Sea Power: 7.55pm to 8.45pm
Vampire Weekend: 9.15pm to 10.45pm
Saturday, July 20
Arena opens: 1pm
Bear’s Den: 2.45pm to 3.15pm
Deap Vally: 3.35pm to 4.05pm
Johnny Flynn And The Sussex Wit: 4.25pm to 5pm
Mystery Jets: 5.20pm to 5.55pm
Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros: 6.25pm to 7.10pm
The Vaccines: 7.40pm to 8.30pm
Mumford And Sons: 9pm to 10.40pm
The Very Best Soundsystem: 10.55pm to 11.40pm
NEW BANDSTAND STAGE
Saturday, July 20
Albatross: 3.15pm to 3.30pm
Giovanna: 5pm to 5.15pm
Thomas Gray (comedy): 5.55pm to 6.20pm
Joe Banfi: 7.10pm to 7.35pm
Read The Guide inside The Argus every Friday for more indepth features