Following on from single ‘My God’, the South-London-based 6-piece Tapir! released their debut album, The Pilgrim, Their God and the King of My Decrepit Mountain earlier this year and they’re hitting the road in 2024/
The band, consisting of members Ike Gray (vocals/guitar), Will McCrossan (keys/drum machine), Tom Rogers-Coltman (guitar/saxophone), Ronnie Longfellow (bass), Emily Hubbard (cornet/synth) and Wilf Cartwright (drums/cello) – describe Tapir! as a “boiling together” of different mediums: at once musical, theatrical, mythological, artistic, collaborative, narrative-led and, above all, something to be enjoyed and shared.
The Pilgrim, Their God and the King of My Decrepit Mountain follows a three-act structure – as three four-track EPs – telling the story of a solitary traveller, an ambiguous red creature known as The Pilgrim, on a journey across a mythical landscape of eerie forests, stormy seas and unholy mountains populated by beasts, injured birds and idealised eidolons.
A fantastical offbeat fable carried along by Gray’s crisp, heartfelt vocals and the band’s instinctive, idiosyncratic melodies, the project at times feels like the musical equivalent of the paintings of Henry Darger, Henri Rousseau or Philip Guston.
Gray and McCrossan formed Tapir! in 2019 and after playing just one show at their beloved George Tavern, East London, the UK soon went into lockdown, forcing them to continue the project online, developing songs that combined off-kilter acoustic guitar and Randy Newman-esque storytelling with the reliable drive of their Elektron drum machine.
What was to become the world and storyline of The Pilgrim, Their God and the King of My Decrepit Mountain would be pieced together gradually over the next year or with help from the art collective My Life is Big.
Similarly, the band would slowly recruit more members – and more and more friends to help build The Pilgrim’s world, its costumes and its sets – as the national lockdown lifted.
The collective, collaborative ethos of Tapir! stems in no small part from the inclusive, non-judgemental, anything-goes spirit of the George Tavern. A Grade II-listed pub and grassroots venue owned by artist Pauline Forster in a remote corner of Shadwell, the George has a long history of providing a home for theatrical and musical experimentation.
Steered since 2019 by the tireless, open-minded vision of booker, venue manager and friend of the band Francis Albrecht, the George is now positively thriving in defiance of repeated threats of closure over the past decade, with “different arts springing out of it,” says Gray.
When Shibuichi (Honeyglaze) saw Tapir! live at the venue, he encouraged them to record their songs, and the band stress it was his enthusiasm (soon coupled with the increased attention after they won a place on the Green Man Rising stage in 2022) that led them to take the project more seriously. Without Yuri, The Pilgrim, Their God and the King of My Decrepit Mountain might never have come to fruition. Shibuichi’s playful, carefree production (always urging the band not to overthink) perfectly suits Tapir!’s unassuming, handmade, DIY nature.
Nonetheless, the record hangs together like a strange but familiar fairy tale. Each of the three acts opens with Little Wings’ Kyle Field – another influence turned collaborator – narrating a few lines of The Pilgrim’s story in his warm Californian burr over field recordings and atmospheric instrumental passages.
Throughout the album, melodic motifs reappear like a trail of twinkling breadcrumbs, while lyrically the simple tale – essentially ‘just a journey up to the top of a hill,’ albeit with a death, a storm and shipwreck along the way – centres on themes of ideology, idolatry, and what Gray calls “the fine line between belief and conspiracy.”
With The Pilgrim, Their God and the King of My Decrepit Mountain, Tapir! have proven they are more than technically adept at transporting the listener to another realm. You could read the whole album as being an escape from the trappings of the modern material world, a sidestep into a pre-industrial, pre-internet wonderland where creativity and community reign supreme.