Heat rises and hearts flutter as FLYING IBEX hit the stage

Pic: Amy Crowther

Pic: Amy Crowther


As the last tune plays out, the fluttering of dozens of girls’ hearts almost drown out the applause and cheers erupting from the crowd. The room on the top floor at Ritzys in Brixton is hot and crowded and it’s obvious that most of the audience is secretly disappointed the guys didn’t follow up on the dare shouted by one of the girls halfway through the concert to  “get undressed”.

And no wonder, Flying Ibex consisting of songwriter, singer and guitarist Barnaby Keen (27), drummer Dave De Rose (33) and bassist Nathaniel Keen (28) has taken us all far away from the rainy London night to a tropical evening in some vacation paradise.

What started off as a concert with the trio playing their urban, funky folk style has developed into some sort of jam session where the audience and the band work together to create new songs and rhythms.

During the first break I bump into an olive skinned, long-haired woman in the bathroom. “They are amazing right?”

She laughs at me: “Hi, I am Carlotta, I am their biggest fan, my boyfriend used to play with some of the guys. They’ve got the music girl, they’ve got the rhythms they’ve got the samba!”

Back upstairs, Dave the drummer, makes his way through the crowd. His hair is drawn back and the green and red light bounces off his face. “This is great right? It’s a good evening” he stares around the room, trying to locate Barnaby and Nathaniel, “Ah, I am sorry it’s turning out to be quite a busy evening, it might be difficult to gather the three of us.”

Dave De Rose, from Italy has been drumming his way through the last decade, and has played with artists all around Europe.

Even though he grew up singing and playing the piano, it was the drums that got him into the music industry. “I just love the beats and the trance of the drum. I have always been into Arabic and African music and especially the North African rhythms.”

His eyes wander far above my head to a group of people who are cheering and waiving, and I notice a bright red kiss mark on his neck – perhaps a trophy from one of his many excited fans.

Although ensnared by the “trance of the drum,” Dave has never been to his favourite instrument’s birthplace: Africa.

“I have travelled around Europe and then I came to London and met these guys, and I really like it here. The music scene for independent musicians in London is so much better here than back home in Italy. But I’d really like to go to Africa and explore more of the music from the different regions.“

At this point Carlotta, their self-proclaimed biggest fan, shows up, and I know I’ve lost him. With a huge smile and a lot of laughter he is carried away, into the dancing crowd.

The break is over, and Dave and Nathaniel are keeping the beats and bass going whilst Barnaby, sipping his beer, walks around the stage and picks up something that looks like a huge coconut wrapped in braided sea shells, shaking it to the rhythm. It sounds like waves on a rocky beach. Then he changes his mind, walks over to the bongo drum in the corner of the stage and starts playing around with rapid beats and soon everyone is dancing to the African drum and Caribbean rhythms once more.

Flying Ibex do it all: folk, country, indie rock, bossa nova and samba, all with their characteristic urban twist. The closest I come to describing their genre is ‘experimental, urban folk’, but that is hardly embracing their whole repertoire.

The New Cross based band easily manoeuvres between the various genres, creating a symbiosis of the different musical components that work surprisingly well. The brothers, Nathaniel and Barnaby, are so in tune I don’t even realise both of them are singing as their two voices melt into one. Effortlessly they pick up on each other’s rhythm and even though Flying Ibex was formed not even two years ago, it is obvious these guys have been playing with each other throughout their lives. 

I manage to get hold of Nathaniel as he walks off stage, and we go out on the balcony for a cigarette. Crammed under the tiny roof to avoid the rain, I ask him why he and all of his brothers are musicians, because it’s not only Nathaniel and Barnaby who have the Keen music gene: their brothers Henry and Oliver make up the DJ duo The Soundspecies, also performing tonight.

“Well, we grew up in a very small town, Cranborne in Dorset and I guess we just wanted something to do. Our mother was a music teacher and our father some sort of adventurer. He built the Ancient Technology Centre, where we were exposed to lots of amazing music and stories. Our mum taught me a few chords on the guitar and I used to make her play the 12 bar blues round and round so I could slide up and down the top E string, that kind of things.”

Looking at Nathaniel and Barnaby with their long, golden locks it is easy to picture them as young boys running around Dorset’s countryside, practising the guitar and exploring different forms of music together. So how did they meet Dave? “I actually met him when we were playing in a restaurant, and it just developed into this.”

The band’s new album comes out May 27, and differs a lot from their previous EP, Travel in Dangerous Places, which Barnaby produced almost completely by himself. “We aim to capture the live aspect of playing as a trio rather than Barney working on his own,” explains Nathaniel. “We set up our studio in Camberwell, hired some equipment and stayed in there for about a week just feeling comfortable and trying to relax and free to mess around, rather than freaking out about spending loads of money in a proper studio. It was fun and we learnt a lot about recording and how to do it better next time.” 

The heat of dancing people embraces us as we get back into the venue. The speakers are flowing over with drums and maracas mixed with electronica, and a group of girls and Barnaby take over the dance floor. Barnaby throws himself into the “shrimp”-move: jumping up and down on one leg while, holding one feet with one hand and the head with the other, bringing the opposite knee and elbow together.

I feel almost guilty having to interrupting his dance.

“I think it’s a really nice evening, there is loads of good energy,” Barnaby says sitting down next to me. His long hair is up in a bun, and his slightly fading multi-coloured shirt gives him the look of a travelling street musician from a time and place where the world is warm and open. But then again, he has spent a lot of his time exploring the southern and more relaxed parts of the world.

He travelled Brazil and southern Europe writing his songs as he went along. He sings, he plays the guitar, the ukulele and several other instruments. “It’s like an addiction, it takes over everything. It’s hard to get out of it sometimes. What you want is for everyone to have their own experience and relationship with the music you create.”

Spending almost his whole life creating music, growing up with three brothers who all are musicians and with a music teacher for a mother, most of his fondest memories are from times of composing.

“We started playing instruments and creating music just to fill our time and then it turned out to become this almost obsession. It is difficult to point out one specific time that is my favourite musical moment; it is just various jams with my brothers really. But there was this one time we were in Cyprus and were having a jam session, it was a hot night and the atmosphere was just really good.”

As we speak, friends and fans are continuously coming over to the table for hugs and dates of future gigs. A couple of girls scowl at me; I have clearly stolen their best dance partner. Barnaby’s eyes are drawn to the dance floor again, and his hands are tapping the rhythm of the music – It’s time to let the trio have their party. 


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