Billed as possibly being Saltburn-by-the-Sea’s first Baroque ’n’ roll quartet, By Toutatis have been variously described as sounding like (Belgian singer-songwriter) Jacques Brel, “The National” and “a medieval chamber band”.
They released their debut album, The Songs We Sang to Death, in September, but the recent release of the first single from it, Rebecca, has brought wider attention thanks to airplay on BBC Radio 2, BBC 6 Music and Amazing Radio.
The story goes that the band met through historical serendipity when singer Daniel Cochran discovered that his great-great-great-great-grandfather (notorious smuggler John Cochran) had been hanged in Saltburn town square by immigrant nooseman Jacques Muriel: a distant relation of drummer Ben. Once family grievances had been put to one side, the two decided to make music, recruiting the debonair but jaded former playboys Robbie Major and Ben Hopkinson on violin and piano respectively. That was in or around 2011.
Make of all that what you will, but there’s no denying the band’s distinctive sound, which they say comes from their use of the three Bs – baritone, broken things and buzzing noises. “We coined baroque ’n’ roll simply because of the pun but it’s actually not a million miles away. It’s dramatic – deliberately so,” says lead singer, Daniel Cochran, who is currently “teaching, travelling round the Middle East”.
“I live in a converted army barracks in a fishing village in the Eastern Province. I can’t really remember how I ended up here but it can’t have been pretty.”
Right you are.
All hailing from the North East, Daniel says their key influences can be found in old folk songs, absurdist films and the aforementioned Jaques Brel. “I used to write generally,” he explains, “although Ben (Hopkinson, keys) is doing more and more since I’m away.
“I tend to dictaphone a lot when I have ideas. The songs change a lot. The guys have the amazing talent of making my boring lumpen chord progressions sound complex and interesting. Ben’s being doing a lot of ‘proper’ composing for us lately. It sounds wonderful.”
Although there may be another album on the cards – the band are planning more recording this summer – they are currently enjoying the newfound attention and looking forward to playing some gigs. That’s about as far as the ambition goes for now.
“We love being in a band,” says Daniel. “That’s it, really. We make music because it’s fun and play gigs because we have a great time doing it. It’s our way of staying in touch now I’m in the Middle East.
“Gigs and practices are a good reason to catch up and I get to share hotel beds with (Ben, the drummer) Muriel. We play every time I’m back, which is about twice a year.”
So for this visit, July 4 is in the diary for a gig at The Victoria, Saltburn, headlined by Eliza Carthy. “Seriously, we love her. She’s insanely good,” says Daniel. “Then it’s Stockton Weekender (On July 26 and 27) with Public Enemy. No big thing,” he adds, with a squeal. Follow the band @bytoots