Entertainment & Arts

Eliza and the Bear on poetry and playing live

Eliza and the Bear Image copyright Danny North

Eliza and the Bear released their debut album this week, five years after they began recording music. But the folk and indie band is made up of five men, so who is Eliza, and why does she have a Bear?

Florence and the Machine, Marina and the Diamonds, Catfish and the Bottlemen - when it comes to new groups or artists choosing their stage name, it's fair to say something of a trend has been developing in recent years.

But the London-based Eliza and the Bear are not jumping on a bandwagon. Their name, in fact, comes from a poem.

"We're not massive poetry fans as such, but when we started putting music online we needed a name, and Paul [Jackson, the band's drummer] found a collection of poems called Eliza and the Bear, by Eleanor Rees," says lead singer James Kellegher.

"It kind of was similar in theme to some of the earlier songs we'd written. So we emailed Eleanor, asked if we could use the name, and she let us."

The poem itself, from which the collection takes its name, has a sombre tone - and likens the narrator's lover to a bear who wishes to leave her to go back to "the wilderness".

"[Rees] listened to some of our music and came to a few of our shows. She was a big fan, and has been a good friend of ours since day one," Kellegher says.

He adds jokingly the one drawback to the band's choice of name is "now everyone thinks I'm a girl and Martin [Dukelow, the band's guitarist] is a bear".

Image copyright Salt Publishing / BBC
Image caption Eliza and the Bear took their name from a collection of poems by Eleanor Rees

Once they were in possession of a name, Eliza and the Bear began attracting attention online, and fans' reaction to their early demos led to a record deal in 2013.

"Ever since then, we've just been finishing off the album," says Dukelow.

"We've been busy, mainly focusing on getting to the point where we're really happy with ourselves live, and I think we all feel that's absolutely our strongest element now, and something we like to show off."

That time spent building up a live following has clearly not been wasted.

On the day they speak to the BBC, the band are gearing up for a concert that evening at Islington's Assembly Hall, to launch the album.

It's a day of torrential rain, but fans - armed with umbrellas - are queuing outside the venue hours before the concert begins.

Later that evening, the band will rattle through their now impressive repertoire, but also play an unusual cover rapidly becoming a staple of their live sets.

'Ear-catching'

Eliza and the Bear first performed their rendition of Ariana Grande's Dangerous woman in BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge in March.

All bands that perform in the Live Lounge are asked to play a cover, and the band wanted to take people by surprise with their choice.

They considered Little Mix's Black Magic, but settled on the latest single from Florida-born Grande after seeing her perform the song on an American talk show the day before they went into rehearsals.

"There's something about hearing James singing those lyrics that we just knew would catch people's ears," Dukelow says.

It is indeed perhaps not the song you'd expect from an all-male folk and indie band - the main lyric in the chorus being: "Something about you makes me feel like a dangerous woman."

Kellegher says: "We didn't want to change the pronouns on it. We're covering a song, it's 2016, I don't have to be a 'dangerous man', that would sound stupid. We can sing what we want, and it doesn't matter."

Image caption The band's cover of Ariana Grande's Dangerous Woman, first performed in BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge, has since become a favourite at gigs

While they enjoy performing the song, there are no cover versions to be found on their album. The band wrote all the songs on their self-titled debut themselves.

In an almost Beyonce-esque move, they have also filmed music videos for no fewer than seven of the 11 tracks on their album - a by-product of the length of time it took to record it.

"An album was not in our vision for a number of years, so the songs that we'd written along the way, we'd already put out little videos for," says Kellegher.

"We felt like those songs needed a platform, a proper release so more people could hear them."

'Finally made it'

Music fans unfamiliar with the band may actually already know their music without realising it.

The first, and perhaps most instantly recognisable song, on the album, Friends, was used in a cider advertisement in 2014.

"When you meet people and they ask you what you do for a living and you say, 'I'm in this band called Eliza and the Bear,' they say they've never heard of you," says Kellegher.

"But then you say, 'We've got this song [sings part of Friends],' and they go, 'Oh, yeah, I've heard that one,' and it's kind of like people have heard the song but not linked it to the band."

With the rain finally starting to abate, the interview wraps up, and the band dash out to grab a quick bite to eat before the show.

Later that evening, as Eliza and the Bear take to the stage, Kellegher thanks fans for their patience with the band while they finished recording the album.

"It's been five years in the making, guys," he tells the delighted crowd, "but we finally made it."