The London Souls
By Scott Buettner
It’s a warm and starry night in mountainous Floyd, Virginia. It’s late. I’ve just politely elbowed my way out of a crowd of 10,000 Ziggy Marley fans. He’s halfway through a strong set, his jangly Caribbean stylings bouncing off the distant hills and echoing through the slightly foggy forest. It’s FloydFest: the Southeast’s premiere music festival. Consisting of five solid days and nights of music by acts big and small, known and unknown, there are a half dozen different stages at which to park yourself and enjoy. As I walk away from the known in search of the unknown, Ziggy’s steel drums and chink-chink guitar patterns fade. Another rhythm becomes perceptible and I make my way toward it in the darkness.
I soon arrive at another stage, along with a handful of curious late-night stragglers. The trio on stage is loud, abrasive, and absolutely killing it. As about 40 complete strangers take in the music, the glances we exchange are akin to those shared by passengers on a doomed plane. We are in shock; at once panicked, thrilled, frightened, disoriented, and in complete awe of what we are experiencing. Turns out it’s The London Souls (link), and I’m lucky enough to be front and center as they perform their single “Steady Are You Ready.”
It’s a lot to take in. Lead vocalist/guitarist Tash Neal is stomping his feet, thrashing his head in strange directions, screaming (on key), and stretching his hand-painted Gibson to its sonic limits. It would be lazy reporting to say he looks and sounds like Jimi Hendrix (but he does). Drummer Chris St. Hilaire (with his enviably wild hair) is beating the toms and snare like they owe him money. Bassist Stu Mahan (with a beard you have to see to believe) has got chops so thumpy they knock the air out of my lungs (the fact that I’m standing three feet from his amp may have something to do with it). Their sound can only be described as sonic overload, an ear-shattering tincture of Hendrix, The Beatles, Cream, Zeppelin, The Hollies, Kravitz, and My Morning Jacket. The most noticeable detail, though, is that throughout their heart-pumping, jaw-dropping performance, these guys are having fun, and it’s infectious. It’s immediately apparent to everyone that we are witnessing something special, we are in a moment, we are getting in on the ground floor, we will one day be able to say we saw The London Souls. We have discovered something.
The band formed in New York City in 2008, and have enjoyed a steady rise in regional popularity in the ensuing years. Their first gig was famously played before they’d ever met in person, and had only been rehearsed via cellphone. Their success is all the more impressive given the fact that Neal was the victim of a hit-and-run accident in 2012, spending a week in a coma, enduring several brain surgeries, and soldiering through months of difficult rehab. He was told he would not walk or talk normally again for at least a year, yet he was up on stage a mere five months later with The Souls, bringing the house down. Perpetually touring since their formation, they’ve also found the time to release two highly entertaining albums: 2011’s The London Souls and an abbreviated release called Here Come the Girls, co-produced by Eric Krasno (50 Cent, Norah Jones).
The Souls recently played Charlotte’s Neighborhood Theatre, and are still on tour.