Dead Rat Orchestra are now in their 13th year of performing together and in that time have developed a unique musical style that incorporates explorations of folk music traditions juxtaposed with fractious electronic dissonance and a free-form approach that has as much to do with contemporary improvised jazz.

For their latest tour they have taken to the canals of southern England — travelling between gigs by boat.

Fresh off the vessel, band members Robin, Nathaniel and Daniel looked the part with grizzled beards, filthy bare feet and stories and tales from the waterways.

The current tour consists of folkloric traditions of the ‘Cut’ (the canals), specifically the routes that they are following in their journey between London and Bristol. This entails some joyously rowdy renditions of songs that were performed by the canal building company at the launches of different stretches of canal, which are accompanied by samples of the engine from Gemini II, the band’s tour boat.

Aside from a fascinating series of mini-talks between songs about the histories and stories from the waterways, the band also play a selection of works from their back catalogue.

There’s a fair amount of instrument swapping between the various guitars, mandolins, drums and pump organs that occupied the stage, but special mention needs to go to Daniel Merrill's world-class violin playing that swoops and pirouettes across the set in a consistently magnificent fashion.

A comment from one of the band made between pieces neatly sums up DRO in a few words: “iPhones are the modern equivalent of the canal”. Alongside their worn old acoustic instruments and weather-beaten brows they utilise a shiny MacBook Pro, and this encapsulates their ability to move between ancient and modern. From singing old songs, passed down through generations, to producing electro-acoustic soundscapes, they move effortlessly between worlds which, in the context of tonight’s venue, the Holywell Music Room — the oldest purpose built concert hall in Europe — creates a tremendous atmosphere of timelessness.

This performance is an entrancing and brilliantly-executed piece of musical storytelling and mythologising. Here’s to the next 12 years of Dead Rat Orchestra.

Sebastian Reynolds