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Equation has been called, "the leaders of the folk brat pack". Despite their young age, the British quintet has inspired comparisons with folk-rock veterans including Fairport Convention, Pentangle, and Steeleye Span and pop groups including 10,000 Maniacs and Fleetwood Mac. While Mojo Magazine wrote, "their hard-earned grasp of folk, blues, and jazz is wedded to a mainsteam sensibility", British music magazine Rock 'n' Reel wrote, "they're young, they're beautiful, and you get the feeling that, if they didn't exist, the music world would have to invent them."
The members of Equation first came together to record an album, 3 Piece Suit, attributed to the Lakeman Brothers Band, a group featuring violinist Seth Lakeman and his guitar-playing brother, Sean. High-school students at the time, the Lakemans had been performing in a family band since earliest memory. The single featured Kathryn Roberts, a vocalist who had been performing with Kate Rusby when the brothers met her at a folk festival. The collaboration between the Lakeman brothers and Roberts felt so natural that they agreed to continue working together. The trio expanded with the addition of Roberts' duo partner, Kate Rusby, bassist Darren Edwards, and drummer Ian Goodall. It took very little time for the hook-laden sound of the quintet to be noticed. Shortly after their first gig, the group came to the attention of Geoff Travis, who had previously "discovered" the Cranberries and the Smiths and managed such acts as Beth Orton, Mazzy Star, Pulp, and Ultrasound. With Travis' support, Equation was signed by Warner Brothers. Their debut single was included on the multi-artist compilation, Evolving Tradition. Equation recorded their first full-length album, Return to Me, at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios.