“I think we must be the most English band of all time,” says the Leisure Society’s Christian Hardy as he politely suggests some audience participation towards the end of their set at Queen Elizabeth Hall. Profusely thanking everybody for coming, explaining how the next song is about a night out in Burton on Trent and commenting on the days’ weather, front man Nick Hemming does little to dispute the theory. Walking on to the Beach Boys’ ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice?’ was the only blot on the quintessentially English copybook.
“We spent so many years playing to nobody,” says a thankful Hemming, and the occasion of playing to a near full Queen Elizabeth Hall hadn’t gone to his head, giving birthday shout-outs to Twitter followers and apologising to a member of the crowd for telling her to stop taking flash photos. Effortlessly changing style and tempo, The Leisure Society have always been a difficult band to categorise and they seamlessly delivered a varied set that suggested they’re drawing from a deep well of musical possibilities. Pacy new song ‘Another Sunday Psalm’ and debut album track ‘Save it For Someone Who Cares’ opened the night with the uptempo mix of acoustic guitar, flute and violin that blends so well that you wonder why no-one else thought of it first.
Joined intermittently by a three-piece brass section, arrangements are at times complex and epic, with ‘Dust on the Dancefloor’ oozing the boundless enthusiasm that makes the Leisure Society such an engaging live act. From synth and lead guitar-driven indie-pop on ‘Fight for Everyone’ to Nick Drake-flavoured, acoustic fingerpicker ‘We Were Wasted’ and brass-based ‘All I Have Seen’ from latest album ‘Alone Aboard the Ark‘ the whole set is fresh with no hint of filler.
The dreamy waltz of ‘Last of the Melting Snow’ based on Hemming’s sparingly picked acoustic guitar is the simplest song of the night but arguably the most poignant. Stark, stripped down and achingly beautiful. Introspection is a theme that simmers through the set ‘The Darkest Place I Know’ prefaced by an admission from Hemming that the song was written at a very low point in his life. But with its eventually triumphal chorus, it’s the epitome of what the Leisure Society gig is about. Feel good music that is an act of celebration as much as examination, bought into by the numbers who took up Hardy’s call to come and stand at the front of the stage for the encore.
2012 Olympics-inspired ‘Fight For Everyone’ was a typical example with violin and flute swapped for lead guitar and synth, with a riff not dissimilar to the old theme tune to TV show A Question of Sport (if deliberate, a real stroke of genius!) Comparisons with similar purveyors of cheerful, English whimsy as Ray Davies and Paul McCartney don’t do the performance justice. Beatles-esque ‘One Man and His Fog’ could have been cut from a swinging sixties cloth yet there’s no pastiche or attempt to recreate the past. On stage The Leisure Society aren’t trying to be anybody else, and there’s never a hint of emulating anything that’s gone before. The Leisure Society be who they want to be and whether it’s a waltz, a mellow fingerpicker or a bold mixture of the two, it all fits and suggests there’s more to come. Lots more. Please.
We should be hearing more of chirpy support act Keston Cobblers’ Club. Whisking the early crowd along in an instrument-swapping half hour of brass and accordion-led folk, this was a genuine ‘warm-up’ for what was to follow. A chugging snare drum and prominent tuba created the momentum for most of the songs, backed by Mumford and Sons-style vocals. Fittingly named after a foot stamping music club, if you’re looking for a good old folky knees up with a fresh twist, look no further. Enticing, restrained moments of softly picked acoustic guitar and subtle harmonies also suggested they are no party-piece one-trick ponies. A call for an encore and a queue for the debut album as soon as they left the stage suggests we haven’t heard the last of these four young folkies.