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The Leisure Society

Nick Hemming served his musical apprenticeship in a number of forms, firstly as a member of She Talk To Angels (a band who counted actor Paddy Considine, film director Shane Meadows and bassist Richard Eaton in their number) and latterly as a member of one-time Creation shoegazing trippers The TELESCOPES. Hemming also composed the music for two of Meadows’ films: A Room For Romeo Brass and Dead Man’s Shoes.
Hemming teamed up with multi-instrumentalist Christian Hardy to form London-based The LEISURE SOCIETY in 2006 and stirred up a favourable response critically from their the debut demo; no less than BRIAN ENO cited them as a favourite of his. A peculiar, almost camp mix of acoustic instruments and strident old fashioned Englishness is at the heart of their sound. They enjoy the same fey swoon as BELLE AND SEBASTIAN and also the same expansive production aspirations. At this stage the band also included cellist William Calderbank, bassist Darren Bonehill, drummer Sebastian Hankins, flautist Helen Whitaker, violinist Mike Siddell (like the others, also of SONS OF NOEL & ADRIAN, ex-HOPE OF THE STATES) and singer Beatrice Sanjust di Teulada (another from of SHORELINE).
Their debut THE SLEEPER (2009) {*8} was an immediate critical success as the band toured the UK on the back of it. The jewel at the centre of the album was `The Last Melting Of The Snow’ a song which Hemming said was written on New Year’s Eve with a bottle of vodka after a break up with his girlfriend. The song was further recognised as the diamond it was and received an Ivor Novello Ward nomination; bonus set `A Product Of The Ego Drain’ featured a cover of GARY NUMAN’s `Cars’.
Second album, INTO THE MURKY WATER (2011) {*7} offered a similar experience to its predecessor, but with Hemming and Hardy upping the multi-instrumentalism further (more mandolin! more maracas!) and broadening the horizons a little – there was even shades of The MODERN LOVERS and Krautrock legends NEU! at points. And while they share a wilful and wayward musical sensibility like US compatriots GRIZZLY BEAR and FLEET FOXES, they are at heart a most peculiar and British of institutions.
Judging by the lowly chart return (No.71) for The LEISURE SOCIETY’s third effort, ALONE ABOARD THE ARK (2013) {*6}, had Hemming and his pet project missed the boat – so to speak. Inspired by Sylvia Plath’s suicide, `The Sober Scent Of Paper’ was arranged immaculately with a sense of times gone, although Hemming was swimming against the tide on the slick and twee pop of `Fight For Everyone’. Awash with synths and instruments picked up at RAY DAVIES’ Konk studios, the sextet floated above the surface on the lazy morning mood of `The Last In A Long Line’ and Britpop-infused `Tearing Down The Arches’.
If album four THE FINE ART OF HANGING ON (2015) {*7} best described Hemmings and his crew’s sinking feelings, well, one imagines folk-pop had shifted gear in the several years since The LEISURE SOCIETY’s inception. Flickering on the fringes and probably about to be cast out into space (as suggested on the spaceman cover shot), the group couldn’t now rely on the Ivor Novello nomination – that was ages ago. In fact it was a tribute to a close friend who lost his fight with cancer. Reminiscent of 60s-centred Baroque pop or a cross between SUFJAN STEVENS, NOAH AND THE WHALE and B&S (they must hate these comparisons), the highlights were headed by `Nothing Like This’, `Outside In’, the 6-minute `All Is Now’ and the filmic `The Undefeated Ego’.
What to do with the band, and life in general, after he subsequently separated from Helen Whitaker, singer-songwriter Nick Hemming might well’ve been tempted to retire; but then again he was in the process of moving house and writing the fifth LEISURE SOCIETY album, so he carried on regardless. In fact his untimely domestic split gave him impetus to tag-on the odd song of foreboding and heartache; another positive point was that acquaintance BRIAN ENO had agreed to work with the group; he featured on the track, `I’ll Pay For It Now’.
Nick and Co’s sabbatical of sorts was upended with the band’s long-awaited album; released on his own Ego Drain imprint. The double-set, spread over 16 songs, ARRIVALS & DEPARTURES {*7}, was dispatched in spring 2019; and as mooted: a garland of gloom or glee, depending on his mood swings. The record was certainly one to digest slowly. And forever the optimist, songs such as the opening title track, plus `A Bird, A Bee, Humanity’, `Beat Of A Drum’ and the autumnal `Leave Me To Sleep’, simmered melodiously with grace.
© MC Strong 2011/MR-GFD2 // rev-up MCS Apr2015-Jun2019

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